Monday, August 05, 2013

Monday Poetry Stretch - Tanka

Tanka is a form of Japanese poetry that has been practiced for more than 1000 years. Tanka are composed of 31 syllables in a 5/7/5/7/7 format. Most tanka focus on a single event of some significance.

In her article Tanka as Diary, Amelia Fielden writes:
Tanka, meaning ‘short song’, is a 1300 year old Japanese form of lyric poetry. Non-rhyming, it is composed in Japanese in five phrases of 5/7/5/7/7 syllables.

In English, tanka are normally written in five lines, also without (contrived) rhyme, but in a flexible short/long/short/long/long rhythm. Due to dissimilarities between the two languages, it is preferable not to apply the thirty-one syllable standard of the Japanese poems, to tanka in English. Around twenty-one plus/minus syllables in English produces an approximate equivalent of the essentially fragmentary tanka form, and its lightness. To achieve a “perfect twenty-one”, one could write five lines in 3/5/3/5/5 syllables. If the resulting tanka sounds natural, then that’s fine. However, the syllable counting does not need to be so rigid. Though no line should be longer than seven syllables, and one should try to maintain the short/long/short/long/long rhythm, variations such as 2/4/3/5/5 or 4/6/3/6/7 or 3/6/4/5/6 syllable patterns can all make good tanka.
Tanka Online has a wonderful Quick Start Guide to Writing Tanka. Finally, Atlas Poetica has a terrific post entitled 25 Tanka for Children. The educator's note at the bottom has very useful advice for writing tanka.

Will you write some tanka with us this week? What will you write about? Please share a link to your poem or the poem itself in the comments.


  1. the car overheats
    belching huffing its anger
    beside the road
    I stand panting my rage
    in the 100-degree day

    if you don’t
    let it have enough light
    the poinsettia’s
    red leaves turn green
    showing its secret self

    the pines out back hold roots
    like hands—
    the same way my sisters and I
    send photos and texts

    —Kate Coombs, 2013
    all rights reserved

  2. Wow, this was a quiet week! But I had fun. :)

  3. Hello all. Kate you have some company. :-)


    Orange Popsicle
    Plunges like a waterfall.
    I lick my fingers
    While wishing this summer heat
    Would attempt a vacation.


    Winter winds whip me
    Around like pinballs chasing
    An all-time top score.
    I whirligig into my
    Home thankful for the weekend.


    Dad snores on his couch,
    Football game grunts on TV,
    River of drool slides
    From side of mouth, he looks like
    A baby after feed time.

    (C) Charles Waters 2013 all rights reserved.