by Ashley Lister

Back in November we discussed haiku here – the traditional Japanese poetic form. Haiku, as you may remember, is a form that is typified in Western writing as three lines of poetry with a distinctive 5-7-5 syllable pattern. Well, now it’s time to look at the tanka – five lines of poetry with a syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7.

To illustrate:

You undress for me
Exposing hidden contours
And then the fun starts
We explore our nudity
Until our climaxes come

For many writers the middle line is the essential balancing part of the tanka. Sometimes called the pivot line, this middle line can end the sentiment of the first three lines of the poem and it can begin a separate sentiment for the final three lines.

We’ve fucked for an age
Our bodies fluid with sweat
Orgasm evades
Yet seems to linger so close
Tantalisingly nearer

Of course there are ways to interpret the tanka for writers who don’t care to be bound by the rigidity of counting syllables. There are also ways to incorporate the tanka into renga poetry – collaborative writing in a similar form. But this version, as disciplined as the traditional haiku yet with a little more scope for narrative and lyricism, is well worth attempting.

I look forward to seeing your tanka in the comments box below.