Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Cell tanka

For years, Ayano Iida used email on her cellphone mainly to tap out quick messages to friends like "Let's get together tomorrow."

But these days, Ms. Iida's mobile is spouting out heartfelt verse like this: "The guy who I liked / second-best, was second-rate / in the school that he / went to; and also in his / performance between the sheets."

Ms. Iida, 26 years old, is one of a growing number of young Japanese using mobile phones to write and exchange tanka, an ancient form of unrhymed poetry whose roots reach back at least 1,300 years. Scores of tanka home pages and bulletin boards are popping up on cellphone Internet sites with names like Palm-of-the-Hand Tanka and Teenage Tanka. Japan's national public broadcaster airs a weekly show called "Saturday Night Is Cellphone Tanka," which gets about 3,000 poems emailed from listeners' mobiles each week on topics like parental nagging and the boy in the next class.

The marriage of tanka and cellphones is all the more unexpected because tanka is so bound up with Japanese tradition. Tanka, literally "short song," is thought to have first emerged around the eighth century. It is composed of 31 syllables arranged in a rigid, five-line pattern of 5-7-5-7-7. It's big on archaic words and has long been associated with high culture.

Courtiers of the 10th century exchanged love letters in tanka form, and the imperial family still pens tanka at the start of each year on topics like "happiness" and "spring." Tanka are often used to commemorate pivotal moments like death: Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima wrote two tanka before he slit his belly in ritual suicide in 1970.

But young Japanese say tanka is surprisingly suited to the cellphone. It's short enough to fit on little mobile screens, and simple enough to let young poets whip out bits of verse whenever the spirit moves them.

In many ways, tanka is similar to the kind of terse, sparse messages Japanese kids have tapped out on their handsets for years--especially in the early days of the cellphone when just a small number of characters could be crammed into one email.

"The rhythm and the length of tanka make it exactly the right vessel for what I want to say," says Ms. Iida, an ebullient woman in red-framed glasses who works nights at a bookstore in the city of Tochigi, a few hours north of Tokyo.
Here is a link to
the article I'm quoting.
It's from the Wall Street
Journal though, available
only to paid subscribers.

LINK: "Tiny Screens Are Just Right for 31 Syllables in 5 Lines Dashed Off on the Run"

comments: 1

Crritic! said...

Fascinating, Michael. I'm off to try and write one. Pity we can't access the article.