Tips To Writing a Tanka Poem

A Few Tips

Content & Form is King

The Tanka poetic form has become a favorite of mine in the micropoem category. They pack a punch in a small package. These beautiful little gems comprise of a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable schema. But they aren’t free from form.

The first two lines allow the reader to experience what the poet sensed;

  • observed,
  • heard,
  • felt,
  • touched,
  • tasted,
  • smelled,
  • or seen.

In the below example, the sense of hearing is used to portray the emotion felt:

  • (5) echoes of terror
  • (7) ring out from the forest’s edge

The third line, the pivot or transition. It’s goal, draw the reader in. The most important takeaway, it needs to relate to the first two (5-7) and the last two (7-7) lines. The turning point.

  • (5) before the sunrise

The line “before the sunrise” moves the reader into the response, the last two lines. A response can also have a deep spiritual meaning for one to reflect on.

Here’s the answer to terror.

  • (7) the moonlight shines upon her
  • (7) as she awaits her next prey

And when we put it together, we see the entire scene unfold:

echoes of terror
ring out from the forest's edge
— before the sunrise
the moonlight shines upon her
as she awaits her next prey

In one last example, we witness what’s observed before the transition.

  • Alone with the stars,
  • Away from man-made anguish,

Here we sit in peace with God and the heavens. Away from all man-made structures. Then the pivot.

  • On the mountain top.

It sets us, the reader, up for the response or reflection. From peace upon the mountain, it shares what was sensed when looking down into the city.

  • Below, people in chaos,
  • No inner peace can they find.

When we read the poem in its entirety, we transition from heaven to hell. From peace to chaos.

Alone with the stars,
Away from man-made anguish,
On the mountain top.
Below, people in chaos,
No inner peace can they find.

I hope this has shed a little light on the beautiful form of Tanka poetry.


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