Saturday, February 11, 2012


A while ago I borrowed a book from a friend:
How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999)
by Edward Hirsch

In this book he gave a description of the many forms of poetry as well as examples by poets past and present who are or were considered the masters or in some cases the progenitors of each discipline. While I enjoyed reading and learning about the various forms of poetry from around the world, the most intriguing to me was the tanka. Tanka is an ancient Japanese form, let's say a cousin to the haiku. The both evolved from the waka family; waka simply means Japanese Poem, the term was coined to differentiate Japanese language poems from the more traditional kanshi, Chinese language poems written by Japanese poets. The tanka is made of units or phrases which when translated to western languages follows a 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic line form. After reading the examples presented by Mr. Hirsch, I was compelled to try my hand at this beautifully short form. Tradionally, the tanka are not titled, they are simply numbered. My offerings which follow below have both the number indicating the order in which they were written as well as a title.


awakened by name
angels calling at dawns light
you were right to come
set free your dreams and sleep now
you have passed the suffering

orange peel and lemon
spiced with coriander seed,
purple verbena-
decaf mandarin orchard
celestial seasonings

the dragonfly swoops
a blur of sivery-green
aerial assaults
mosquito clouds are dispersed
fireworks play second fiddle

birdsong and green tea
blades of grass collecting dew
tepid mug in hand
I drink deeply the morning
tasting its spice on my tongue

this body will melt
into the earth like all things
great and small must do
no matter, it is only
a vessel to hold my pain

the demons are there
swimming in a sanguine sea
signalling evil
messages to nerve endings-
pain anchors itself in me

when the waves hit shore
do they disappear or slip
quietly, unseen
beneath the surface to some
mysterious beginning

Hopefully you enjoyed reading these tanka as much as I enjoyed writing them and sharing them with you. Please share any comments and feel free to send in your own tanka. I look forward to reading them.
Chris Austin

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