Tanka means short poem. It is an ancient Japanese poetry form well over a thousand years old. It, like haiku, is unrhymed and is written by counting syllables. It contains 5 lines containing 31 syllables arranged 5-7-5-7-7. There are more “refinements” which we will introduce later.

When tanka moved from Japanese to the English language it took on a life of its own. Currently there are two main groups – the Traditionalists and the Minimalists. The first group is explained above. The Minimalists’ tanka is less structured and adheres to only one requirement – it contains 5 lines. Neither contain titles and most Minimalists write in only lower-case letters.

It’s probably best explained by example. Here follows a few:

Dawn unwraps morning,
Layer by fragile layer.
Gray succumbs to blue
That splinters into splendor.
A bird calls in the stillness.

By Mary Matson
Previously published in the Marquette Literary Quarterly


After reading Mary’s lovely tanka, Gene Helveston responded with a tribute in tanka:

Behold a genius
Crafting words that reach sublime
In their world alone
Pity those who cannot see
And crown her work with their praise


Here are examples of tanka written by Jo Lesher. The first is written in Traditional form. The others are written in Minimalistic style.

the pendulum swings
in my old grandfather clock
tick-tocking away
measuring the beats that are
remaining in my lifetime



redbuds bud
dogwoods bloom
tulips rise
bow their heads
as if in prayer


Now, your turn.
We hope you will write some tanka poems and send it to us for inclusion in this section.


Contributed by:  the Editors

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