One of the books I’ve recently picked up is The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan by Carmen Blacker. While I’m not crazy about the word shaman, and Blacker seems to lump Okinawa in as being the same as Japan, there’s a lot of meat to chew through here. I just thought I’d share an exciting morsel I read today on poetry, magic practices and haiku…
When interviewing Nakayama Tarō about the language of the gods, Blacker says, “Nakayama points out, we can detect in the god’s speech the metre which from the earliest times has been fundamental to Japanese poetry, a metre of alternating seven and five syllables… Japanese poetry began as the utterances of a shaman in a trance. Its metre and poetic devices are not the work of man, but revealed from a divine source.”
“A metre of alternating seven and five syllables” is pretty much haiku. Without getting into a discussion of what is and isn’t haiku (excellent post on this btw: HAIKU: A WHOLE LOT MORE THAN 5-7-5) the point: In Japan, poetry began as utterances of magic in a 5-7-5 meter—haiku.
Why does it matter to me? Because I write in linked haiku—even the canzonet I’ll be reading this coming Saturday for Cake & Hyperbull I wrote in a 5-7-5 meter. I like the challenge of staying within the syllabic structure and choose to work within those boundaries. That’s what sounds/feels right to me. It was very cool to read that haiku began as shamanic utterances… but it’s no surprise revelation.
Poetry has been in the realm of magical utterance in many (if not all) cultures. Far before “Boil, boil, toil and trouble…” became a thing, humans have exhibited a natural appreciation and awe of the poet as conjurer. Witches and warriors alike have sensed the power of the poem to create change. Poetry is magic. Magic is power. Poetry is power.
It’s just nice to see a scholarly work say so.
The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan (3rd ed.) by Carmen Blacker (Sept. 15, 1999) affiliate link
“how to write powerful poetry spells” by Lisa Marie Basile, Luna Luna (Feb. 28, 2021)
“Poetry and Magic” by S. Musgrove, The Australian Quarterly Vol. 18, No. 1 (Mar., 1946)
“Poetry, Like Witchcraft and Magick, is an Act of Transformation” by Janaka Stucky, Literary Hub, (May 3, 2019)