Welcome to the MTB session!  Today we are exploring the Tanka.  I know many of us write tanka but do we really know how to write it and its history?

Tanka is one of the earliest of Japanese poetic forms.  It shows up in the early eight century!  People often say tanka is a completed haiku – considering that the tanka is several centuries older than haiku, this obviously isn’t correct.  Tanka became popular among the ladies of the court.  These were originally written as a “thank you” or exultation after a night with their lovers.  Unlike haiku, tanka can be extremely sensual.

Tanka can be written about anything, which makes it easy subject-wise.  However, there are rules involved with tanka that we modern folk sometimes ignore or forget or, do not know.

They have a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count, per line.  The first two lines of the tanka are known as the kami-no-ku – upper poem, the last two lines are the shimo-no-ku – lower poem.  The third line. middle line, is the kireji or, cutting line or pivot denoting the difference between the two parts.  This is important to remember when writing tanka.  There are also no uppercase letters, no punctuation (except for the short dash, like an aspirated breath) or title.

Tanka are subjective and can be emotional, opinionated, sensual, and lyrical.  They move back and forth through time and use elegant phrases or euphamisms, simile and metaphor. They are considered a “female” while haiku are “male”.  The word tanka means “short song”.  Many times before battle, Samurai would write a death poem (jisei) to leave behind. Often these poems were tanka.

One of our team members, Mary Grace, has contributed two of her tanka for me to use as an illustration.  They are copyrighted and cannot be used without her permission. The same is also true for my contributed tanka.

under fog-lit moon
the dance of your fingertips
on my skin is spring
unfolding petals white peach
rain-rippled silk with desire

she folds white letter
origami boat sailing
towards eastern shores
kneeling in silent prayer
as arrow wings rip blue sky

And here is a tanka from me, a jisei written by a “fictional” samurai after a long story poem about him:

bitter winter winds –
in the garden the sleeping
cherry blossoms wait
for spring sun to awaken –
I can only dream

For you:
– on your blog, write your poem and be sure to link it back here to dVerse.
– Use Mr. Linky below to link your poem for others to read.
– Visit the other links. Read and comment on other poets’ works. Make some friends! This is how we build our community here at dVerse.
– If not sure of a form, read the poems of other poets, especially those of team members to set you off on the right track.
– Have Fun!

Kansakura (Toni Spencer, hayesspencer) has been writing and studying Japanese poetic forms for almost 40 years. She still has a lot of learning to do! Blog spot is