Friday, September 24, 2021

Poetry Sisters Write Tanka

This month's challenge was to revisit poems written by other members of the group and write tanka in inspired by or in conversation with those poems.

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

I started this challenging by visiting the blogs of my sisters and reading through some of their poems. I selected one from each and tried to write to every choice. I promptly got stuck. I did a lot of syllable counting and found I was having trouble making complete thoughts fit on each line, which I felt was necessary. Enjambment doesn't feel right in this form, at least not to me. I did a little bit of reading and found this bit from the article Tanka as Diary by Amelia Fielden to be helpful.
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.
Kelly also did a series of posts about tanka and I found this one, How the parts of tanka relate to one another, also a good reference.

Ultimately, I tried to focus on short/long/short/long/long as opposed to strictly 5/7/5/7/7. I'm not sure I've done justice to the challenge, but I'll let you be the judge. Here are a few of the poems I wrote and the poems that inspired them.

Sara wrote a poem entitled I cannot. Here's the poem it inspired.

If you can boil
water, you can poach an egg
don't dream of omelettes
instead take joy in wheat toast
bathed in a lava-like flow

Andi wrote a poem entitled Living in the Space Between. Here's the poem it inspired about my parents.

from blind date to love
a lifetime together
years of highs, lows, in-betweens
sweet memories, no regrets

Laura wrote a poem entitled First Snow. Here's the poem it inspired. (I borrowed a phrase of hers for this one.)

welcoming winter
sisters make snow angels
freezing together
best yearly tradition
despite our age, nothing's changed

Poems ©Tricia Stohr-Hunt, 2021. All rights reserved.

That's probably enough for today. I'll share the remaining tanka written to poems by the rest of the gang in the week to come.

You can read the pieces written by my Poetry Sisters at the links below. 
Would you like to try the next challenge? Next month our challenge is a Wordplay Poem, as invented by Nikki Grimes. You can read Nikki’s description at Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’ blog in a post entitled Spotlight on Nikki Grimes and DMC Challenge. You've got a month to craft your creation(s), then share your offering with us on October 29th in a post and/or on social media with the tag #PoetryPals. We look forward to reading your poems! 

I do hope you'll take some time to check out all the wonderful poetic things being shared and collected today by our poetry sister Laura Purdie Salas. Happy poetry Friday friends.


  1. These are just lovely, Tricia, and I really appreciate the digging into tanka that you did. I came running into this month's challenge flat-footed, but I want to do more!
    My favorite bits of yours are those first two lines of the egg poem, and oh -- the surprise at the end of the snow angel poem! Love love love!

  2. "Don't dream of omelettes"! Oh, your poem make me smile, Tricia. I'll be not afraid. I'll dream of that toast. Really, I'll do everything your poem whispers. :)

  3. Tricia, these are wonderful! I particularly love the snow one, for all the sister-love it inspires in me (and I will share with my sister, too!). Thank you!

  4. Oh, these are wonderful, Tricia. They all make me think of taking joy in what IS. Not what could be, what was, what should be, etc. Every moment, your whole life long. Thanks for these!

  5. I missed Sara's egg poem the first time around, so I got to fall in love with hers and yours at the same time! I love that we both wrote about our parents, and we both borrowed a line!

  6. Taking joy while writing from your sisters' joy is a loving thing, Tricia. I love the presence that you showed in your poems.

  7. All of these are fun, but I utterly ADORE Sara's love poem with poaching eggs and your response -- if you can boil an egg, you can poach one, and stop dreaming about what isn't and roll with what is!

  8. Trisha, you have pulled out delightful poems after looking back at what we did before. It is such a treat to share these with you and everyone!

  9. I like all of these so much, Tricia. They're all different, too, and cover a range of emotions in their lines.

  10. Yes,I would have been (am) inspired by Sara's poaching poem too--that one definitely lifts off, and your parental poem is just straighforwardly sweet. "joy in wheat toast" indeed.

  11. So wonderful, all of these conversations today! I'm saving your post to go back and read the poems that inspired yours!

  12. All of these are great. I especially like the one about your parents.

  13. These are wonderful! I found the information you shared about the tanka really enlightening - I might give this form another try now, having learned about the pattern, and how English approximates (or doesn't) to the Japanese.