How To Write Tankaru
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.
Senryu consists of three lines with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5, just like haiku. However, while haiku focuses on capturing the essence of nature, senryu is centered around human nature, emotions, and the often humorous aspects of everyday life.
Rules of Tankaru
- It is a poem of 5 lines
- It follows the syllable pattern 5-7-5-7-7
- It concerns human nature
- There is no set meter or rhyme scheme.
Advantages of the Form
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 with satisfying endings. This opens up greater opportunities for creative subjects than can be achieved by traditional haiku or senyru. It also opens up a new avenue for tanka subjects by widening the genre to include human nature.
Challenges of the Form
While the tanka is longer than senryu, the brevity of the form still requires the poet to distill their thoughts into a few carefully chosen words. This can prove difficult when discussing topics as complex as human nature. The results, though, encourage the reader to contemplate the underlying meaning and find resonance in the simple yet profound observations of human nature.
Tankaru Writing Prompts
Prompt 1 – Self-Peeve
What is something that you do that annoys you?
Eight long, restful hours
Spent sleeping, dreaming. My eyes
The first thing I can think of—
‘You must watch Reels on your phone’
Prompt 2 – Eyes-Wide-Open-In-Wonder
What in the world gives you childlike joy, or amazement?
Scrambling up the door
In a constant search for light
The junebug falls, once
twice, thrice, every single time
Just to scramble up the door
Prompt 3 – Character Flaws
Character flaws are often viewed as just that: flaws. But they can be more than just simple flaws. What character flaw intrigues you most?
about the most menial
things. “I am 6’2”
from the lips of a man who
can’t reach the top shelf whiskey
Prompt 4 – Imparting Value
Human beings have the crazy tendency to assign insane amounts of emotional value on inanimate objects. What’s a keepsake of yours that you covet?
There’s a soul in there
Elan Vital, essence of life.
I swear I saw it—
The flat, humble river rock
Look! I swear I saw it move.
Prompt 5 – Less Than Human
What are some things that you do, or that someone does to you, that just make you feel small?
My reflection stares
at the stranger who opened
the clean, plate glass door.
How quick I anger at the
implied helplessness he sees.
Prompt 6 – Superhuman
What is something that makes you feel larger than life?
I’m in the outfield,
or rather, right behind it
The crack of a bat—
The ball tears through the still air
and I catch it one-handed
Prompt 7 – Perfectly Human
What, to you, defines human nature perfectly?
annoyed at your new gas stove
as the dial clicks
over and over again
but fails to light its blue flame