Japanese Poetic Forms Part II: More Twins!


, ,

Hello. Toni (Kanzensakura) here as your Pubtender today.  Pull up a barstool, order up something good to drink, and let’s talk about another set of unidentical twins – tanka and bussokusekika (simpler than it sounds).

Tanka form is older than haiku. Tanka are first recorded in the early 8th century! Haiku are a late 19th century revision.  In its simplest definition, tanka are five line short poems with a syllable count of 5-7-5-7-7 – sort of like a haiku with two additional lines. However, do not think of tanka as a “completed haiku”; it is its own unique poetic form. Tanka translates as “short song”.

Similar to a sonnet, the tanka employs a turn – a pivotal image – in the the third line.  This denotes the transition from examination of an image to the examination of the personal response.

The first three lines of a tanka, the upper poem is the Kami-no-ku.  The last two lines, the lower poem is the Shimo-no-ku.  The pivotal image is the third line of the Kami-no-ku.

Tanka quickly became the preferred poetic form in the Imperial court.  Often after an evening spent togeter, lovers would compose a tanka of appreciation to each other, of gratitude for a night of love making.  So far, does tanka sound like a fun form?

Tanka are different from haiku in that they:
– are subjective. Haiku are severely objective.
– emotional, can be opionated, often sensual,
and lyrical (short song). Haiku are neutral, simple.
– tanka can and do move back and forth in time. Haiku are written only in the “now”.
– tanka are considered female while haiku are male-like. Most of the famous writers of tanka are/were female.
– tanka uses “elegant” languages or euphemisms to gloss over the “unspeakable”. Haiku subjects are more earthy, in sync with changing seasons/nature like mud snails, bird poop, ordinary pebbles.

Both forms are made of sentence fragments (think Emily Dickinson not “telegraph” fragments)
– written in lower case
– no punctuation except for a dash or ellipses to show cutting word or pivotal image/phrase.

Tanka may also be extremely sensual and tell of sex or body parts which haiku never do. Nature does not have to be the subject but can be. In contrast, they can also be sensitive and introspective speaking of emotions in a more obvious way.

Now the second form – bussokusekika. This form has one additional seven syllable line. Comes in handy for us wordy folk! Poems in this form were found on a worn stone at the Yaykushi Temple beside the Budddha Foot monument around 753 and are often known as “the footprint of “Buddha”. The form quickly fell out of popularity. Because of the “twinness” to tanka, I felt the form would be interesting to bring up. I also will sometimes use this form but because of the association, not use for sensual, opinionated, or sarcastic poems.

If as a poet, you enjoy ranting, being humorous, opionated, romantic, sexy…tanka is your form! Please feel free to put your tanka in the comments and/or post on your site and add the link in the comments. Just be aware they may not be read as when linked in Mr. Linky. However, I hope you all will follow the links and read. Tanka you very much! Grin.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,677 other followers