Waka Waka Waka

The purest form of flash fiction can perhaps be seen in the samurai culture of ancient Japan. Although many paintings and poems were subject to the process of drafting and consideration, the ideal of living in the moment meant creating art in an immediate response to emotion or beauty was seen as a great skill.

One of my friends, told me of a poetry game based on the tanka or waka: 31 on, rather than the 17 of the haiku. The first contestant would produce a spontaneous haiku (possibly subject to a topic or other rules) and his opponent would attempt to transform it into a tanka that changed the mood of the haiku by adding 14 characters. The game can also be played individually either as a metal exercise or to produce a poem with a twist.

Counting syllables instead of kanji, I produced the following two poems yesterday based around the traditional (possibly apocryphal) rules of referring to a season without mentioning it, and commenting on the human condition:

Brown leaves fall on grass
Decay spreads across my sight
My work rendered naught

Linking autumn and entropy would probably not gain me the title of Zen master; however it made me feel something other than my actual cheerfulness, and the bleakness seemed to offer a suitable challenge to changing the mood. Adding the lower phrase:

Brown leaves fall on grass
Decay spreads across my sight
My work rendered naught
The dog is in the compost
At least it saves me mulching

Rather than sadness the extra lines make me feel a mixture of humour and stoicism.

As well as the mental agility haiku and tanka produce, I often find I have no wish to edit them; the creation is finished before my inner critic has found his glasses and taken his pipe out of his mouth. I have yet to discover the technique of writing longer works in the space before thought.

In contrast to the immediate publication of this tanka I have added one of my oldest viable poems to the Miscellany; I wrote Irreconcilable Similarities in 1999 and have previously shown it to two people (under a different title), so it might be the slowest I have ever published a poem.

Do you usually find off-the-cuff poetry beautiful or flawed? Do you play any competitive or co-operative writing games?


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