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User:Elvenscout742/Jeffrey Woodward critique

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I am creating this page in my userspace so as to get a comprehensive criticism of the writings of American poet Jeffrey Woodward onto Wikipedia without further cluttering up the talk pages of various articles. I do not intend this page to be an attack page or to threaten Mr. Woodward personally. I merely wish to summarize my reasons why this author is not a reliable source of information for inclusion in Wikipedia.

The following are a series of Woodward's more offensive statements about Japanese literature, followed by my rebuttals. The blurb he wrote for his self-published book, The Tanka Prose Anthology, for Lulu's website is a fair summary of the most basic and problematic of his arguments, however:

The Tanka Prose Anthology is vital evidence of the first flowering in English of an ancient Japanese genre [...] whether the time is contemporary and presently unfolding or archaic and retrospective, the revival of the ancient medium of tanka prose has proven equal to the immediate task. This first-of-its-kind collection draws upon the work of nineteen poets from eight different countries. The introduction offers a detailed survey of the genre’s history and of its evolving forms while an annotated bibliography directs the reader to related literature. Why is tanka prose so novel? Because it is so old.

Needless to say, the above is not supported by any respectable study of classical Japanese literature.

The above quotation was taken on 2012-10-1 from the page on Lulu.com where the book could be purchased. As of 2012-10-3, the page appeared to no longer exist. It possible the self-publisher who posted the book for sale on Lulu took it down in response to a deletion discussion on Wikipedia.


1. The Kojiki is a collection of poetry (The Tanka Prose Anthology, p.10)

This is simply not true. The Kojiki is a historical work, which occasionally cites folk songs and/or poetry as evidence. It is otherwise an almost exclusively prose work (composed largely in Chinese), and it is not appropriate to refer to it as a collection of poetry. And as in 2., below, chōka feature prominently.

2. The Man'yōshū is a work of "tanka prose" (Ibid., p.10)

The Man'yōshū is an anthology of poems. It was probably compiled by numerous people over several decades, and composed over several centuries, by countless authors. It is not a unified work of prose that features poetry. It is also worth noting that not all of the poetry in this particular collection is tanka, and many of the more notable works are chōka, among others. So both words in the name "tanka prose" are inaccurate.

3. "Tanka prose" existed in ancient and medieval Japan and is accurately referred to by that name (Ibid., p.10-11)

Admittedly, Woodward has mentioned (Ibid, p.13) that this terminology was not current at the time, but it is still highly misleading to discuss the Tosa Nikki, the Ise Monogatari and the Genji Monogatari in these terms. No reputable works in the field of Japanese literary history group these works together in the same genre, and of course none use the terminology "tanka prose". The word tanka is almost never used to refer to any Japanese literature between the 9th and 19th centuries, inclusive, as the near-synonymous words waka and uta were prevalent at the time, and more accurate in that the distinguished these poems from the other dominant genre, kanshi (漢詩?, poetry in Chinese).

(As an aside, related to the above point, the Wikipedian who pushed Woodward-based material onto Wikipedia has made it clear that at the time he created the article, he thought "tanka prose" was a translation of the Japanese term 和文 (wabun, literally, Japanese-language writings), which he thought was an abbreviation of "waka writings", along the lines of haibun.)

4. Various genres of Japanese classical literature should all be classified as "tanka prose" (Ibid., p.13)

Woodward lists kotobagaki, uta monogatari, nikki bungaku, kikō, waka-shū[1], rekishi monogatari, gunki monogatari and denki as "individual species" within the "genus" of tanka prose. Unfortunately, he is completely ignorant of the meanings of these words.

Kotobagaki are merely notes that accompany poems in classical anthologies; they are written in prose (i.e., are not in themselves combinations of prose and poetry) and were not usually meant to be literary in nature.

Waka-shū are anthologies of poetry; if one includes them as "prose works" just because they include introductions and notes, then one would need to classify virtually all poetry collections in English and other languages as unified prose works, as well.

Rekishi monogatari, gunki monogatari and the other types of romantic tale are principally prose works; while many of them contain poetry from time to time, classifying them solely according to this fact means that essentially all of classical Japanese literature must also be classified as "tanka prose", which seems to defeat the purpose of having a classifier to begin with. Some, also, do not contain poetry, and so to put those works under the title of "tanka prose" is exceptionally laughable.

Also, Woodward's assertion, despite his own ignorance of classical Japanese scholarship, that the Japanese are incapable of studying and classifying their own literature, in spite of over a millennium of fine literary criticism, is extremely offensive. My summary above does not properly represent the sheer arrogance that oozes from Woodward's introduction. I invite you all to read it here.

5. "The hyperbole of one thousand times is a convention of love poetry, East and West" (Woodward's Autumn 2008 interview with Simply Haiku)

This seems to be the result of his readings of individual translators' works on classical Japanese poetry, but the character 千 (sen, "one thousand") is far less common in waka than 万 (yorozu, "ten thousand"), partly because of waka favouring the use of native Japanese words (wago) to Chinese loan-words (kango). It is inaccurate and slightly offensive to proclaim the universality of an image, when in fact that image was only imposed on Japanese poetry because of its conventionality in English poetry.

6. Alliteration, assonance and parallelism are features of Japanese verse (Ibid.)

They are not. Japanese has a limited number of possible syllables (far fewer than English and other European languages), and both poetry and prose are bound to feature repetition of both consonant and vowel sounds. SOMETIMES these features are used effectively by Japanese poets more than prose authors, but this is not universally the case.

7. Teika's Hyakunin Isshu predates the Kokinshū (Ibid.)

I am not sure where he came across this bizarre piece of information, but this is utterly ridiculous. The Hyakunin Isshu was compiled roughly 300 years after the Kokinshū. Teika, in fact, was also the compiler of the New Kokinshū, and his Hyakunin Isshu was derived entirely from previous waka-shū, with no new publications. This is probably the most ridiculous statement I have seen him make.

8. The spellings of certain poets' names (numerous of Woodward's writings)

I know this is not really a point of historical accuracy, but the poet Ariwara no Narihira (在原業平?) is not called "Narihara". He was one of the Six Immortals of Poetry (六歌仙 Rokkasen?) of the Kokinshū period, and is even today among the most famous and recognizable waka poets in Japanese history, but Woodward has misspelled his name on numerous occasions [1] [2]. In fact, I have never seen Woodward spell Narihira's name correctly! No one who does not know Narihira's name can be taken seriously as a source of information on Heian period waka poetry. Similarly, Izumi Shikibu (和泉式部) was not only one of the featured poets in the aforementioned Hyakunin Isshu, but the second part of her standard name is shared by the author of the Genji Monogatari, Murasaki Shikibu. So to see her called "Izumi Shikubu" was frightful. (Modern English Tanka, Winter 2007 edition, p.180)


I could go on further in discrediting Woodward's writings, and probably those of everyone else involved in the so-called "tanka prose" movement, for their ignorance of Japanese literature. And I may do just that at some point. But for now, this is enough.

(For the record, I am not being a douchebag and attacking someone on my private Wikipedia page behind his back. These critiques were originally written in the second person and appeared in an e-mail addressed to Woodward, in which I politely asked him to refrain from publishing these erroneous claims again in the future. I have yet to receive a reply.)


  1. ^ Inaccurately, and consistently, labeled simply as shū (?, literally, "a collection or anthology of something"). I am not sure if this misapprehension derives from some popular literature that actually does discuss classical Japanese literature. It is possible that the word shū in English means a classical Japanese anthology of waka, but in Japanese it is not a specialist term and does not specifically carry this meaning.

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