The word tanka means “short song” and is one of the oldest Japanese forms of poetry originating in the seventeenth century. The tanka is related to it’s shorter cousin, haiku, but isn’t as popular with American poets. Traditional Japanese tanka poems are made up of 31 syllables written in a single, unbroken line. However, the tanka poems in English takes on a five-line form, consisting of a 5/7/5/7/7 syllable count.
Notice how this traditional tanka, written by Tada Chimako (born 1930), ends with a profound statement. The 31 syllable count is off due to the translation from Japanese to English.
the hot water in the abandoned kettle slowly cools still carrying the resentment of cold water © Tada Chimako
Here’s my attempt at a modern tanka (5/7/5/7/7). I wrote this poem during the devastating 2020 wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington. Many thanks to Marcus Kaufmann for the amazing photo.
fires lick the land running wild with parched tongues so desperate for rain that never falls from the sky they lap up lives—still thirsty © 2020 Danna Smith at Poetrypop.com all rights reserved
The Rules of Tanka
Want to learn more about tanka? Visit how to write a tanka for step by step instructions.
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