1 31 English Syllables
I use 31 English syllables when I write tanka knowing that the great majority of people writing tanka in the world are against the idea of keeping the Japanese form when writing in English. I do not try to argue over the number of syllables to be used or that there should be any specific form for writing tanka in English. I simply stick to two points. Firstly, I think poetry requires discipline. Secondly, the 31 syllables divided into the units of 5/7/5/7/7 can create a poem whether or not it is an “English tanka”!
2 The Perspective of the Classical Tanka Realm
After studying several thousands of classical tanka and struggling to translate some of them into English, I unconsciously see things around me from the perspective of the classical tanka realm. Wherever I go - the Yorkshire moors, the northeast coast, declined industrial cities and ports, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Elsinore or Prague - I am in the shadow of the aesthetic of classical tanka. As I cannot escape from this shadow I tend to frame what I see from the perspective of the classics.
The September sun
Hidden in the milky dawn
Now shows a pale disc.
A huddle of sheep shadows
Looms out of the pearly mist.
3 Nature and Real Experience
I write tanka when I am moved by something while I am rambling in the countryside. I do not try to compose new tanka at home although I may spend some time to revise the original composition.
The silent forest
Is whitened in the spring dusk
By the passing rain.
Sifted through the fresh needles
Breezes pass through the larch trees.
4 Upper Poem and Lower Poem
A tanka usually consists of an upper poem and a lower poem which interact to create suggestiveness. The interaction of the upper and the lower in the following should create not only two images about a skylark and a lamb but also a feeling of ungrounded fear about my own existence in a peaceful environment.
Over the June moors
A skylark is sucked into
The wide timeless sky.
From the edge of blue stillness,
The faint bleating of a lamb.
The challenge today is to write tanka from the perspective of your observations of your own immediate surroundings. Attempt to look at your subject within the frame of tanka poetry and translate what you see into writing. Draw your themes from the natural world and your real experience of it and try to create that tension between the upper and lower poem, always conscious of the words expressed, and the thoughts suggested beyond the lines themselves.
You may write as many tanka as you feel inspired to do. Multiple links are welcome, or you may prefer to have a series of tanka in one post. Please provide a link back to this site, as a way of acknowledging Dr Nakamura's input.
All tanka featured in this post are © Hisashi Nakamura 2013 and used with permission.
Bonsai photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc
Winter Pagoda photo credit: EugeniusD80 via photopin cc
Lantern Path photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc