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Poemify College | Tanka Poetry: Everything You Need To Know

Obviously, it’s your first time to ever hear of such. Right? If you’re a fan of Haiku, the Tanka would be easy to learn. Let’s dig deep.

In today’s lecture we’ll explore the ancient Japanese form called the Tanka. Tanka is a lesser known form of Japanese poetry. It might be thought of as haiku’s quiet older sibling.

Tanka was practiced in classical Japan as a form of linked verse. One poet would write a three-line poem of 17 syllables and give it to another poet. The second poet would add two more 7 syllable lines for a total of 5 lines and 31 syllables. The last two lines often provided a turn or counterpoint to the first three lines, much like the ending of a sonnet. The complete form, then, would look like: 5-7-5-7-7
You might recognize the 5-7-5 part of the tanka as the precursor to haiku!
Here’s a striking example of Tanka, by Sadakichi Hartmann, from the early 20th century.

Winter? Spring? Who knows?
White buds from the plumtrees wing
And mingle with the snows.
No blue skies these flowers bring,
Yet their fragrance augurs Spring.
Sadakichi Hartmann

Okay, let’s break it down. Maybe the best way to understand the Tanka is to try it. Here are two Haiku by Basho the master Haiku poet. Because they are haiku, they already contain a “turn,” but we’ll use them as our foundation anyway.

I come weary,
In search of an inn—
Ah! these wisteria flowers!

Assignment (i): Add two lines after it. Both lines must have 7 syllables.
The old pond, aye!
And the sound of a frog
leaping into the water.
Assignment (ii): Add two lines after it. Both lines must have 7 syllables.

It’s simple. Open up a conversation across the centuries through your poetry. Think about taking the poem in another direction or deepening the given theme.

If you’d like to offer a Haiku that you’ve written, Click Here to send your Haiku to me. I’d love to add a few lines.

Let’s practice poetry as collaboration.
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