My lazy effort of last night made clear how much I don’t yet know about the chōka … and I need to find out if I have any chance of making it through this month. Back to The Google I went today for a little research
My first surprise was finding that the length of this form isn’t set. The poems I’ve been writing are, in fact, the shortest form of chōka. The stacking of five- and seven-syllable lines atop one another can just go on and on until they are cut off by that final extra seven. If I wrote the syllable counts from the point of view of my rusty math knowledge, I might write it this way:
In other words, the five- and seven-syllable couplets could go on and on to create super-long poems. The final seven-syllable line is like the full-stop that ends the poem. (I know it’s entirely ridiculous that I just tried to use math to explain the pattern of this poem … and I know that there are other ways to illustrate a repeating decimal, but the little line is what I was taught — was that Miss Leuchten who taught me that? — and I’m sticking to it!)
In a long chōka, the final 5-7-5-7-7 began to be used as an envoi, a final stanza to comment on or encapsulate the whole poem. Good envois began to stand alone as poems … creating the tanka! WAIT. Let me say that again. Good envois began to stand alone as poems … creating. the. TANKA!! How excellent to find that this form I’ve chosen is the parent form of the tanka. Isn’t research cool?
This last bit explains so much about the tanka. It’s supposed to express a full moment or emotion, and that started because it was drawing an end to a poem that could have been as long as a hundred lines.
I’ve also done some chōka reading — ha! maybe should have started with that before writing, eh? — and that’s been illuminating, too. Seeing the ways the chōka almost tell a story and seem like a kind of prose poem in that way gives me ideas, gives me something to think about as I try moving forward with this form.
Today’s Poetic Asides prompt is to write a “discovery” poem, which is funny to see in light of everything I learned on my fact-finding mission.
Flexing my muscles
trying to forge a place, here —
across new landscape,
wide, unknown territory.
I’m stretching, stretching.
It’s nervous-making and strange
but I’m determined.
Unsure what to hope to find
to keep my eye on
what patch of ground to reach for
I stutter and stop
and again, stutter and stop.
Searching, I’m kept whole
to wander, wonder, look
to try, keep pushing
the pen always in my hand
my willingness held open.
I don’t know if the skipped lines or spaces are allowed, but I went with them anyway. I certainly like this better than the last couple of attempts. Reading more about the chōka has made me more curious to keep at it this month, see what I can come up with.