Tanka food For thought......
From tanka's long history - over 1300 years recorded in Japan- the most famous use of the poetry form of tanka was as secret messages between lovers. Arriving home in the morning, after having dallied with a lover all night, it became the custom of well-mannered persons to write an immediate thank-you note for the pleasures of the hospitality.
The little poem expressing one's feelings were sent in special paper containers, written on a fan, or knotted on a branch or stem of a single blossom. These were delivered to the lover by personal messenger who then was given something to drink along with his chance to flirt with the household staff. During this interval a responding tanka was to be written in reply to the first note which the messanger would return to his master.
Usually, each line consists of one image or idea; unlike English poetry, one does not seek to "wrap" lines in tanka, though in the best tanka the five lines often flow seamlessly into one thought.
For what it’s worth, I’ve checked the syllable count of our previous first-place contest winners, and here they are: Edward J. Rielly (2000): 29; David Rice (2001): 29; Carol Purington (2002): 29. I think it’s mere coincidence that each one is 29 syllables. In English, where we can generally say the same things as Japanese but in fewer syllables, I would suggest that we say in our tanka what needs to be said in a clear, rhythmic, and lyrical manner, letting the number and pattern of the syllable count fall where it may.
Syllables range from 9- 31
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