Poetry Corner – One Breath Per Line

Hello Dear Ones!

An dear e-friend and great micropoet through Twitter: Tina Nguyen has recently inspired several of us to get into a more extended style of Haiku – known as Gogyohka:

Gogyohka is a new form of Japanese short poetry, founded and pioneered by Japanese poet Enta Kusakabe. Gogyohka is pronounced go-gee-yoh-kuh (the “g”s are hard as in “good”), and literally translated means “five line poem”. Gogyohka is five lines of free verse on any subject matter. There is no set syllable pattern, however the poem should be short and succinct. The goal is to compellingly capture an idea, observation, feeling, memory, or experience in just a few words.

Gogyohka is a fun and easy form, making poetry writing accessible to everyone, including children. Yet it is challenging as a method of practice for self-reflection, contemplation, and distilling one’s thoughts.

A quick referral for those of you unfamiliar with the Haiku, and Senryu styles of poetry – both three line structures – please go here.

Tanka is another five-line style of poem but it has more structure and form than the gogyohka poem. Tanka uses syllable structure of a 5-7-5-7-7 count and there is a pivotal middle, or third, line in the poem. From the tankaonline.com website:

… consider these quick start steps to writing your first tanka:

1. Think of one or two simple images from a moment you have experienced and describe them in concrete terms — what you have seen, tasted, touched, smelled, or heard. Write the description in two or three lines. I will use lines from one of my own poems as an example:

an egret staring at me
me staring back

2. Reflect on how you felt or what you were thinking when you experienced this moment or perhaps later when you had time to think about it.

Regarding the moment described above, I thought about how often I have watched and photographed egrets. In fact, they even could be said to be a defining part of my life. My poetic instincts picked up on that word, “defining,” and I knew I had a clue as to what my next lines would be.

3. Describe these feelings or thoughts in the remaining two or three lines:

wondering for years
what would be
my life’s defining moment

4. Combine all five lines:

an egret staring at me
me staring back
wondering for years
what would be
my life’s defining moment

5. Consider turning the third line of your poem into a pivot line, that is, a line that refers both to the top two lines as well as to the bottom two lines, so that either way they make sense grammatically. To do that, you may have to switch lines around.

Here’s my verse with the lines reordered to create a pivoting third line:

wondering for years
what would be
my life’s defining moment
an egret staring at me
me staring back

To test the pivot line, divide the poem into two three-liners and see if each makes sense:

wondering for years
what would be
my life’s defining moment

my life’s defining moment
an egret staring at me
me staring back

by Jeanne Emrich

Though the Tanka adds the two extra lines for length and added content, it is the Gogyohka style now that I tend to favour when there is more I want to say than the standard Haiku style. And there is one more wonderful aspect of the Gogyohka style that delights me … I don’t have to be counting out syllables on my fingers in public!!!! Most of my inspiration comes from public outings – at malls, coffee shops, on buses. I often wonder what strangers are thinking when they see me counting with my fingers … and especially when they can’t see what it is I`m counting! So … “not only does she need her fingers to count but she sees something the rest of us don’t see … hmmm … she’s a live one, this! Should I be worried that she might be dangerous?”

For some uncertain reason the article doesn`t explain, Wikipedia spells the word in its dictionary format without the ‘h’:Gogyoka. However, here’s a great quote (do note this quote uses the ‘h’ in the word … ?) from Wikipedia’s site:

Peter Fiore writes, “working on Gogyohka is a meditation on the spontaneous challenge of the moment.”

The following aspect of the Gogyohka style is what prompted my post title today, also taken from the same Wikipedia site (notice their spelling):

“Breath, rather than syllable count, governs the length of the line in gogyōka”

For me, using the extended five lines, with  no syllable count, merely one gentle breath per line expands the potential of poetry options.

Let`s go back for a moment to the variances between styles with an exercise:

Here`s a visual for you: picture this – a tall, slim man, wearing a denim jacket and jeans, a black T-shirt, runners, a black and purple head band around his forehead holding back his long salt & pepper hair, with a full beard and mustache. It is Summer time. You see a child pointing at this man and saying something softly as he points. The child is excited! As you get closer to the boy you hear what he is saying. The child`s father is pulling the boy`s hand to get him to move quicker – seems the dad is anxious to be off to another errand and is not paying attention to his son.

This is what I wrote in Haiku style: 3 lines with 17 syllables, 5-7-5:

Santa in summer
denim, headband and T-shirt
child`s voice HO HO HO

(Yes, that`s really what the child was saying! Children just know these things!!!)

But there was more I wanted to convey than the basic facts so I went to the more expanded version of the Gogyohka style breathing in the feelings of the experience!

in summer garb
of denim jeans and T
still, a child`s small voice

Then I thought to add more detail to see if it enhanced the visual while delving a wee bit deeper into the emotion through the breath:

Santa in summer
denim jacket and jeans
T-shirt and headband
still, small child points

No. Looking at them all, sounding them out, the breath effect is best with the second of the three. That`s the one I like most and tweeted that day!

Here are some Gogyohka poems I have written more recently:

a gangly age
desiring grace
exemplifying beauty
tripping on a leaf

happiness smiles
relaxing muscles
lighting eyes

gentle rain nourishes
body and soul
cleansing, releasing
freeing up the old
making way for the new

the arrow
slides forward with
speed and alacrity
striking its target

public speaking
terrifies the most ardent
of orators

knocking knees and sweaty palms

sunny Spring Sunday
store doors open
coatless patrons wander
within, without, about

Can you tell I could do this all day? May something here inspire you to add this style to your own poetic repertoire!

In Light and Laughter,


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