Monday, March 24, 2008

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.

Will you write some tanka with us this week? What will you write about? Leave me a comment about your poem(s) and I will post the results here later this week.


  1. Thanks for the links and a new poetry form to try.

  2. Tricia, once again thanks for a great stretch. Mine is inspired by a picture of a sax player, at


  3. By some miracle, I actually managed to get something out for this one. Thanks, Tricia!

    My tanka

  4. I struggled on this one! But my attempts are at

  5. Tricia,

    I've been working on this poetry stretch--albeit...not too successfully. I hope I'll have a tanka or two to post for Poetry Friday.