Tanka Poems

I admitted it to friends today and now I’m going public: Poetry scares me. I love to read it or listen to it, but writing it and workshopping it intimidate me. I don’t understand enough about how it works to really break down my poetry let alone someone else’s.

However, just today a teacher in my Online Summer Institute shared a micropoem she had written — specifically a Tanka Poem — and I’ve been writing them all day! I’ve found in the past that micropoems don’t frighten me as much. There is something about that spare use of language that makes the writing challenging yet approachable. However, I had never played with something as structured as a Tanka poem. My fellow writer and I both liked to marry our text with images which works well with Jeanne Emrich’s A Quick Start Guide To Writing Tanka.

Traditional tanka is very visual and quite lovely to read as you can see with these collections from Your Dictionary, Shadow Poetry, and Poetry Soup. If you are interested in creating some traditional tanka then you can use the quick start guide above or Playing With Poetry’s How To Write A Tanka Poem.

But this prompt really isn’t about the traditional Tanka (which I guess makes this a twofer!). I chose to write my Tanka poems about my mood (struggle?) of the day so I started with one specific image in my mind then built my Tanka around it. My friend also chose an image to respond to. Another writer friend of mine (with published Tankas!) Carole Johnston taught me to write my Tankas focused around the senses. She suggests locating a particular scene in your memory and making a list of concrete words describing that scene employing all five senses (sound, sight, scent, taste, touch) before building your Tanka. I would also suggest as you brainstorm to build on those lists with some metaphors or similes.

Carole also taught me that you can play with the line order if the poem requires it, so for example, the road to harlan was written using a 7, 5, 7, 5, 7 pattern.

Let your mood determine the type of Tanka you want to write and spend some time with this fun word play. I hope you will share your Tanka with me!

Here are two of mine created just today:

fate-pends so-ring

And the poem by Kristen Barrett that inspired me:



Give your own Tanka poem a try — either the traditional Tanka or a moody Tanka like I tried or perhaps just viewing these images of a broken bridge, telephone, or tattoo might inspire you in an entirely new direction… It does not matter what you write. It just matters that you #JustWrite!

P.S. If you are syllable-disadvantaged (like me) check out this Syllable Counter