We were out all afternoon gathering (metaphorical) nuts
and berries for Christmas pleasures. Driving home,
I reached for the iPhone camera to catch this beautiful winter cloud,
and the peach slice of sunset beneath it, through the windshield.
I have been putting books away before we leave next week, and that definitely leads to sampling. Today's sample is from Makoto Ueda's very special Modern Japanese Poets. Ueda puts Masaoka Shiki first among the bringers of a more modern sensibility to the writing of Japanese poems, even though Shiki mostly wrote in the old forms of haiku and tanka, but in a new way. I have read this chapter several times and find it wonderful to revisit for its excellent overview and deep understanding.
On January 8, 1900, the newspaper Nippon announced a tanka contest on the subject "forest." Shiki, the poetry editor of the paper, specified the contest rules. Rule number five was by far the longest, less a rule than a piece of advice for would-be contestants:
In writing a poem it will not do to borrow from classical tanka and use cliche phrases like "a legendary forest" or "a sacred forest." The poem would better depict a scene or express a feeling as actually seen or felt by a man passing through a forest. If you have the time to sit at a desk and read a book on tanka, you should instead pick up a cane and go for a leisurely walk along a path in the woods. When you are in the actual setting, look for some specific part of the landscape (such as a house, a village, a stream, a hill, a field, a tower, a bird, a paper kite, etc.) that you might combine with the forest in your poem. Observe also many other less conspicuous features of the forest (such as undergrowth, a grave mound, a small shrine, a temple, an animal, a watchman's hut, and so forth). When you think you have captured the "feel" of the forest, you can then return home. There you should begin composing many poems, bringing back the scenery in your mind's eye and focusing on one or another aspect of it. If you compose twn or fifteen different poems this way, there will be at least one or two poems that are good. You are not likely to come up with a good poem if you just write one or two.
The passage illustrates Shiki's idea of the creative process in general, even though he was talking about tanka composition in particular.
The passage emphasizes observation: a poet who composes from books cannot do shasei. [haiku "sketched" directly from nature] But Shiki wanted the sketching to be done at home rather than amid the actual setting. The time lapse was probably related to his idea of selective realism, since the poet needed time for the scene to settle, for certain aspects to select themselves out as the possible focus of a poem. The landscape had to be recollected in tranquility.
Modern Japanese Poets and the nature of literature.
Stanford University Press, 1983, page 19.
(Note: all the translations in the book are also the work of Dr, Ueda.)
So there you have it. Take a walk and notice! Then write, write a lot, and then choose. A task for the New Year coming up!