The Tanka Poem – Part 2


Walking by Inner Vision – A Personal Journal

The Tanka Poem, Part 2

Writing Assignment #27

Zen Meditation Garden, designed by Bob and Lynda Lambert, Wurtemburg, PA

Five months ago I wanted to work on a special project in honor of National Poetry Month.

I chose  to learn about the Tanka Poem and began to write some tanka in response to what I was learning. This was a surprising  journey into the Tanka Poem and it has led me into some interesting revelations.  In order to learn even more, I joined the Tanka Society of America.

Yes, I have made some additional discoveries since I wrote Part 1 on this blog – April 10, 2015.  It was Writing Assignment #12. For clarity, go back and read Part I.

Click here to read Tanka Poetry Part 1:

Tanka Poetry Part 1 – Lesson 12


I began to receive the literary journal, “Ribbons,” published by  The  Tanka Society of America.  The magazine is another way of learning more about the Tanka form. The more I learn, the deeper I walk into this exquisite poetry form. One revelation after another has come to me as I studied.

Eventually, I realized that Tanka is so much like Japanese dance forms that I enjoy. In particular, I can relate it to the Butoh dance – human emotions, stories, minimalist space that feels like walking in a dream, finely orchestrated movement from the beginning of the poem to the end of it.  And, then, the final line is so important in the poem, as the final movements and imagery  is in the dance performances.  This new idea came to me today as I worked on this essay.

I wondered, “How has it taken me 5 months to recognize the parallels between Japanese dance and Japanese poetry?


Photo of Japanese Butoh Dance performance..


A TANKA POEM is like  a Japanese DANCE

expressive, human emotion, movement, a dreamscape


My first encounter with “Ribbons” opened my eyes to the fact that the Tanka need not have a syllable count of 5-7-5-7-7 at all! In fact, almost none of the poems published have this restriction. All have 5 lines, but those 5 lines vary greatly from the initial form I first learned was “Tanka Form.”  Did my head spin? Oh, yes, indeed!

Blog15_WBIV_Tanka2_JapMapleLeaf “Dancing Japanese Maple” by Rona Black

Photo used with permission of photographer, Rona Black. Copyright 2015.

Click here to   See MORE photos by Rona Black



What is TANKA?  

The TANKA poem originated in Japan over 1200 years ago

Traditionally,  Tanka themes are:

Nature     Seasons

Romance     Sadness

Love     Strong Human Emotions

A Tanka Poem usually  reflects a single MOMENT

Tanka poems do not have titles or numbers

 Use personification, metaphor, and other allusions

The lyrical intensity gives a sense of a personal, intimate world.

Capitalization and punctuation is not necessary. In fact, it can be a distraction to take the reader out of the moment in the poem.  I saw this in the poems I read.

Tanka is a lyrical poem and it’s important for it to have a feeling of human emotions, awareness of being in a dream, or the author discussing personal  relationships or desires.

Fragmentation  is highly desirable.

Once you understand the structure of the Tanka Poem, you do not need to count the syllables and words – it is not necessary to have the 5-7-5-7-7 format and in fact, this poem is  much smoother if you do not restrain yourself and force your words into a particular  syllable count. 


Zen Meditation Garden, -created by Bob and Lynda Lambert

The overall  observation, is that your Tanka will be a 5-line poem.  

As you begin to consult literary magazines that focus on Tanka, or Haiku poetry forms, you soon see the poems published do  not the traditional  generic description. Here is where we see the master class.


I consulted with an editor of a Haiku Journal with my questions. He responded to me immediately with some answers.

He said,

“There are some western poets who do write in the traditional syllabic style, but they are few and far between, and not usually well represented in many of the more established journals
or showcased in the numerous anthologies that are produced each year.

Traditional Japanese poets still write in the syllabic style and use official kigo from a officially recognized sajiki, but there are plenty of Japanese poets who are not traditional
and write haiku which are reminiscent of what is being produced by poets in the west. I suggest you check out someone like Kaneko Tohta or Ban’ya Natsuishi to get an idea of just how adventurous some Japanese poets are.”


 Walking by Inner Vision Journal – Writing Assignment #27

Using the additional information I have given you,  create your own Tanka poem!

I would love to read your poem – send it to me or post it in the comments below. If you  scroll to the bottom of the page, sign up for my newest posts that will arrive quietly in your email as soon as I post them.

Lynda McKinney Lambert. Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Special THANKS to Rona Black for allowing me to use her photo,

“Dancing Japanese Maple” on this post.


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