This article is the first in a series of interviews with People I Know who are Doing Cool Things.
When I was a freshman at
But that was then, and this is now. Even though Tim and I are both out of the
Claire: OK, let's start out with a question that has been plaguing me for awhile. How do you pronounce Gogyohka?
Tim Geaghan: All the g's are hard, as in "good." It's four syllables long, so: "Go-gee-oh-ka." That's actually the #1 asked question from people.
Claire: Ah, great! So, when people ask you to describe Gogyohka, how do you respond?
Tim Geaghan: Usually I start with Haiku, since most people know what Haiku is. Then I got to Tanka, which is just 5 line Haiku, with syllables patterns 5/7/5/7/7. Gogyohka is just free verse Tanka. The lines should be short, but there are no syllable restrictions. Also, you can write about whatever you want. Traditionally in Tanka you have to include a seasonal reference and you're not supposed to talk openly about your feelings. Not so with Gogyohka. The word itself translates into "five-line poetry." So five lines is really the only rule. Enta, it's creator, calls Gogyohka "a small door that opens into a wider world."
Claire: So how did you discover Gogyohka?
Tim Geaghan: By discovering Enta! Enta Kusakabe, along with Elizabeth Phaire, the then director of the American Gogyohka Society, held a reading/lecture about Gogyohka at the
Claire: Wow, that IS a fairy tale! What about this form of poetry drew you in so well? Were you much of a poet before this?
Tim Geaghan: I'd been writing poetry since I was 15, and took poetry workshops as an undergraduate. But never really thought of seriously or wrote it regularly. It's weird--I wrote long, long lines for a period of nearly 10 years up to the point I discovered Gogyohka. I think it was the relief of doing something brief and immediate, the appeal of condensing a spontaneous moment into a lasting impression, that hooked me, at least in part. I also like that 5th line, the fact that it has an odd number of lines. I'd always liked to write sonnets, but sonnets are easy compared to Gogyohka, because in a five line poem, you have to write a couplet, resolve it, in one line! And it can be the 1st line, 3rd line, or 5th line. But I don't wanna get too technical...
Claire: On your blog, you seem to post new Gogyohka every day. Why/how do you write so much?
Tim Geaghan: Ha! That's a great question--well-timed. Just last night I was trying to reckon how many I had written so far, in the past six months. The estimate is at about 500--crazy! I once wrote:
I write these
I can't stop
I don't know why
but it feels good
and it does. Why is hard. But how is easy. I write them in the shower, or at night, when my brain is calming down. It's not a big investment of time, and it's a great way to sort out all the emotionally significant observations and experiences I have in the course of a day, to figure out what's important, to come back to myself and the world in a way that's not driven by ok what did i get done today. It's the most anti-neurotic form of writing I've ever done. I wrote a novel. It was agony. But I finished it, gritting my teeth. And I've written short stories--again, total nose to the grindstone experience. But these--I can pop off three or four before even putting pants on. So I do, and it just so happens meaningful stuff happens all the freaking time!
Claire: Like literary therapy, I suppose.
Tim Geaghan: Eh, sort of. Enta talks a lot about the emotional benefits of Gogyohka. We all have a central axis, the core of who we are, and Gogyohka helps us access that. When we do, stress dissipates, because we are able to see what's important and what isn't. Stress usually is the result of not knowing what's important. Anyway, apparently he's gone into cancer wards and helped people live better lives before they die.
Claire: Can you share with me one or two or however many of your favorite poems that you've written?
Tim Geaghan: Here's one I wrote after the National Park PBS special:
You can kill
but you can't kill
fear of the wolf
Here's one I wrote after the NYC marathon last Sunday:
Gospel choir singing so hard
even white boys on the avenue
have to smile
There are six million people living in
And if he keeps acting like that
he's going to meet them
That's a sassy one! Here's the best one I ever wrote, which Enta published in the August issue of his Magazine:
The corn tassels
in the wind of the Plains
on the bones of the buffalo
That one and the wolf one are linked, somehow, despite being written far apart. It is also linked to a poem by Enta:
It wasn't the Americans
Who dropped the bomb
It was the consciousness of the Era
If the Japanese had had it
We would have dropped it too
Claire: Those are some cool ones, thanks for sharing. So I hear you are writing a Fulbright application on Gogyohka?
Tim Geaghan: You hear right! I'm done, actually. In the mail. We'll find out if I got past the first round January 2010. I'm hoping to spend a year in
Claire: I wish you much luck. It seems like the Gogyohka movement is quite alive in
Tim Geaghan: Thank you. If the movement in
Claire: That sounds like a lot of things.
Tim Geaghan: Yeah, I'd call this thing my second job, but that would imply a paycheck.
Claire: Well, our time is almost up (because, you know, we have schedules). Is there anything else you'd like to say about Gogyohka...or anything else for that matter?
Tim Geaghan: I hope everyone feels compelled to give it a whirl. One of the best things about the form is its accessibility and availability. Anyone can write it. Peter Fiore called his Gogyohka collection Text Messages, which reminds us that you could text Gogyohka to each other if you wanted to. Anyway, it's very compatible with our lives these days, so I hope folks feel compelled to check it out--talk to me and I can hook you up with Enta's book. Good stuff! I think Gogyohka is like twitter poetry, as goofy as that sounds. Poetry with a 140 character limit, that sort of thing.
Claire: That makes a lot of sense...it's quick and whatever you want it to be.
Tim Geaghan: Pretty much. It's easy to write Gogyohka, though it's hard to write a good one, and it's not all "arty" and intimidating. I like that about it...
By five lines, Claire concludes with
A haiku instead