Kokinshu Challenge

The Kokin Wakashu or Collection of Japanese Poems of Ancient and Modern Times known as the Kokinshu is a Heian period imperial compilation of over 1100 poems completed in the early 10th century.

A noblewoman of the early 11th century, like my persona, Sugawara, would be intimately familiar with this collection. Her own poems, letters and even speech would be laced with references to poems in the Kokinshu.

I was struggling with my daily tanka practice for most of 2023. I had had the idea many months ago to use the Kokinshu to spur me to write more period poetry, and decided to refine that idea, coming up with a personal challenge, the Kokinshu Callenge.

Everyday I choose a poem from the Kokinshu to use as inspiration and write my own tanka in “response” to it. I’ve a working document available to view here: Kokinshu Challenge. Please, enjoy, and check back to see more poems as time goes by. I plan to push for at least 100 days of this challenge, as it’s a part of my 100 Days of Challenge, but there’s a good chance I may keep going until I’ve written a poem for each in the Kokinshu…it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve written 1000 Tanka.

I began this challenge on October 2, 2023. Here is an example from day 2:

Kokinshu 186 (Anonymous)

Although autumn does not come for my sake alone–

I am saddened first when I hear the lonely piping of the insects’ calls

My Response:

Lonely serenade as insects call in dry grass after summer fades

How much more sad I would be if not for their company

In a bit of intersectionality, during my ongoing study of the Tale of Genji for my Genji Project I see frequent references in poems and dialogue to poems in the Kokinshu.

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