What is a tanka?

Tanka (plural and singular spelling) are five line poems, with over 1,300 years of history in Japan, where they are still written as a popular and contemporary poetry form today.  They tend to use more lyrical language than haiku, but still have a "less is more" quality.


Tanka continue to gain popularity in the English language, as English language writers discover the charms and poignancy of the form.  


you can hear me

but I can’t hear you

just that you’re talking

the rhythm of

“I love you”


Karen Hoy


Published in Blithe Spirit: the Journal of the British Haiku Society

Writing Tanka

Most English language writers who come to tanka, have done so through an interest in haiku.  That's how it was for us at Call of the Page too.  But actually, tanka is in some ways an easier Japanese form poem to start with than haiku.  It's more akin to longer more lyrical poetry, with those extra couple of lines.


Tanka combine fact and feelings in a way that can be especially poignant, and very satisfying to capture as a writer. Although not exclusively about relationships, with scope for happiness as well as loss and sadness, there's something about tanka that can feel very cathartic.  Our students have written about romance, break-ups, best friends, bereavement, weddings, and family relationships.

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