For the editors and few readers who’ve read my published poetry thus far, it’s no secret that I’m an enthusiast of the sijo form. For those who’re unfamiliar with it (most people directed to or stumbling across this blog, I imagine) here’s a very quick, truncated intro: sijo is a Korean poetry form, classically sung with musical accompaniment, consisting of three lines (although sijo are often structured in six and sometimes five lines) of 14-16 syllables or less each (in English). The first line introduces a theme, subject or situation, the second line further develops it, and the third line contains a ‘twist’ or an unexpected/unpredictable/insightful (though not overly witty) conclusion.
I absolutely love sijo, and I’ve been writing them for years. As far as East Asian-originating poetry forms go, sijo is ideal for me. It doesn’t have the thematically limited and obscure Zen restrictions of the better-known haiku, but it does have some constraints in which creativity can flourish. Sijo as a form is somewhat better defined than tanka, which remains so nebulous in English that it’s more-or-less just a vague syllabic/rhythmic pattern in which to compose quasi-confessional snippets. (Not that I don’t enjoy writing tanka–I do–but the imprecise nature of tanka guidelines and lack of consensus as to just what it is in English is at times mildly frustrating, and I perhaps naively suspect that this is attributable to poor translation and a deficiency on the part of scholars to examine and distill the essence of tanka for adaptation in English. But I digress–that’s another post.) It’s considered a ‘minimalist’ form by some (Scifaikuest, for instance), but sijo are on the lengthier end of minimalism and have a substantial amount of space in which to develop an insight, perfect for me since I tend to be loquacious and my greatest challenge in dealing with length-limited forms is wrangling my language into few enough syllables to qualify. The inclusiveness of content that sijo provide is highly appealing as well–although they can and often do include nature references (esp. in the historical canon), they may contain a wide range of themes pertaining to human experience presented explicitly (whereas haiku are, in this regard, highly cryptic). The use of overt symbolism, metaphor with varying degrees of subtlety, wordplay, etc., are all permitted and encouraged within the form, as evident in contemporary examples and historical sijo translated and published in English. In general, the sijo form provides a structure and set of guidelines conducive to rich, lyrical nuance, while retaining enough definition and rules to make for an interesting poetic challenge.
I initially discovered sijo through science fiction poetry ‘zines, in which a cornucopia of new and traditional forms are developed and kept alive by creative poets eager to experiment with porting sci-fi content to different vessels of artistic expression in language. From there I did some research and ended up writing over 60 non-speculative sijo in one summer on themes ranging from transgender angst to food, for practice and sheer enjoyment. When I was technically still in high school, I participated in the sijo competition sponsored by the Sejong Cultural Society, and while I didn’t win or place, I’m delighted that such an outlet exists for younger writers to explore the form, especially since the pioneering proponents of writing sijo in English are by now in their 80s. Most of the poetry on my publications page are sijo or sijo sequences. Every piece I’ve published in LYNX so far, with the exception of one tanka sequence, “Autumnal Feel”, has been a sijo sequence or linked sijo pair. As of this writing, I have two sijo sequences and two individual sijo forthcoming in the print and online issues of Scifaikuest, the magazine in which I first encountered the form. I actually know very little about Korean literature and its history outside of sijo, admittedly, but the form attracted me early on and my fondness for it stuck.
But the primary purpose of this post isn’t to advocate for sijo as a form or boast about my sijo accomplishments–more to the point, where are all the markets for non-speculative sijo? Scifaikuest provides a lovely, lively venue for sci-fi sijo, and I haven’t yet thoroughly tried other sci-fi poetry markets to gauge their openness to the form–pending submissions notwithstanding. I know that, despite the name and individual sijo not being their main focus, LYNX: A Journal for Linking Poets will accept submissions of single poems. But is that all? Dr. Larry Gross once edited Sijo West, a journal dedicated entirely to sijo, in the 90s, but unfortunately that market has been defunct for years, as has Elizabeth St. Jacques‘ Sijo Blossoms, apparently, which last published an issue over a decade ago. There’s a Yahoo discussion group on which I posted a few sijo years back, but that isn’t a publication. The aforementioned Sejong Cultural Society competition is restricted to pre-college students.
If I had the resources and the energy to do so at this time, I’d start a sijo-exclusive journal myself. I may just have to establish a place to publish my own sijo as well as read and publish others’, since I’m currently sitting on dozens of non-genre, non-speculative ‘conventional’ sijo that I have absolutely no idea what to do with.