His eyes like water
Misty bodies of the Soul
drowning into him –
I rise from the depths
to reclaim my Self.
© C. Rhys
Definition of Tanka
An unrhymed Japanese poem consisting of five lines of 5/7/5/7/7 (5 kana in the first line, 7 kana in the second line, 5 kana in the third line, 7 kana in the fourth line, and 7 kana in the fifth line) totaling 31 kana.
Three ways to write tanka
There are three basic ways to write tanka.
1) Write 5 lines of 5/7/5/7/7. Just replace one syllable for one kana. Most English speaking writers do not do this, as there are too many vast differences between the Japanese and English language.
You are certainly free to do this, however, your tanka will be about one-third longer than the Japanese tanka. There are some Japanese who think this is the only real way to write tanka, but there are others who feel that making English writers adhere to the form serves no purpose.
2) Write 5 lines of 31 syllables or LESS, following the short/long/short/long/long form. This way, your tanka will achieve the same basic effect as the Japanese tanka.
3) Write 5 lines of 31 syllables or LESS, letting the poem dictate the line length. You are free to experiment more with this last option.
Everyone who writes tanka must make their own personal decision on which form they want to use. Some experiment with all three forms and find their own paths.
(reprint from Shadow Poetry)