Gogyohka (Five-Line Poetry)

Gogyohka is a new form of poetry which has been developed in Japan. Gogyohka simply means verse which is written in five lines, but each line generally represents one phrase and has a different feel to five-line verse commonly found in Western poetry.

I wasted time,
and now
doth time

To be
not to be,
that is
the question

If you make each short phrase stand alone as a separate line in this way, then you have something a little different to what is generally considered standard 5-line verse in the Western sense.

This new form of verse was developed by a poet called Enta Kusakabe. The idea was to take the traditional form of Tanka poetry (which is written in five lines) and liberate its structure, creating a freer form of verse. Kusakabe, who was born in 1938, first came up with the concept in 1957. From the 1990s onwards he began his efforts to spread Gogyohka as a new movement in poetry, and there are now around half a million people writing this form of verse in Japan.

There is a long tradition of lay people writing short poetry in Japanese society  (currently there are around three million Japanese writing Haiku, one million writing Tanka and one million writing Senryu).

Kusakabe established a Gogyohka society and publishes a periodical every month featuring work by its members. Within Japan there are 150 local Gyogoka societies. Every month each group holds a poetry meeting in which participants gather to discuss and criticize each other’s work.

The URL is as follows:https://5gyohka.com/

Traditional Tanka is based on a 5,7,5,7,7 syllable pattern. For languages such as English, however, it is difficult to compose verse within these restraints. Non-Japanese Tanka is, therefore, written freely in five lines, like Gogyohka. That is to say, Gogyohka is already being written internationally in the form of Tanka.

While a degree of freedom is inevitable in Tanka, in the case of Gogyohka the freedom of the verse is natural, and this can be used to great effect: the freedom of expression in Tanka is passive, whereas the freedom in Gogyohka is active and vibrant.

Kusakabe believes that all languages share an inherent quality, that words are a form of breath which can be uttered and felt. He came to the conclusion that this kind of poetry would work in any language and that writing it would help people to develop their thoughts. He resolved to spread the word about Gogyohka around the world.

There are a few people in New York who have already joined the Gogyohka cause, so Kusakabe decided to begin his global mission there.

◇Here are some samples of Gogyohka.

What kind of
stained glass
have your
rose-coloured cheeks
passed through
 ─ Enta Kusakabe

Three people
listen to the doctor’s explanation.
He said this, he said that
what did he actually say?
 ─  Haru (Woman in her 50s)

My younger sister
“I like everything about Nao”
Does she like his “intestines”, “bowels”
and “anus”?
 ─  Onishi Maho (2nd year primary school student)

Submerged in the bathtub
mother is secretly
thinking about me and my sister
when we had no breasts
 ─  Garubo

“Let’s roll”
The passenger’s
last words
reverberate around NY
 ─  Yumi Kochi (A student of medicine at Columbia University, New York)

◇Enta Kusakabe’s Short Biography

1938Born in Dairen City, Manchuria
1947Moved to Kusakabe, Shodo-Gun, Kagawa Prefecture
1961Graduated from the Tokyo University faculty of Western Literature
During this time he wrote poetry, and in particular Tanka. At the age of 19, he hit upon the idea of Gogyohka. From then on he wrote free verse and Gogyohka.
1961Took up a position at the Yomiuri Shimbun.
1964Stopped working in order to dedicate himself to his literary pursuits.
Published numerouscollections of verse, including the best-seller “Hontou ni Ai Shiteitara” (If You Really Loved Me), as well as critical works about poetry. During thistime he also published several poetry periodicals.
1994Established a Gogyohka society and launched the monthly “Gogyohka” periodical, thereby starting the Gogyohka poetry movement. Beginning with just 30 members, within twelve years the number of devotees of this form of poetry grew to half a million. Kusakabe hopes that one day Gogyohka will take its place alongside Tanka and Haiku.

There are currently 4,000 members of the Gogyohka society and over 150 local chaptersthroughout Japan.

Kusakabe has had his Gogyohka published in numerous newspaper columns and has appeared on television and radio to promote his cause. Gogyohka events regularly take place all over Japan.
2008The American Chapter of Gogyohka Society was established by Linda Voss, Joseph Gesick, and Elizabeth Phaire.

Gogyohka works produced and published by Enta Kusakabe:

Gogyohka Collections

Kokoro no Hate (Limits of the Heart): 1993 Shiseisha

Kawa no Oto ga Kasuka ni Suru (The Faint Sound of the River): 1994 Shiseisha

Umiyama (Sea and Mountain): 2005 Shiseisha

Hito wo daku ao (Blue who caresses us): 2015 Shiseisha

Introductions to Gogyohka

Kindle Store

Sugu kakeru Gogyohka (Gogyohka for Beginners): 2008 Shiseisha

Gogyohka wo Hajimeru Hito no Tame (Gogyohka for Beginners):1994 Shiseisha

Gogyohka Nyumon (Introduction to Gogyohka):2001 Tokyo Doshoten

Gogyohka no Jiten (Dictionary of Gogyohka):2001 Tokyo Do

Mokuyobi no Gogyohka (Thursday’s Gokyoka):2002 Tokyo Do

Koi no Gogyohka (Love Gokyoka): Kodansha Bunko (paperback)

Tabi no Gogyohka (Gogyohka Travels):2005 Shiseisha

Koi no Gogyohka Waku Waku 350 (350 Love Gogyohka): Shiseisha

Kodomotachi no Gogyohka (Gogyohka for Children):2005 Shiseisha

Monoomoi no Ron (The Theory of Gogyohka): 2009 Shiseisha

Gogyohka Dare no Kokoro nimo Meisaku ga Aru (The Theory of Gogyohka): 2013 Shiseisha

Gogyohka Shukashu1 ((Selected Gogyohka Works2001-2005)):2006 Shiseisha

Gogyohka Shukashu2 (Selected Gogyohka Works2006-2010):2011 Shiseisha

Gogyohka Shukashu3 (Selected Gogyohka Works2011-2015):2016 Shiseisha

Gogyohka Shukashu4 (Selected Gogyohka Works2016-2020):2021 Shiseisha

He has also translated many books into Japanese, including Disney’s Mickey Mouse, Popeye and Donald Duck.