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Power of Wording
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Awareness of the Present

Power of Wording

"Humans are conventionally ensnared by a conceptual approach, and these concepts blind us to the unfettered, brilliant qualities of experience. It is unimaginable to move beyond these concepts, for they condition every moment of our lives and shape our sense of identity, our relationships, our emotions, our sense perceptions, our very dreams. Most attempts to point out the binding nature of our conceptual landscape merely intensify the hold our concepts have on us as we grope to fit spiritual teaching into our previously devised rationalistic categories."

"Preface" by Judith Simmer-Brown to Buddhist Wisdom (p.xviii)

The basis of all poetry, of how we deal with the world, how we evaluate ourselves through self-talk is words. In modern waka, we strive for wording that most clearly represents the actual experience not what the poet interpreting the experience thinks it to be. This all brings us back to the issue of self and selflessness, the basic roots of Taoist/ Buddhist philosophy which are the foundations of modern waka.

Sometimes beginners in poetry are very wrapped up in the self. They have not learned to detach from the self to be able to see that their words must be understood by others reading their work. Perhaps they are into "self" because they feel isolated and separate from others in the world. This ego of feeling unique and separate, even alienated, perhaps prevents them from seeing beyond the appearance of the world. Hence, their wording, their concepts are stuck in a personal idiom, a personal interpretation that cannot be shared by others.

It is only when one starts moving away from ego and the self that one begins to understand the power of words to share the experiences common to other people and common to nature. It is in this selfless state that one can understand that a hawk's cry of hunger echoes one's own desire and hunger for recognition, power, or whatever the desire may be. But the process of getting to the point of "selflessness" is a matter of practice--of spiritual practice (not necessarily a specific religious practice).

So what importance does this have for the kind of wording used in modern waka? The goal is to use words that accurately show the experience and that can be understood by all of those speaking and writing in English. In other words, the wording needs to be fairly common place (though the observation may be unique and detailed), rooted in sensation and fairly concrete rather than abstract (which relies too much on ambiguity and interpretation by the self leading us away from shared experience).

Now, of course, the Japanese Court poets showed their uniqueness and self at times through word play and those of us writing modern waka do sometimes use these techniques. But one needs to remember that when the word play becomes too abstract or too steeped in personal experience (self) that shared experience conveyed in the wording becomes less strong and the verse suffers.

Towards its nest
The mockingbird slips
Noiselessly;
Why won't my dreams
Stay hidden amid dense leaves?

Donna Ferrell
2003