Tanka

Tanka (短歌) has a rich history stretching back more than 1,300 years. Tanka’s predecessor was originally known as uta, or “song,” when poetry 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 forms). 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 I believe to be the first-ever anthology of English-language tanka (if this is not the case, I’m happy to learn otherwise). And in 2000, I founded the Tanka Society of America, convened its first meeting, and served as its president for five years. My journals Woodnotes and Tundra also published tanka, especially Woodnotes, which was one of the earliest 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 occurs among the following links as a result of grouping or sequencing poems for different purposes.
 
Cherry Blossom Postage Stamp (one waka translation)
Hand in Hand (September 11 haibun, with tanka)
Luggage Poems (14 tanka)
Missing Poems (19 tanka)
The Second Eye (tanka sequence)
[much more to come]
 
Selected Essays on Tanka
Notes on Forms (scroll down to read the tanka definition)
 
Also see the tan-renga on the Collaborations page, and more essays on tanka on the Essays page (scroll down to the tanka section), and Naomi Beth Wakan’s poem, “The Uses of Tanka.”