Monday, May 19, 2008

Ever Heard of Tanka?

Nope, it's not a decaffeinated coffee!

Even if you have heard of “tanka,” you might not know that they are five line poems that are similar to haiku in that they conjure succinct moments with a bare minimum of words.

Those who are fond of rules might ask about the syllable count for such poems. In answer, I must first caution you that tanka is a Japanese form; so we’re talking quite a big language difference here between English and Japanese. For hardcore rule followers, let’s say 31 syllables per tanka with the lines divided into five syllabic units: 5-7-5-7-7. However, in English many writers of tanka use fewer than 31 syllables and don’t rigidly follow the line length pattern. In other words, don’t have a nervous breakdown if the syllable count doesn’t match the pattern described above. Simply put: chill out!

Recently I’ve been in love with a small anthology of tanka, entitled The Tanka Anthology edited by Michael McClintock, Pamela Miller Ness & Jim Kacain. The book is published by Red Moon Press.

As the introduction states, “In these poems, we may learn to pay attention in a different way, and receive our news of the world with unexpected delight.” For those who wish to delve deeper into the structure and craft of making tanka poems, the introduction offers a decent amount of detail. For me, the proof is in the poetry.

Here are few samples of some of my favorites:

my friends tell me
that they are breaking up
I stand at the sink
--rinse the cloudy rice over
and over again.

--Margaret Chula

this morning
the cold of your absence
a presence now
shall I dress it like scarecrows
standing in an empty field

--Marjorie Buettner

On the night train
through that foreign land
I waver once
a lit farm kitchen

--Marianne Bluger

Lit every night
the screened porch
remains unoccupied.
A stage prepared for actors.
The script in development.

--Keith Badowski

P.S. I’m not really included in the anthology, but I thought I’d slip in a tanka of my own just for the heck of it.

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