Saturday, January 22, 2011

English Syllabic Tanka Day


Today is Syllabic Tanka Day. More precisely, it is English Syllabic Tanka Day. It is a day set aside to celebrate Tanka, written in English that follows the syllabic pattern of 5-7-5-7-7.

For nearly 1,400 years Japanese poets have found the form of Tanka congenial for poetic expression. This makes Tanka one of the oldest continuously written syllabic forms in the world. In addition, Tanka is the root of all other currently written forms of Japanese poetry, including Renga and Haiku.

Tanka came to the U.S. late. People began writing Tanka only in the later half of the 20th century. My sense is that it has yet to take root; it is still a form whose potential in English is being explored. My observation has been that the defining form, the 5-7-5-7-7, is not yet secure among Tanka poets in English.

Which makes this day all the more worthwhile celebrating. Take some time to read some English language formal Tanka that is based on the centuries old syllabics of 5-7-5-7-7; perhaps some of Neal Lawrence's Tanka are worth reading today, or the Tanka found in "The Calligraphy of Clouds" by Yeshaya Rotbard.

Better yet, compose some syllabic Tanka on your own. It is a rich form, possessing a deeply musical quality. I think you will find it eminently satisfying and when you do write syllabic Tanka you will join in with some of the most celebrated poets in Japanese history.

Enjoy Syllabic Tanka Day!


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