December 2004


Introduction by Jane Reichhold

Tanka, a Japanese poetry form, is one of the oldest that still enjoys current popularity. First called uta (song), the form was later named waka, and only after one of its dips in popularity, was the term tanka (tan = short; ka, for ga, = elegance) given to it. Though both tanka and waka are now used interchangeably, waka refers to all Japanese poetry and tanka to the five-part poem classically composed in Japan with sets of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7 sound units. In English the poem is written (most often) in five lines to show, and validate, these five parts, and because English syllables do not equate with the Japanese sound units, which are much shorter – often only one vowel, many writers use less words than one would use if counting out 31 syllables. Nowadays many try to respect this…

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