Kindle books published!

They’ve been a long time in the making, but I now have three books of translated poems available on Amazon Kindle for people who prefer to read their poems offline!

There’s a one thousand poem anthology covering the period from the Man’yōshū in the eighth century to Shinkokinshū at the beginning of the the thirteenth; Fujiwara no Sanekata’s personal collection of three hundred and forty eight poems, and two hyakushu – Hundred Poem Sequences – one by Emperor Gotoba, and one by the monk Keiun.

Check out the details of the books here!

Skylarks, Frogs and River-drenched Robes

I’ll be giving a seminar at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London on 22 February 2017. For full details, see below:

Skylarks, Frogs and River-drenched Robes: Reality, Formality and Poetic License in the Poetry Contest in Six Hundred Rounds

The ‘Poetry Contest in Six Hundred Rounds’ (Roppyakuban uta’awase) (1193-94) is the largest extant Japanese poetry competition judged by a single judge, Fujiwara no Shunzei (1114-1204). Shunzei has been described as the greatest premodern critic of poetry, and  taken together his judgements  in Roppyakuban uta’awase form one of the largest and most detailed statements of critical appreciation of poetry of the time. The value of the competition is increased, however, by the existence of an extensive Chinjō (‘Appeal’) written by one of the participants, Kenshō (?1130-?1209), in which he provides detailed rebuttals of Shunzei’s negative judgements of many of his poems.

Shunzei’s judgements, and Kenshō’s appeals, are based upon differing assessments of the key criteria for uta’awase poetry: adherence to the essential meaning of the set topic, including use of appropriate diction; appropriate formality; and ease of aural apprehension. Consideration these debates, therefore, has much to tell us about the formation of formation of critical opinion, the weight given to different types of evidence, and how aesthetic value was assigned to individual poems.

This paper will consider a number contentious rounds in the competition: Spring II: 18 on Skylarks, Spring III: 22 on Frogs and Love IX: 19 on Love and Clothing. Shunzei, and the opposing team,  are highly critical of Kenshō’s poems in these rounds on the grounds of his understanding of diction, grasp of the topic and resulting lack of formality. Kenshō responds with detailed poetic and real-world evidence to negate these criticisms. Through the interplay between these opposing views we can see the assertion of differing visions of poetic value and quality – visions which would become increasingly entrenched as poetic opinion became increasingly polarised in the thirteenth century.

Date: 22 February 2017

Time: 5:05 PM – 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings
Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre

Contact email:

Contact Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4893

Love V: 30

Left (Tie).

furusato ni
ideshi ni masaru
namida kana
arashi no makura
yume ni wakarete
My home
I left in floods
Of tears;
The wild wind round my pillow
Breaks us apart in dreams…

Lord Sada’ie


azumaji no
yowa no nagame o
miyako no yama ni
kakaru tsukikage
Upon the eastern roads
All night I turn my gaze –
Tell him that,
O moonlight, sinking
Toward the mountains round the capital!


Both Left and Right say they find no faults.

In judgement: the Left starts with ‘My home I left in floods’ (furusato ni ideshi ni masaru) and concludes with ‘the wild wind round my pillow breaks us apart in dreams’ (arashi no makura yume ni wakarete) – this is a form of words the quality of which I am entirely unable to convey with my own clumsy expressions, but the Right’s ‘O moonlight, sinking toward the mountains round the capital’ (miyako no yama ni kakaru tsukikage) is awash with a sense of tears, so it is most unclear which should win or lose. Both truly seem to reflect the conception of this topic ‘Love and Travel’ well. The poems have been so good every round that my brush is drenched with this old man’s tears, and I can find no other way to express it.


Love V: 29

Left (Tie).

kisakata ya
sanuru yo no
iso no nezame ni
tsuki katabukinu
In Kisakata and
In love;
I sleep the night away, and
Awaking on the rocky shore
Behold the moon descending.



iwa shiku sode no
nami no ue ni
omou mo wabishi
kimi ga omokage
At Kiyomigata
Sleeves spread atop the rocks,
Waves breaking atop them;
Heart filled with pain
At the memory of your face…


Left and Right both state that the opposing poem is pretentious.

In judgement: the Left’s poem seems well-constructed in its initial and final sections. However, as in Mototoshi’s poem long ago, ‘breaking a stem of miscanthus on the beach at Ise’, this seems to be a case of poetic allusion. The Right’s ‘Sleeves spread atop the rocks, waves breaking atop them’ (iwa shiku sode no nami no ue) seems to have been newly composed and seems elegant, but the final section is somewhat inferior. The Left has beginning and end matching. The Right has a superior initial section, but an inferior final one. Thus, the round ties.


Love V: 28

Left (Win).

ware oba toko no
aruji nite
makura ni yadoru
sayo no omokage
When sleeping on my travels
I of my bedding
Am master!
Lodging by my pillow is
A face from a night too brief…

Lord Ari’ie


sono yona yona o
yumeji mo tōki
kusamakura kana
Unable to even doze
Night after night
I count them up, and
The path of dreams gets more
Distant from my grassy pillow.

Lord Takanobu

The Right state: the Left’s poem seems fine. The Left state: we find no faults to mention.

In judgement: the Right’s ‘the path of dreams gets more distant’ (yumeji mo tōki) sounds elegant, but the Left’s poem has already been assessed as ‘fine’ in the comments by the gentlemen of the Right. This round I will leave the judgement in their hands and make the Left the winner.


Love V: 27

Left (Tie).

hito aru mi ni wa
yagate kono
tabi no michi koso
koiji narikere
Leaving behind one
In my thoughts, for me
All these
Roads I tread are but
The paths of love…

Lord Kanemune


namida no iro zo
kusa no makura no
hikazu shirarete
The shifting
Teardrops’ shades
Touch me deeply;
Pillowed on the grasses
And thinking on the days away…


Both Left and Right say together:   we can see no  faults to mention.

In judgement: the Left’s poem is charming in style. The conception of the Right’s  ‘teardrops’ shades’ (namida no iro) shifting is elegant, but  both poems seem to be simply lamenting that one has gone on a journey, and there is little conception of love in them. They are equivalent and the round should tie.

Love V: 26

Left (Win).

miyako nite
narenishi mono o
hitori ne no
katashiku sode wa
nani ka sabishiki
In the capital
I grew accustomed to it, but
Sleeping alone
With only a single sleeve spread out
Is somehow sad…

Lord Suetsune


imo dani mo
matsu to shi kikaba
koyurugi no
isogu funaji mo
That girl of yours
Awaits you – were I to hear that,
From Koyurugi’s
Rocky shore in haste I’d go, even
The sea-lanes filled with joy!

The Provisional Master of the Empress Household Office.

The Right state: the Left’s poem lacks the essence of love on a journey, and even the sense of sorrow seems insufficient. The Left state: the Right’s poem has no particular faults.

In judgement: what do the Right mean by saying the Left ‘lack the essence of love on a journey’? And is it really right that ‘is somehow sad’ (nani ka sabishiki) is insufficient? The poem is composed to give an impression of someone fooling themselves. The Right’s ‘Koyurugi’ is certainly not an expression which I have not come across. However, the Left should win.