festive tree lights
on the eve of the solstice
two years ago
I placed a poinsettia
on my father’s grave
Margaret Chula kindly offers the following suggestions to new tanka writers. She is the President of the Tanka Society of America and we welcome her contributions.
Tanka are not sentences broken down into five lines. Somewhere in a tanka, there should be a turn-a surprise-as in haiku.
Keep punctuation to a minimum. A dash may be used occasionally or perhaps indentation to indicate the pivot line, but avoid beginning with a capital or ending with a period.
When writing tanka in English, you have the liberty of varying the syllable count and the line length from the traditional Japanese 5-7-5-7-7. However, following the short, long, short, long, long style of traditional Japanese tanka seems to work well.
A successful tanka (one that resonates with the reader) has a shift or juxtaposition somewhere in the poem. Often, but not always, it manifests as a connection between nature and an event in our own lives. There is an emotional connection and also a shift between the first three lines and the final two. Tanka may also have yugen (mystery) and allows space for the reader to fill in his/her own experience. This is the craft and beauty of tanka.
Avoid direct reference to emotions (the lonely gull) and personification (giving nature human qualities). Convey emotion through images rather than telling us how to feel.
Tanka do not have titles, unless it’s a tanka series.
Pay attention to the final line of your tanka. Make sure it ends strong.
Margaret’s website is located at www.margaretchula.com