Tanka (短歌) has a rich history stretching back more than 1,300 years. Its predecessor was originally known as uta (歌), or “song,” when written language first reached Japan from China. Later, this poetry became known as waka (和歌), or “Japanese song,” as Japan began to develop its own language and writing systems distinct from Chinese. Tanka is the modern term for waka, and tanka in Japanese is more wide-ranging than traditional waka. In English, a tanka typically has five lines, often with a pivot line of some kind, and seeks to leave something out so that it may be implied, usually with intuitive or emotional effect. Traditionally, tanka were love poems, but tanka has evolved over the centuries to encompass a variety of topics, and tends to be more overtly emotional and subjective than haiku (for this reason, and because it allows more metaphor and simile than, say, haiku, perhaps tanka is the most “Western” of Japan’s poetry genres). For essays on tanka, see the Essays page (scroll down to the Tanka section), and for some of my waka translations, see Selections from the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu. In 1994, my press published Footsteps in the Fog, which was the second anthology of English-language tanka (after an anthology published in 1975 by the Tanka Chapter of the Chaparral Poets of California). And in 2000, I founded the Tanka Society of America, convened its first meeting, and served as its president for five years, returning again as president in 2018. My journals Woodnotes and Tundra also published tanka, especially Woodnotes, which was one of the earliest English-language journals to feature tanka extensively. My own tanka have appeared in Ribbons, Gusts (Canada), Tangled Hair (England), and the Tanka Journal (Japan), among many other journals, as well as in numerous anthologies. On 24 March 2012, the United States Postal Service issued a cherry blossom stamp, in an initial print run of 100,000,000 copies (and a reprint of 50,000,000 more), featuring a waka (tanka) translation I did with Emiko Miyashita, from our artbook of waka translations titled 100 Poets: Passions of the Imperial Court (Tokyo: PIE Books, 2008).     +


Some repetition of poems occurs among the following links as a result of grouping or sequencing poems for different purposes.

★ = most recommended (start with these)

My Tanka

    August Postcard Poetry Fest (30 haiku, tanka, and other poems)

Cherry Blossom Postage Stamp (one waka translation)

    From Countless Leaves (three tanka)

Endless Circles (eight collaborative tanka, with David Terelinck)

    Fine Dining (four collaborative tanka)

2023 Fujisan Tanka Contest (one tanka)

Hand in Hand (September 11 haibun, with tanka)

    Japan–U.S. Peace Treaty Reading (18 tanka)

Luggage Poems (14 tanka)

    Microchip Tanka (one tanka translation)

Missing Poems (19 tanka)

My Tanka in Woodnotes (eight tanka)

    NeverEnding Story (ongoing, with tanka and haiku)

    Poèmes de bagages / Luggage Poems (7 tanka, with French translation)

    Poetry That Heals (8 poems, including three tanka, with commentary)

    Red Lights Featured Poet (11 tanka)

Salt and Pepper Poems (22 tanka)

The Second Eye (tanka sequence)

Shichifukujin: The Seven Lucky Gods (sequence of seven tanka)

    So Much Rain (four collaborative tanka)

    Tanka from Footsteps in the Fog (21 tanka)

    Wake-Up Call (pandemic haibun, with tanka)

We Are All God’s Poems (five tanka)

    With a Start (three tanka)

World with No Corners (15 tanka)

Selected Essays on Tanka

A Chat About Tanka

    Coming Into Our Own: The Tanka Society of America’s Fifteenth Anniversary

Directions in Tanka

    Down the Distant Mountain

    Four Favourite Tanka

From Chord to Melody: Defining Tanka in English

    North American Tanka Contest Results (2001)

    Notes on Forms (scroll down to read the tanka definition)

Our Tanka Dance: Introduction to Dance into the World

    (2020 Tanka Society of America membership anthology)

The Seed of the Human Heart: Writing Tanka

    Take Your Turn at Tanka

Tanka and the Five W’s

    The Way of Tanka by Naomi Beth Wakan (book review)

    What Is Tanka?

    Why Do We Write Tanka?


See also “Selected Tanka from Woodnotes and the tanka-related sections on the Reports and Reviews pages. Check my Trifolds page for numerous tanka trifolds. Also see the tan-renga on the Collaborations page, more essays on tanka on the Essays page (scroll down to the tanka section), and Naomi Beth Wakan’s poems, “The Uses of Tanka” and “Writing a Tanka.”     +   +