long winter night . . .
my mind wanders back
to a northern stream
that once answered
my every question
— Jeanne Emrich
The tanka has me rapt.
For days now, my every experience searches for a short form verse that will compress, nuance and make it mean more.
Do you tanka? Cousin to the haiku, tanka is a 5 line lyric poem with Japanese roots. Like haiku, a tanka poem offers concrete images, understatement and control. A tanka has a specific form but — here’s the good part — the rules are a bit elastic.
Traditional tanka requires a 31 syllable count with lines of 5-7-5-7-7. But the modern American tanka allows for fudging.
Tanka Online tells it best: The contemporary tanka in English may be described as typically an untitled free-verse short poem having anywhere from about twelve to thirty-one syllables arranged in words and phrases over five lines, crafted to stand alone as a unitary, aesthetic whole—a complete poem. Excepting those written in a minimalist style, a tanka is about two breaths in length when read aloud.
“The tanka aesthetic is broad and all-encompassing,” encourages poet/instructor Jeanne Emrich.
With an anyone-can-do-it spirit, the site offers a Quick Start Guide to Writing Tanka. It’s a manual, an art form, a get-up-and-go guide!
I like the attitude. And then I found Jack Cantey. He’s writing a rush of tankas, posting five to six poems on his blog each week.
I’m done with it all,
he says, drunk on wine and paint.
Winter is a force
that erodes like wind and waves.
It eats us in creeping bites.
— Jack Cantey
Inspired by Jeanne and Jack, I thought I was ready to tanka. I wrote and counted. Rewrote, recounted. Turns out the seemingly simple short form is deceptively — and wonderfully — complicated. I like the challenge.
How about you? Have you tried a tanka? Send me your work. I’ll post them here, and we’ll toast to tanka — the new, old, short form poem.