A tour of songs, poems, and other toki pona



I thought I’d do a tour of various songs/poems in Toki Pona (you can find a long playlist of Toki Pona songs here on YouTube), looking at the techniques they use, and talk about other possibilities.

If you’ve any feedback or any other ideas/suggestions, let me know at jan.Inkkepa@gmail.com :)

Good, old-fashioned syllabic rhymes

“mun lili o” by Daniele Vacon Sartirani:

I think this is a well-written Toki Pona song. Stresses fall in the right places on words, syllabic structure works, good rhymes, manages to convey its imagery simply.

A first Toki Pona rap

“olin li tawa jan ale” by Ae. Dschorsaanjo:

Mostly syllabic - it starts off regularly stressing every second syllable, even when that doesn’t correspond with a more natural Toki pona word stress (indicating stressed vowels by putting an accent over the vowel + making the syllable bold):

song stress : jǎn mutě li lin ě ni: li ěn mi li le
natural toki-pona stress : jǎn te li lin e : li en je li le

(n.b.: the Toki Pona book says “Stress falls on the first syllable of a word.", though I amn’t always marking the one-syllable particles as stressed when it seems unnatural to me. YMMV).

Eight stresses per line in the verses then more or less spread evenly without respect to the Toki Pona word stress. Later on it varies a bit in terms of how many unstressed syllables you get between stresses with triples and the like.

The chorus has a lot more breathing space/pauses, and in it beat-stress and word stress are a bit decoupled - so even though the “sina” at the start of the second line isn’t on the beat, the “si” is accented slightly. It might be possible to break down what’s going on here and lay it out in a nice table, but my ear isn’t good enough to do it. It’s definitely a contrast in comparison to the verses.

A second Toki Pona rap

rap by jan Gooper:

The salient difference to me between this and the Ae. Dschorsaanjo rap is that this one preserves Toki Pona word stresses and has a different flow because of this - it feels more flowing and talky.

A Sitelen Pona recitaton

Marcus Scriptor has a really interesting approach of achieving a regular-looking array of characters - he writes out the non-particles in a grid and the poem can be read by reading any row or column and inserting the particles as needed.

img of poem

This is a lossy transformation - “ona pona sona pona” could technically be “ona pona li sona pana” or “ona li pona sona e pona”, amongst other things, but it achieves a good effect I think!

“ona li pana e sona pona” by Marcus Scriptor:

Another features that’s maybe important is that all words here are two-syllable.

Visually you can clearly see the structure and relationship between the lines in a way that would be harder if it was written out fully in Sitelen Pona or Latin.

Toki Pona spoken word poem

Back to Ae. Dschorsaanjo

mi toki by Ae. Dschorsaanjo:

There’s a lot here, the stress, repetition of structures - let’s pick out a few things

There’s a lot of vowel-rhyming going on, end-of-line rhyming ‘pini’ with ‘lili’, ‘ijo’ with ‘ilo’, ‘pali’ with ‘ali’ and ‘jaki’. All this along with more regular rhymes - ‘sike’/‘ike’, ‘pona’/‘sona’,‘lupa’/‘supa’. My favourite is the internal rhyming of ‘utala’ with ‘unpa la’ at the start though :)

A strong stress as distinct from regular word stress (though always falling on stressed syllables) is important for keeping the pace going, let’s try mark the major stresses of the first verse (with line-breaks for pauses):

sina wile ǔtala.
mi ki.
sina wile ǔnpa, la
mi ki.
mi ki li ki li ki. mi ki.
tenpo ni la mi li e si.
so mi ni.
mi pilin ǐke li li.

As you can see from above, repetition of words is an important part of this. Look at the following for a nice example of build-up and transition (stressed words in bold):

o tawa mi.
mi wan. sina wan anu mute.
mi tu anu mi mute li mute.
mi tu anu mi mute li ken musi.
taso mi wile ala e musi.
ale la mi musi.
ni li musi ala mi.
ni li musi ante.

You have a cluster of wan/tu/mute/ale, then the ‘mute’ transitions to ‘musi’ (and the numbers give way to ‘ala’).

This is some good shit!

Spoken rhetoric - the sales pitch

“ilo nanpa” by jan Sadale

“jan Inkepe o” I hear you cry, “this isn’t a song or a poem, it’s a sales pitch!”

Yes you’re right, but it has some interesting things going on. o kute e mi!

In the Toki Pona book, Sonja says:

Stress falls on the first syllable of a word. Pronounce it a bit louder, longer or higher-pitched.

In practice people tend to go for the first two options. This video is an example where the pitch is a much more important part of the word accent than in any other example of speech I’ve found.

Oh jeepers I said there were ‘some’ interesting things, so I need to find at least one other thing to mention.

Ah! He follows the Pu-style of pausing before ‘la’ (“A, la B”) rather than after (“A la, B”) like most people in the TP community onlin do. A charming and quirky video, but very orthodox when you look at the language spoken :)

Summary, and other possibilities

Summary

What systems have we encountered above? Syllabic, accentual meter, free verse, alliteration, word repetition, end-rhymes, internal-rhymes, vowel-rhyme, no rhyme, forms that respect Toki Pona word accents, one that subordinate them to other stress patterns. That’s a lot of bases covered already!

Dúnad

One feature of Irish poetry that could work well in Toki Pona is the dúnad. Many Irish poems start and end with the same word (this also apparently is in some cases how you know you have found a complete poem rather than a fragment - if the first and last words are the same) - e.g. Pangur bán. I think this feature would work just fine in Toki Pona!

Internal Rhyming

It’s used in a Toki Pona example above, but you could also try to do it more systematically:

img of aen bean bob’ áille gné

You can see the regular pattern of “word at end of every second line is rhymed with word in middle of next line”. You could weaken this to be just asking for assonance.

One-syllable end-words

One feature of the rannaigheacht mhor is that every line is required to end with a one-syllable word. I can see this being a nice structure for a Toki Pona poem. Similarly, the rannaigheacht bheag requires each line end with a two-syllable word and the casbhairn require three!

Sitelen Pona visual rhymes

Many sitelen pona characters look similar - mi/sina/ona, the various colours, toki/sona. If you’re writing a poem in sitelen pona, you could use this visual similarity and have it rhyme to the eye even it doesn’t rhyme to the ear.

Bad idea: tight meter + long lines

I feel like the best tight metered (that is, non-free-verse) stuff I’ve seen in Toki Pona have all had pretty short lines. Making long Toki Pona sentences to fit the constraints of a sonnet, say, is a tricky challenge. Prove me wrong if you dare!

Bad idea: Alliteraton-classes

Other things to consider - what consonants count as alliterating is language-specific. In Irish for instance consonants come in pairs (b and mb, for instance, where mb sounds like /m/), and you can traditionally alliterate consonants from the same pair even if they have very different sounds.

I don’t think this lends itself to well to Toki Pona though, because there’re no underlying reasons to group consonants together like that (whereas there is an underlying logic to it in Irish).

Bad idea: Cynghanedd

Cynghanedd, Welsh cross-harmony, is actually probably a terrible idea for Toki Pona - it has enough constraints already without adding more I think. As an example here explains:

All consonants which appear in the line before the caesura must be repeated after it, in the same order. For example:

clawdd i ddal CL Dd Dd L
cal ddwy ddwylaw C L Dd Dd L