What is that you express in your eyes? It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life. – Walt Whitman
Waka is a form of classical Japanese poetry. The term literally means poetry in Japanese.倭 Wa was the oldest written name for Japan. It came from historic Chinese records. It has a meter of 5-7-5-7-7. Tanka is the most widely used type of waka. Many people are familiar with Haiku has a 5-7-5 meter. As a university lecturer in China for twelve years, I would use Haiku to inspire my students to find their creative muse. I was asked by the Dean of the Foreign Language College to develop a Poetry Appreciation class, I said I would if I could have the students write poetry. The Dean thought it would be difficult for foreign language students, but I insisted, saying to appreciate poetry they would have to write poetry.
I was fortunate to have a Japanese colleague at the university. He explained Haiku to me, and I in turn explained it to my students. All haiku has to have a season word called a Kigo. This could be a color (white-winter, green-spring), temperature, or more metaphorical – crisp, crackling leaves for autumn. The meter is 5-7-5. After a general explanation, I would hand out post-it notes and tell them to write. To demonstrate while they were thinking, I would write a poem for each season on the blackboard. Sometimes I would put on music. I did this for Poetry, Literature, and Writing classes.
I would ask permission to read their minor masterpieces, as I call them. There was a range of emotions expressed from young adult angst to the first blossoming of love. Always they were happily surprised they could write a short poem. Writing requires doses of success in order to improve. I would always try to begin any critique with the positive elements of the student’s work. Then point out room for improvement – editing for clarity and concision. But, always keeping in mind that my classes were foreign language classes, I praised their abilities to express themselves so well in English.
My wonderful students taught me so many wonderful things over the years. Being a lecturer, I spoke a great deal. Delving into details of language as deeply as my students cared to go. Some students wanted to just get through the class, while others had a true thirst for knowledge. Every year I would meet several fantastic new students. And they never ceased to amaze me with their youthful optimism and quick minds. Over the years I taught over two thousand students, and like the stars at night, some shine brighter, but they all shined a positive light into my life. Like lines and stanzas of poetry, the weeks and semesters of teaching became lyrical verses in my life story.
Life is poetry. Opening the eyes to wonder, transposes the mundane into the extraordinary. Perspective, in writing and in life, is changeable. The first steps require the desire for change. By walking onto the path of change, the world opens before you. As Zhuangzi said, The wise man knows that it is better to sit on the banks of a remote mountain stream than to be emperor of the whole world. Go out and find your stream wherever it may be.
You can read some of my great students’ writing in the collection I compiled.