Conversation 69: Getting to know TANKA


Over the past year I often see members in THE DAILY HAIKU community featuring Tanka and I want to find out more.


As with haiku Tanka’s traditional roots are from ancient Japan.  As a 31 syllable poem it was originally conceived as one unbroken line and thought of as a short song. But modern tanka tends to be split into 5 lines with a format of 5/7/5/7/7. However as with haiku adhering to 5/7/5 this is also a guideline not a rule.

The turn or shift usually comes in the 3rd line in a Tanka where a more in-depth exploration of the image is encouraged.

Unlike traditional haiku personification, metaphor and simile is invited and there is no requirement to add a season word.

Punctuation is generally avoided but again with modern tanka this is a suggestion not a rule.


After living with 3 lines for a year how do I feel about 2 extra lines?  Tanka appears to offer the same similar juxtaposed joy of restriction and freedom afforded by haiku. I sense that the same approach to observing, gathering, distilling and settling into a rhythm that can support haiku practice will also work with tanka. My first feelings are that it is important not to rush excitedly to fill those 2 extra lines but make sure they are needed, relevant and subtle. My work on short film scripts may help me here to ensure I interrogate the need for each word, to strengthen and enhance the image and narrative created.  I like the original sense of tanka as a song and will try to use that as inspiration.

Our member Carolyn Crossley loves writing Tanka and says those extra 14 syllables can say so much. Her own examples are on #tankapoetry or my blog: where she is now on her 66th Tanka.
She says that if she has a haiku that just won’t be condensed into 17 syllables she lets it become a tanka with that extra 14 syllables where she finds she can say so much more. She likes it’s flow when read aloud. I will definitely take Carolyn’s sense of flow on board.

A helpful way into getting to grips with this form, as with all writing, is to read examples. I have chosen two tanka here, one from its traditional roots and the other a contemporary offering. The first is by Emperor Tenji (626-672)

秋の田の かりほの庵の 苫をあらみ 我が衣手は 露にぬれつつ

Aki no ta no/ Kariho no io no/ Toma wo arami/ Waga Koromode wa/ Tsuyu ni nuretsusu



In the autumn rice field

Sheltering at the temporary harvest-hut

Coarse the rush-mat roof

My sleeves get wet

With the raindrops


Tessa Woolridge writes ‘One of tanka’s gifts is that it can both capture and extend a moment in time.’ Her helpful article on Tanka features the following example

at 92
and short of days
my neighbour
hands his garden’s fruit
across our common fence


Despite their obvious differences both Tanka share an observed moment that evokes a poignant and relatable connection to our human fragility. There is an active engagement in these tanka that draws you into both scenes. We shelter in one, feel those raindrops and the coarseness of the mat and in the other we receive the fruit from an elderly neighbour as we meet at the threshold of our common experiences. In both something deep is seen and felt where sensory details are carefully selected to establish a depth of connection.  What they both share is that they would have had far less impact as haiku.  I guess this is the point that they suit their form, it compliments each narrative and the five lines each lead into another with that essential ebb (or turn) and flow.  


I look forward to experimenting with Tanka. Do add your own work, thoughts on this form and any tips here. 4


Brett Christensen’s helpful introduction to Tanka

Differences between haiku and tanka

Our very own TDH member Alan Summers on His CALL OF THE PAGE website runs a wonderful mix of courses on haiku and here is a link to those on Tanka




11 Comments on “Conversation 69: Getting to know TANKA”

  1. Thank you, Amanda – very interesting, and lovely examples!
    oddly enough when I have joined in an emailed renga in the past, the form has been repeated tanka – each of us wrote two or three lines, depending where we were in the process… I don’t know which is more traditional or usual, but wondered if we could try the tanka version sometime!

  2. cold spring afternoon
    I light the fire earlier
    coax you from your room
    cling to the last thread of you
    as you count the days to leave

    my first tanka

  3. Thought I would post this here as well:

    I said I’m strong
    straight willing to be your
    shelter in a storm
    your willow oh willow
    when the sun is out

    with thanks to Joan Armatrading for the words! 🙏💕

  4. I haven’t written too many tanka but this one got a mention in the Tanka Society of America’s Sanford Goldstein competition a couple of years ago.

    sudden chill
    a dragonfly skip jives
    with its reflection . . .
    when did you stop
    finding us amazing

    What I find really helpful in competitions like this is the judge’s report, as they can teach you a lot about the form in a few paragraphs. Here is the link to that particular year’s results. And if you have a look at the TSA website menu you can find essays about tanka.

    Hope this is helpful 🙂


  5. This is TANKA 66
    Unfilled Space

    you leave me silence,
    and I in my dreams do not
    notice you are gone
    until cold fingers of
    coax eyes open – unfilled space.

    ©🦊VixenOfVerse, 2021

  6. Thank you for this post on Tanka, Amanda. Getting familiar with a much more structured format in poetry through haiku has piqued me to, perhaps, experiment further. I’ll see where it takes me!

  7. I am currently compiling a short set of haikus called Looking Back.
    The set is repeated here with added tanka lines

    We camped on the verge
    By a babbling brook
    First holiday planting seeds
    Diligent in fields we plant
    So we may see a harvest

    We lie together
    We are older now
    Repeating patterns set then
    When we were young and in love
    Longing to be old lovers

    We have seen dark clouds
    Fill our aching heads
    With grief surpassing summers
    We could barely bring ourselves
    To raise our heads to sunshine

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