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Hints for poets new to tanka

Writers taking their first steps within this verse form are advised that tanka submitted to Catchment may benefit from developing a sense of Japanese origins; as well as an awareness about approaches currently being followed in English Language Tanka, endorsed in Japan.

Reading ‘short songs’ by early masters of waka, such as Saigyo & Ono No Komachi, could prove enriching; as might considering examples from modern poets: Akiko Yosano’s ‘tangled hair’; tanka by her translator Sanford Goldstein; work by Australians like Beverley George & David Terelinck.

In fact, this pair of leading contemporary tanka poets edited a fine collection back in 2011 called Grevillea & Wonga Vine - Australian Tanka of Place (which was a Eucalypt publication).

Published in the United States by M. Kei, Atlas Poetica: A Journal of Poetry of Place in Contemporary Tanka gave long-term support to tanka inspired by a sense of location: in 2012, your editor here at Catchment compiled a Special Feature for Atlas Poetica, called Snipe Rising from a Marsh - Birds in Tanka, which collected pieces by internationally respected tanka poets, each placing a different species of bird in an identified locality around the world. 

Chances are that reading other examples of tanka as poetry of place would be helpful.

On a more fundamental level, poets early on their tanka path are advised that less is best: not adhering to a strict syllabic pattern of 5-7-5-7-7, in terms of structure; using a shorter-longer-shorter-longer-longer shape instead, in terms of line-length; especially aiming to have less than 31 syllables (in English) through avoiding padding.     

Punctuated or not, a sense of break may be positioned at the end of any of the first 4 lines.

Having a sense of link-and-shift should enhance impact: making a connection between the two halves of the tanka; yet also suggesting some difference or contrast ... perhaps via juxtaposition.

Tanka could even be hinged, with (say) the third line working – in distinct ways – both with the first 2 lines, but also with the final pair.

With a haunting power, the most resonant verse in this genre tends to prompt a state of wondering, suggesting links between both phases within the poem, inviting readers to fill some sort of gap.

So this might mean that tanka which read as full sentences – in continuous statements spanning all 5 lines (no matter how clearly showing a sense of place) – may not all claim spots in Catchment.                                                                              

(See Tanka of place &/ or Submission guidelines)

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