Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a series of blog posts talking about some of the poems in my chapbook, The Minstrel of Belmont and my upcoming full-length collection, Hanami. Today’s post is the first in that series and is on aikido poems.
The idea of doing aikido poems has been with me for a while. I’d written a number of drafts over the years and often discarded them early in the revision phase. Aikido was an elusive poetry target. As a subject, it is an elegant physical activity, circles within circles. The body becomes almost like windstorm, energy in motion. The beauty and flow it lends it to artistic expression.
My biggest problem was dealing with aikido’s philosophical side. The trap there is including that, which there would be pressure to do, runs the risk of the poem becoming too didactic. I’ve always felt that didactic poems are weaker in general because the underlying teaching often obscures the image and often produces drag on the energy of the poem. This was often the case.
There are two poems that I’ve classified as aikido poems in The Minstrel of Belmont. They are less pure descriptions of aikido, but more along the spirit of aikido. I wanted to approach the meaning of the art, to try to avoid teaching about it, and miss that whole didactic thing altogether.
In The Second Pillar of Aikido, I’m referring to a idea that there are six teachings that the whole art stands upon. If you do a lot of reading on aikido, you’ll run into this idea. The pillar I chose is irimi or “entering.” The numbering is merely because on one list I saw it was number two. I’m not sure there’s an agreed upon order, but I also liked the slightly off-center sound of “The Second Pillar.” The point of the poem is not to describe how to do irimi, nor even what a “perfect” irimi feels like. Rather it’s a poem about the need for irimi suddenly coming upon me and instinct taking over.
The other is True Budo, which is a poem about a short lecture Sensei gave in o-keiko one evening. The lecture itself wasn’t aikido specific, but it was important. Self-improvement, making yourself a better human being, is an essential part of the modern martial arts. Too often the sportification of them obscures that aspect, which is too bad. Efficacy is placed ahead of making sure you’re not a loose cannon when they, in fact, should be side by side.
My intention is to do more of these types of poems in the future. There is a place of the didactic aikido poem (they are doka or songs of the way), but that’s not really in my wheelhouse.
Regardless, these two poems are in The Minstrel of Belmont, to be published by Finishing Line Press. Pre-sale on the book is on now until May 15.