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Tanka construction - lines and syllables

As I noted yesterday, a tanka is a short poem, usually rendered in English in 5 lines of varying syllable lengths, often 5-7-5-7-7.

Side note: The tanka is sometimes known as a waka, or an uta (short form of yamato-uta), which are terms historically meaning "Japanese poetry" (meaning poetry written in Japanese, as opposed to Chinese), but which now is often used interchangeably with the word tanka to mean a poem written in the 5-7-5-7-7 Japanese format. I mention it in case you have seen the word "waka" before (outside the Fozzy Bear context of "wokka") and thought this all sounded a bit familiar. But I digress.

Just as haiku and senryū can have lines that are shorter than 5-7-5, a tanka's lines can vary as well in English, and are more like short-longer-short-longer-longer, basically with 31 syllables as an outside total.

A tanka may have, but does not require, a kigo, or seasonal word.

It is perfectly fine to use the 5-7-5-7-7 construction in every tanka. What you essentially have is a haiku followed by two more lines that expand or expound on the topic of the haiku, a subject I will delve into more deeply tomorrow.


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