A Floating World…poetic history of tanka

genie Nakano

Photo by Genie Nakano, Kyoto Japan, 2018

Before Japan

could read or write,

 tanka was called waka

performed as short songs in five lines

short  long  short   long   long

Heian imperial court

was well versed in  waka

after a love affair

erotic exchanges of waka

was expected proper etiquette


photo: Genie, Kyoto, 2018

were the best of tanka’s golden era

yearning, soaring

tales of love, nature, war

passion prevailed

750 AD the emperor decreed

waka to be recorded for history

4,000 love poems

brushed into exquisite scrolls

Manyoshu completed in 900

five lines, waka

burning, tales of love

nature, war, erotica

themes of long ago Japan

treasured in Manyoshu

waka flourished

for hundred of years

then suddenly jaded

grew out of touch

unconnected to society

pre-world war 1

the poetry bureau censored

and controlled tanka

Asaka-Sha, brotherhood

led by Tekkan Yosan, renamed it tanka


into a powerful form

tanka became

a relevant force

themes encompassing life

a shining star

Tekkan’s student and to be wife

Akiko Yosano, 1878-1942

sensuous, bold, controversial

her tanka rocked

softly I push open

that door

we call a mystery

these full breasts

held both in my hands  (Akiko Yosano)

twists and turns

and through the labyrinth

radical tanka was born

freeverse, avant garde, modern

published in journals, books, newspapers

Meiji Emperor

the saint of tanka poet

wrote, collected 10,00 tanka

promoted and celebrated

tanka with the world

coming to America

tanka was written and published

In Japanese American

journals and newspapers

currently, I write tanka for Rafu Shimpo

tanka flourished

in WW2 American concentration camps

Isseis and Niseis

wrote tanka to record and heal

their anguish love and despair

in 1957, Lucille Nixon

introduced tanka to white America

honored in Japan

at the Palace Poetry Party

for her tanka poem


tanka is international

from Japan

to the USA, Australia Bhutan India

tanka flourishes around the world

Genie nakano,

Performed at Torrance Library, 2020

Published by genienakano

I love writing--It's my joy, my therapy--my confession. I'm a performer, dancer, yoga and meditation instructor, write a poetry column for Rafu Shimpo. Growth and love of life is a key to my happiness.

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