A tanka is a five-line poem, unrhymed and having units of five, seven, five, seven, and seven syllables.
Here are some of my first attempts at writing tanka. Aptly, these were inspired by my trip to Japan in spring.
cherry blossoms glide
making their gentle descend
over rain-washed streets
petals gently unfurling
to meet the crisp morning air
Strolling through the streets of Hokkaido during spring, I was awestruck by the beauty of the delicate cherry blossoms.
time has etched its mark
her creased face a palimpsest
of meandering lines
she smiles and the lines unite
a fine tapestry of life
Japan is home to many supercentenarians (people who have lived to or passed their 110th birthday). I was inspired by an elderly lady who seemed to know all of life’s secrets, after having been through trials and tribulations during her long life.
on drifting tree bark
he meanders down the river
speckled green shell
glistening in the spotlight
of the warm afternoon sun
There is something fascinating about watching a terrapin basking in the sun, occasionally plunging into the cool blue water.
You trace the contours
of the map with your finger,
lingering in the crisp air.
Anywhere with you, I say.
Each part of Japan has its own unique personality and characteristics, for example the bright lights and vibrant city life of Tokyo, traditional and cultural Kyoto, and so on. This makes it such a thrill to visit Japan.
Spotlight on the Tanka
Most of us have heard of haiku, but what about tanka?
As mentioned above, a tanka is an unrhymed five-line poem which has units of five, seven, five, seven, and seven syllables. It is similar to haiku but there are two additional lines. This poetic form, like haiku, originated from Japan. Like haiku, tanka usually deploys concrete images, yet tanka offers an intimacy arising from direct expression of emotion as well as suggestion and implication.
When I first came across tanka poetry, I was intrigued by its beauty and elegance in capturing the moment and mood.
Tanka is traditionally written in a single uninterrupted line. Tanka verses are not usually considered full sentences. The first word in the first line is not usually capitalised, nor is the last line ended with a period. This is to keep the poem open to encourage readers to complete it in his or her imagination.
Sometimes, the tanka is separated by the first three lines and the last three ones. The turn from the upper unit to the lower one usually signals a shift or expansion of subject matter.
Though there are these standard conventions of writing a tanka (and others not mentioned here), many variations are seen in modern day tanka. Many modern tanka written in English take the liberty of creating beautiful verses which do not rigidly follow traditional tanka “rules” and conventions with regard to form, structure and subject matter. This is perhaps why each tanka I come across nowadays is so unique. The tanka I write also tend not to follow too closely to the traditional conventions, allowing for greater flexibility.
More to come!