Let’s Tanka

By Margaret Blair in Poetry & Literature

No., that’s not a typo for Tango, it really is an invitation to Tanka.

Most people have heard of the Haiku, a form of Japanese poetry, but not many have encountered its precursor, the Tanka. You are about to be among those fortunate few.
This form of poetic expression consists of five lines of not more than 5,7,5,7,7 syllables. If there is a group of two or more, a title is appropriate. As I do not translate Japanese – and a translation wouldn’t work anyway – I’ve made up a few myself as illustrations (below).
Try composing your own Tanka; it’s fun, something like a crossword puzzle you make up yourself. You may have a thought about something, and can express it as a poem using this format. It’s an absorbing way to spend a long winter’s evening, and you have something to show for your effort at the end of the day. Tanka makes a pleasant change from that other Japanese pastime (or for some of us headache-inducing torture) the Sudoku.


Morning Moan
Large flake oats
I stir for half an hour
On the stove.
Why won’t you be cooked
So I can have breakfast?

Misty morning
Driving to see family
Maybe we’ll be late
What does it matter
Must not have an accident.

In awkward groups
They stand, reminiscing
Trying to keep Death
At bay with their stories
Of his past (there’s no future)

A bird’s winter call
Knifes the air. Eheu, élas…
Alas, it cries
In a timeless language
Each mourner understands.

Biological Clock
The phantom child came
This being with no body
And no name
Winding his arms
Tight around her waist.

Then, woven in air
The longed for son returned
Rested his head
On her shoulder in farewell
And slipped away forever.

He would be twenty
Now – this child she never made
And must make himself
In some shadowy dream world
Where he is strong, and handsome.