SAINT LOUIS ART MUSEUM Japanese Waka Poetry Activity

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1 SAINT LOUIS ART MUSEUM Japanese Waka Poetry Activity In this activity, students will create their own structured Japanese waka poem in response to a work of art from the Asian art collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum. Through the steps of this activity, students will also become engaged in close looking at an object or image, responding to questions and recording their observations, descriptions, and thoughts for use in creating their waka poem. This activity combines a study of Japanese poetry with a close examination of visual art from Japan and China, and can be expanded to fit with classroom learning in Language Arts and Social Studies in addition to Visual Art. Suggested Objects from Saint Louis Art Museum s Collection: More information about the following objects as well as images can be found in the Museum s Art of China and Japan Curriculum Packet, which can be accessed online at: Attributed to Liu Cai, Fish Swimming Amid Falling Flowers, late 11 th -early 12 th century Sakai Hoitsu, Fans Afloat on a Stream, c Hine Taizan, Spring Woods: Passing Rain, 1856 Wang Wending, Gathering of the Immortals, 1919 Kayama Matazo, Star Festival, 1968 What is a waka poem? The form of Japanese poetry most familiar to Americans is the haiku, but the haiku derived from an older, but still popular poetic form the waka. The word waka means Japanese poem, and it is a form so basic to Japanese literature that Japanese still study and write it today. It is also known by the name tanka, which means short poem. Waka poems are often written in groups on a similar topic, and then discussed in this group. These short poems have been important to the Japanese throughout their history. These have been used to celebrate special occasions since ancient times, and indeed, still are. The Imperial family still runs an annual poetry-writing contest open to all, and many Japanese are amateur poets. In the Heian period especially, a person's skill in poetry was a major criterion in determining his or her standing in society, even influencing political positions. Throughout its history, the waka has had an importance in Japanese society unparalleled in the West. In this activity, the waka poem is made of 31 syllables consisting of 5 lines that follow a strict, unrhymed five-line pattern of 5,7,5,7,7 syllables. ACTIVITY STEPS: 1. Break into Teams: Student poets are divided into teams of no more than 3-4 students each. 2. Extended Looking and Responding: Each team selects one artwork as their subject to contemplate for writing. Students can spend about 5-10 minutes using their Gathering Ideas & Words Worksheet to individually collect their own responses to the artwork. Students can discuss their responses with others on their team, and begin thinking about their poem. 3. Writing a Poem: Teams will then have about 10 minutes to create one waka poem for their group using the Creating Your Waka Poem Worksheet. Groups should pull thoughts, images, adjectives, and questions from their Gathering Ideas & Words worksheets to help them begin the process of drafting their poem.

2 4. Sharing Poems with the Class: Groups will then share their poems with their artwork to the entire group, and discuss their experience of writing a waka poem (was it difficult? what did they learn from this activity?) Optional Activity Extensions: POETRY COMPETITION Poetry competitions are very popular and common in Japan. The earliest competitions were somewhat casual entertainments, but gradually these matches became quite serious, with topics (often taken from imperial anthologies) set in advance and an appeals process in place for protesting the decisions of judges. Poetry competitions also became significant public forums for poets to establish reputations and display their poetic skills. One exciting way to extend this activity (especially for older students) is to have student teams trade their poems with another team, and then each team writes a new waka poem of their own that responds to the original poem as well as the artwork they were using for inspiration. After the teams complete their new poems, they share these poems with the entire class again. For each artwork, the entire class can vote to select the most creative poem. WORKING WITH OTHER TYPES OF ART This activity can also be very successful when applied to artworks from other periods, cultures, and media. For example, writing waka poems with contemporary abstract paintings or sculpture can be fun and easy way to structure students responses to these works of art. Try using the work of the Abstract Expressionists as the focus of this activity! Additional Online Resources: ASIA FOR EDUCATORS An initiative of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University, this excellent online resource is designed to serve teachers and students in world history, culture, geography, art, and literature at the undergraduate and pre-college levels. Try searching for waka on this website to find a wide array of resources and lesson plans, as well as an extended definition of waka. YOUNG AMERICAN POETRY DIGEST Publish your students work! The National Schools Project, initiated in 1994, is designed to share our youth s talents with others, supply a national audience for student writing, and provide a publishing opportunity for young poets. High schools around the nation are invited to participate in the project by submitting their students' most creative poetry.

3 Sample of Student Waka Poem Written by students from East St. Louis High School, with Teacher Jacqueline Green The sky shines with stars, While the clouds embrace the moon. From waters to skies, The Milky Way and its bloom It begins to come alive. Kayama Matazo, Star Festival (Tanabata), Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Kayama Matazô, The Japan America Society of St. Louis, and Dr. J. Peggy Adeboi

4 WORKSHEET: GATHERING IDEAS & WORDS Spend some time looking closely at your selected work of art, and create a list of some of your responses to the following questions. Write as many descriptive words as you can (don t worry about writing complete sentences or complete thoughts): What do you notice? What do you recognize? What does this work of art remind you of? Try to be creative with this one. What feeling do you get from this work? Is there a mood? What does the image make you wonder about? What more do you want to know?

5 WORKSHEET: CREATING YOUR WAKA POEM Use this worksheet to draft your group s waka poem. The lines below can help you remember how many syllables (not words) should be in each line. You can write your words over these lines, but be sure to keep track of the number of syllables. What is a waka poem? 5. In this activity, the waka poem is made of 31 syllables consisting of 5 lines that follow a strict, unrhymed five-line pattern of 5,7,5,7,7 syllables. Sample Poem: The flowers withered, (5) Their color faded away, (7) While meaninglessly (5) I spent my days in the world (7) And the long rains were falling. (7) LINE 1 (5 syllables) LINE 2 (7 syllables) LINE 3 (5 syllables) LINE 4 (7 syllables) LINE 5 (7 syllables)

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