Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Recently I was honoured to receive a real introduction to the Japanese poetry form, tanka. I had been aware of it for a long time but never tried to explore it; I saw it as an extended haiku, a haiku with two unnecessary lines added, a bastardized form if you will. I was wrong, very wrong. The tanka form is the older of the two. Haiku developed from the objective part of the tanka, and developed rules about seasonal words, etc. which do not restrict tanka.

Tanka consists of two sections. One is the objective observation of something affecting the poet and often expressed almost like the haiku that derived from it. The second is the emotional and personal reaction of the poet to the described matter, a very subjective statement. The blending of these two into a cohesive whole make the tanka.
Forget about syllable counts and other frivolities. Japanese kanji and other linguistic elements do not compare closely to syllables. It is better, as in haiku, to use the smallest number of simple words.
For form's sake we continue to use a five line layout. If the first segment is the objective, the haiku observation, the latter should be the subjective and emotional expression. The middle line may often become a turning point between the two, a part of both observations, but again there is no steadfast rule.
And, as in any good poetry, show rather than tell.

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