How To Write Tanaga
The tanaga is a Filipino poetry form. The earliest recorded tanaga poem is from the 16th century. Most of these poems are translated from their native language of Tagalog. It is a deceptively simple form. The traditional tanaga is a quatrain of seven-syllable lines. The syllable count looks like this: 7-7-7-7. It has an AABB rhyme scheme. Similar to the haiku, tanagas usually remain untitled, letting just the four lines hold all the weight of the poem. Modern variations of the tanaga allow for freer rhyme schemes such as ABAB, ABBA, ABAA, and occasionally even ABCD and AAAA. This poetry form is unfortunately on the brink of dying out, but there are fierce advocates of its use. We’re featuring it here to provide another outlet for its resurgence. Plus, it’s just fun!
Rules of Tanaga
- It is a poem of four lines (quatrain)
- It is usually a rhyming poem
- Each line contains seven syllables (7-7-7-7)
- AABB is the traditional rhyme scheme
- But variations in rhyme scheme are allowed
- Just have fun!
Advantages of the Form
It’s a relatively short form, only four lines. Rhyme schemes can also be used as inspiration if you ever feel stuck. The freedom of rhyme scheme allows for some serious self-expression otherwise not available in stricter forms.
Challenges of the Form
Each line is seven syllables so it can be difficult to express your ideas in natural ways, the way haiku and tanka have syllabic ups and downs that mirror conversation. Rhyming is hard for some people, it can feel like it is getting in the way of what you want to say. If you are experiencing this and really struggling, just use an ABCD form. It’s all about saying something, the tanaga is just here to help.
Prompt 1 – Ordering Food or Drink
It’s easy to think about rhyming poetry in terms of art. Let’s try and break from the normal and imagine ordering food or drinks or something with a tanaga.
“I’ll drink deep–gin and tonic
Now, this might seem ironic
The drink is so iconic
If you can, hold the tonic”
Prompt 2 – Time
We are all so intertwined with time, it’s helpful to take a second to write about it. It can be about how fast it moves, how slow it’s going, there’s never enough, there’s way too much. Feel free to interpret it how you want!
Time–could you hurry it up?
I can’t stand this glacial pace
I stand in line, face-to-face
With a man who smells like crud
Prompt 3 – Good Advice
Good advice always rhymes; otherwise, how would we remember it?
When a person makes you mad
Instead of thinking they’re bad
Try and take a second look
See what life they’ve undertook
Prompt 4 – Poem for a Song
Take some inspiration from a song and write a tanaga about it. Impromptu ekphrasis
Dad always played Turn the Page
When Mom wasn’t in the car
It wasn’t right for my age
But oh, man that song went hard
Prompt 5 – Changing the Scene
Most writing takes place in your office, at your desk, at a coffee shop. Try and imagine (or do it, if you’re crazy enough) what it would be like to write from your laundry room or closet or bathroom. If you don’t have any spare rooms, imagine writing underneath your desk.
It’s all legs and feet down here
I really need to vacuum
Lying on the floor is weird
But it sure beats the bathroom
Prompt 6 – Channel Your Inner Rugrat
Remember when you were a kid even the little things seemed like big adventures? The slide could be Mt. Everest, the floor was always lava. Channel that train of thought and write about the little things.
Longest couch you’ve ever seen
Made for the perfect island
I with for a submarine
The lava makes me frightened
Prompt 7 – Your Ideal Commute
Work is an inevitable part of life, but what if the commute could be fun? Instead of sitting in traffic, what if you could ski to work? Fly on your broomstick? Take a helicopter? Or maybe it’s as simple as just being able to walk there.
Skiing down the mountain snow
With laptop in my backpack
Goldfish bag for mid-day snack
And it’s off to work I go