Tanka is a Japanese form of short poetry. The form is very similar to haiku with minor variations.  Essentially the form is an elongated haiku, maintaining the 5-7-5 structure with an additional lower phrase of two 7 syllable lines. The form looks like this (with each number representing the syllables  in a line)


Rules of Tanka:

  1.  It is a poem of 5 lines
  2. It follows the syllable pattern 5-7-5-7-7
  3. It is typically unrhymed

Here  is an example of tanka from the prolific Tanka composer Ishikawa Takuboku (and an all time favorite poem of mine):

On the white sand
Of the beach of a small island
In the Eastern Sea.
I, my face streaked with tears,
Am playing with a crab

*Note: The above example does not follow the 5-7-5-7-7 format because it is a translation of  the Japanese on which differs from english syllables

Here is an example of tanka by Corey Bryan dedicated to Ishikawa Takuboku

“For Ishikawa Takuboku”
No tanka author
Grips the reins of emotions
Like Ishikawa
I, my face streaked with tears,
blithely read about his crabs.

Advantages of Tanka

One of the main advantages of tanka, especially when contrasted with haiku, is that you have more room to work with. Ever write a haiku that just has too many syllables? Tanka is the answer for you. The final two “envoy” lines provide a nice narrative flow to be established with satisfying endings. This opens up greater opportunities for creative subjects than can be achieved by haiku or senyru.

Challenges of Tanka

Regardless of its length compared to haiku, it is still a very short form of expression. It is hard to imagine composing a poem with just 31 syllables, but trust us, you can do it!

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