Ever heard of a syair? What about twin cinema? While one of those poetic forms is ancient and one is brand new, they do have one thing in common: they were both created in Asia. In honor of Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month in the US, let’s take a look at the vast array of forms in Asian and Pacific poetry.
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Before we dig into these poems, you can also celebrate Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month by checking out our previous highlights, including an Asian/Pacific Poetry Teatime, Japanese Teatime, and ways to celebrate the Lunar New Year with poetry. You can find out more about Japanese poetry here.
Today, we’ll be exploring different types of Asian and Pacific poetry.
Some of the types of poetry trace back to ancient oral traditions, while others are new forms developed as recently as the 2000s. Some focus on specific rules and techniques, while others are centered on a particular theme.
So let’s dive in!
Here are some of the different traditional and new forms of Asian and Pacific poetry.
- Kōel (around Southeast Asia and the Pacific): In this three-line form, the first and last lines repeat vowel sounds (assonance) and the middle repeats consonants (alliteration). Together, the kōel sounds like birdsong. See a history of the form with examples here.
- Syair (Malaysia): This is an epic form that tells tales of historical and mythic events, meant to be sung in front of an audience as well as written down. The pattern is four lines with AAAA rhymes. Find out more here.
- Haiku (Japan): A traditional Japanese form about a moment in nature, written in lines of five-seven-five syllables. We have an entire post about this vivid and brief style of Japanese poetry, along with lots of book suggestions. Check it out right here!
- Lục bát (Vietnam): This form is based on arrangements of “sharp” and “flat” tones using the six tones in Vietnamese as well as end rhymes. While it’s difficult to describe in English, this example on Wikipedia will give you a taste.
- Yadu (Myanmar): Also called Burmese climbing rhyme, this type of poem has rhymes that move from the end of the first line to the middle of the next, with a new end rhyme that moves to the middle, and so on. The interlocking rhymes usually refer to the changing seasons. See a visual representation of this form here.
- Sijo (Korea): Similar to a haiku, the sijo is a three-line poem with 14-16 syllables per line. The first line introduces the subject, the second line either develops or “turns” the subject so you look at it from another angle, and the third line provides the final twist. See more here at the Poetry Foundation.
- Pantun (Indonesia): Four lines of equal length rhyming ABAB. The first two lines are the “shadow,” usually a proverb, riddle, or question, while the last two lines are the “meaning,” which gives the literal answer to the riddle. Read more here.
- Kural (India and Sri Lanka): This is a type of ancient Tamil poetry with just two lines: four words in the first line, and three in the second line. See an example in English here.
- Environmental poetry (Pacific islands): Several islands in the Pacific were used as nuclear bomb and weapons test sites in WWII, with lasting consequences including unexploded missiles still there today. Many poets in this region explore these dangers, including this simple and heartbreaking poem by Soul Vang told from the point of view of one of these bombs.
- Twin Cinema (Singapore): Invented in 2010, this form is composed in two columns that can be read separately (up and down) or together (side to side). Each reading gives a different meaning to the poem. Learn more here.
- Found//Fount Sonnets (Singapore): Developed in 2017, this form is a mix of “found” poetry and formal sonnets. Choose a piece of writing (an article, newspaper, novel, anything!) and circle every seventh word until you have 14 words total. Each line of your fourteen-line sonnet needs to include one of the words you circled, in the order you circled them. Typically, these sonnets don’t use a set rhyme or rhythm. Find out more here.
Now that you’ve explored a few different types of poetry, why not try out one of these forms for yourself? Challenge yourself to try something new and different in your writing today!
Be sure to share what you’ve learned with us here!
A Few Books to Read
While we have many more reading suggestions in the articles mentioned above, you can check out these books for more poetry to read and celebrate Asian and Pacific poetry.
A Thousand Peaks: Poems from China, by Siyu Liu and Orel Protopopescu
Twist: Yoga Poems, by Janet Wong
The Trip Back Home, by Janet Wong
Tap Dancing on the Roof: Sijo (Poems), by Linda Sue Park
Maples in the Mist: Poems for Children from the Tang Dynasty, by Minfong Ho
Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai (a verse novel)