What is a Gogyohka?

An examination of the history, form and use of the Gogyohka; a style of poetry mixing form and freedom.

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The Gogyohka is a recent form of poetry, inspired by Asian forms such as the Tanka.


While much is made of the history of Eastern forms of poetry, the Gogyohka has only been formalised since 1983, when it was named by Enta Kusakabe, who is believed to have originated the idea in 1957 while studying at the Tokyo University faculty of Western Literature.

The form has roots within the Tanka, which also has five lines. Poets such as Kenji Miyazawa and Jun Ishiwara had written free-Tanka, without the Tanka’s usual syllable restrictions since the Taishō period, around the 1910s. These poets did not name this free-Tanka, instead seeing it as an extension of the existing form.

Spearheaded by Kusakabe, a Gogyohka Society was formed in 1994 and still publishes a monthly periodical as well as organising monthly meetings to share work. The society is over 4000-strong, drawing on a long tradition of Japanese laypeople writing poetry, far more than in the West, and this democratic approach is very much part of that continuing ethos.

In 2008, the first American Chapter of the Gogyohka Society was established by Linda Voss, Joseph Gesick, and Elizabeth Phaire in New York.


Enta Kusakabe established the following five rules for the Gogyokha:

  1. Gogyohka is a new form of short poem that is based on the ancient Japanese Tanka and Kodai Kayo;
  2. Gogyohka has five lines, but exceptionally may have four or six;
  3. Each line of Gogyohka consists of one phrase with a line-break after each phrase or breath;
  4. Gogyohka has no restraint on numbers of words or syllables;
  5. The theme of Gogyohka is unrestricted.


As the Gogyokha is a liberated form, it does not need to be used in a constrained way. Gogyokha can be written on any subject or in any tone.

In researching the Gogyohka I have found that it draws its shape from the placing of breaths. A Gogyohka written in French will flow very differently than one written in English or Japanese, but they are no less valid. It is a fascinating insight into language and expression.

Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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