Ogoola Karuta Review #2: Fifty 19th and 20th Century Poets Complete the Set

Back in 2015 I posted a review of the Ogoola Karuta English poets card game which I had been playing in some of my English language classes here in Hiroshima. Ogoola Karuta is based on the traditional Japanese card-grabbing game of Uta-garuta, which can be translated into English as “poetry cards.”

What is Uta-Garuta?

The classic uta-garuta game is based on a Kamakura era (1185-1333) anthology of one hundred Japanese waka poems by one hundred different poets. The anthology was compiled by the Japanese poet Fujiwara no Teika in Ogura, near Kyoto, under the title Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, or “(The) Ogura (Anthology of) One Hundred Poets (each represented by) One Poem.”

A typical Hyakunin Isshu uta-garuta game consists of two decks of 100 cards each. One deck is the “reading deck” and the other is the “grabbing deck.” The grabbing cards are spread out on the playing surface. Each grabbing card has the second half of one of the waka poems from the One Hundred Poets anthology written on it.

One of the players is nominated to be the reader and is given the other deck of playing cards. Those cards each feature one of the complete waka poems from the anthology, and a portrait of the poet. The reader reads a card and the players compete to grab the equivalent grabbing-card from the playing surface.

Ogoola Karuta English Poets Part 1

A few years ago a Swedish poetry version of the game was developed by Aya Hasegawa-Feurst as part of a talk about Japan for a group of language teachers. The idea of creating an English poetry version quickly followed and in 2012 the first part of the English version of Ogoola Karuta was published. It consisted of fifty British, Irish and American poets from Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882).

In my review I noted that while a wide range of poets had been included, poets such as Robert Browning (1812-1889), Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) and Emily Dickenson (1830-1886) were missing. In response to my review, Aya Hasegawa-Feurst posted a comment in which she explained that,

the Ogoola Karuta which is out there in the market is only the first half of the game with 50 classical poems by 50 classical poets. The poems written in the 19th century until today is now being selected and will be in production this year. I have been selecting the poems and working on the copyrights since 2013.

Ogoola Karuta English Poets Part 2

Last month, Aya Hasegawa-Feurst contacted me to let me know that the second part of the set had finally been published and kindly offered to send a set to me for me to review.

That was nice timing as I had been teaching an introductory English literature course to a group of seven male college students. I thought it would be useful to introduce the game to them as a fun way to approach the end the term and a good way to test the game.

I played a couple of games with the boys. I acted as the reader in the first game and one of the boys was the reader in the second game.

In another session with them I also included any cards from the first set which featured poets whom we had studied in class. I awarded double points for grabbing any of the poets whom we had studied during the course of the term. I also used those cards to help them prepare for the end of term exam by challenging them to name the poet or to pick the correct card when I called out a poet’s name.

Two Chickens!

The boys thought it was funny that the word “chicken” appeared twice and after the first game they were keenly waiting for the word to be read:

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chickens.

William Carlos Williams, (Ogoola Karuta card 81)

And…

A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.

I have wasted my life.

James Wright, (Ogoola Karuta card 93)

19th Century Poets Present – and Absent!

I’m pleased to report that all three poets whose absence I noted in my review of the first set are present in the second set. Robert Browning is represented with “Oh, to be in England,” and Tennyson with “Tears, idle tears” though personally, I would have preferred a verse from the rather more energetic Charge of the Light Brigade.

Among the 19th century American poets, Emily Dickinson is now represented with her popular poem, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” A surprising, but I think welcome inclusion is Julia Ward Howe’s lyric, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which is difficult to resist singing (and I am no singer) when reading that particular Ogoola card.

Walt Whitman is included, as one would expect, but with an extract from “O Captain! My Captain!” whereas I would have preferred the opening lines of Song of Myself as it is the poem that epitomises the essence of Whitman’s work and is cited by Jay Parini in this Guardian article as the greatest American poem ever written:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

What other 19th century poets would we expect to find in the second set, who are not already represented in the first? How about Matthew Arnold? Present, and happily so with Dover Beach. Walter Savage Landor, however, and Algernon Charles Swinburne are regrettably absent while Henley is in on the strength of “Invictus.” Edward Fitzgerald is in, and so are Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Rossetti, Wodehouse and the Blessed Damosel

In the latter case I was pleased and amused to discover that he was represented by a verse from “The Blessed Damosel,” which P. G. Wodehouse has some fun with in Much Obliged Jeeves when Bertie Wooster remembers why Madeline Basset broke off a previous engagement to Gussie Fink-Nottle:

Madeline’s breach with Gussie Fink-Nottle had been caused by her drawing his attention to the sunset and saying sunsets always made her think of the Blessed Damozel leaning out from the gold bar of heaven, and he said, ‘Who?’ and she said, ‘The Blessed Damozel’, and he said, ‘Never heard of her’, adding that sunsets made him sick, and so did the Blessed Damozel. 

P. G. Wodehouse, Much Obliged Jeeves

After reading Wodehouse, it is virtually impossible to go back to Rossetti without a snigger, and the inclusion of the Blessed Damosel in the Ogoola collection adds to the merriment of the game.

Other cheerful choices include extracts from the nonsense poet Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat,” Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” (which my students enjoyed), and the whole of Ogden Nash’s “The Seagull,” which brings us into the twentieth century…

20th Century Poets Present and Absent

I have somewhat arbitrarily taken the “twentieth century poets” to begin with Ogoola card #63, Edward Thomas, the English poet who was killed in action in the First World War. The other war poet represented in the collection is Wilfred Owen, as you would expect, but not Sassoon. Many other “big names” are represented, such as Hardy, Houseman, Kipling and de la Mare. The modernist poets Eliot, Pound and Yeats are included, and also Joyce and Beckett, but the most arresting selection of all is that of D. H. Lawrence,

Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark

Darkening the day-time torch-like with the smoking blueness of Pluto’s gloom

D. H. Lawrence, Bavarian Gentians

The rhythms and alliterations in his free verse bring to mind the sprung rhythm of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ famous sprung verse poem, the Windhover, which has not been included in the collection. I would happily drop Joyce’s limp lines for the opening lines of Hopkins’ The Windhover:

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
      dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
      Of the rolling level underneath him steady air,

Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Windhover

Other absentees whose presence I would welcome are John Betjeman, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, and the punk poet, John Cooper Clark, and of course, no twentieth century collection of British poets would be complete without the humorous poetry of Pam Ayres!

One more surprising omission is the American Beat generation poet Alan Ginsburg.

On the other hand, major poets such as Dylan Thomas, E. E. Cummings, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, W. H. Auden and Seamus Heaney are all happily featured.

Female Voices

In addition, there was the challenge of addressing the lack of female voices in the first fifty cards, and this has, I think, been fairly well addressed in the second set.

In the first fifty cards there are just three female poets, Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672), Emily Bronte (1818-1848), and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861). In contrast, twelve female poets have been included in the second set of fifty cards. One voice that is missing, however, in spite of her pioneering role in opening up a space for women writers, is the libertine writer of the Restoration period, Aphra Behn (1640-1689).

Ogoola Expansion Decks?

Obviously, it is an impossible task to adequately represent the whole sweep of English-language poetry on just one hundred playing cards. I note that in spite of my numerous suggested additions, I have only suggested that two of the included poets be dropped, Chidiock Tichborne (in my review of the first fifty cards) and James Joyce in this review.

Perhaps, instead of restricting the cards to one hundred, some “expansion decks” could be added so that players could pick and choose and make up their own sets of “100 poets” based on their own preferences, or on themes of their own choosing from an ever-expanding range of Ogoola cards. Expansion decks might focus on specific eras, or on specific countries or locations, bringing less familiar voices to the notice of Ogoola players.

A Note About The Card Design

Such a thought brings me to the design of the cards. The cards have the Japanese 100 Poets printed on their backs so they can be turned over and the original Japanese version of the game can be played. If additional decks were created, I think it would be quite possible to integrate some other Japanese Karuta games on the card backs, or even create new versions from other collections of Japanese poetry, including Haiku as well as Waka collections.

In her comment to my previous review Aya Hasegawa-Feurst asked about whether it would be better to put illustrations of poets on the backs of the cards:

The idea to make the Ogoola Karuta English version with illustrations of the English, American, Irish and Scottish poets on the backside has also been in discussion. But then if we do so, this version will have no more connection to the Japanese version of the game. There are opinions that it’s better to leave it completely and opinions that it is better to keep the Japanese original on the backside. This is something we still need to think about and your opinion will be most thankful.

Having played the game in several of my English classes, I do not feel that it is necessary to add illustrations of the poets to the cards. The game works perfectly well without them, and I like the connection to the Japanese version of the game that the current design retains. We do not have reliable illustrations of all of the poets anyway, especially those born before the invention of oil painting and photography. Also, nowadays players who are sufficiently curious can instantly check out the poets on their mobile phones.

Conclusion

The second set of Ogoola poetry cards is a welcome addition to the first set. I like the way they fit neatly into the original box, and a new box divider was included with the set for that purpose, which was a thoughtful touch.

Playing the English poetry version of Ogoola karuta is a great way for English speakers to enjoy a taste of Japanese culture, and a fun way for students of English language and literature to become familiar with some of the great poets of the English language.

Ogoola Karuta decks are avaliable on Amazon.com in English, German and Swedish versions.

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