The kōeis a poetic form originating from Southeast Asia, that has seen scattered use across Asia, Australia and the Pacific. They are conceptually derivative from Zen practice, and encapsulate the spirit of Zen kōan within more rigorous formal constraints. The plural form of kōel is kōel.

Kōel in their original state were used to capture expressions of singular emotion, such as shock, innocence, or joy. In more recent years, kōel have been subverted to convey more duplicitous emotions such as smugness, or to convey a satirical take on the topic at hand.

The kōel is a musically-inspired form that often hinges on effective onomatopoeia and sonics. When executed effectively and harmoniously with multiple sibilants, it evokes the sensation of birdsong - when written more subversively with heavy use of plosives, it creates the rousing effect of an early morning birdcall.


  • 1Structure
  • 2Variants
  • 3Examples


Kōeare made up of stanzas of three lines, that are easily identified by a vowel-consonant-vowel structure. 

The first and third lines of each stanza should rhyme with an open vowel sound, e.g. "sky"/"cry", "true"/"bayou". The choice of rhymes may be varied across stanzas.

The second line should be alliterative - the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs should all start with the same consonant sound. Connectors such as particles and prepositions need not conform to these rules. The second line need not rhyme.


The purest form of the kōel is the kōel kokila, in which the vowel-consonant-vowel constraints are even more rigorous. In the kōel kokila, the first and third lines are internally assonant - each line is unified by one vowel sound, and each word in the line must contain that vowel sound. Multisyllabic words need only contain the vowel sound once. The second line is strictly alliterative - only one consonant sound can start each word in the line.

Most kōeare written by a single author. However, modern poetic practice in Southeast Asia allows for discourse with multiple kōel in group formats, which are known as kōel clusters or kōel flocks. Kōel clusters/flocks imitate the behaviour of the known Asian brood parasite bird, which lays its eggs in the nests of other species - as such, kōel clusters/flocks are often interlocking and nesting, deriving inspiration from or engaging in wholesale copying of preceding lines. 

Kōel are also known in different parts of Southeast Asia as Uwu or Owo, which are onomatopoeic derivations of the vowel-consonant-vowel structure of the kōel. Broadly speaking, Uwu express emotions of innocence and surprise; and Owo express emotions of happiness and joy, though these are often loosely interchangeable from region to region. Owo may also be followed by questioning thoughts - where the emotion of happiness and joy is succeeded by the emotion of curiosity.

One distant cousin of the kōel is the Kokila Sandeśa, a Sanskrit love poem written by Uddanda Śāstrī in the 15th century AD. A short lyric poem of 162 verses, it describes how a nameless hero, abducted from his wife’s side by mysterious women, sends a message to her via a messenger bird.


Kōel of the Lei River, early 17th century

We should be free
Maybe minds might meet, and matter
To claim a territory

Unrestrained by the flow
of deep dappled dimpling
as waters do, as rivers go

Kōel Kokila of the Sea, late 19th century

Eyes signify wild Io
Waves washing world-weary whalers
Soul echoing ocean grotto

Kōel Kokila of the Poets, early 20th century

Universal rules Duchampian Cruella

We weigh words with wonder
Unite youthful yahoos ululating uvula


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