Archive for the ‘Tanka’ Category

June 21, 2010

Lenard D. Moore


False Spring –

I listen to the woman

who can’t find

a job in her field

with proof of experience



ready to cut grass

though the basketball game


a dapple of pollen

from the lawn mower



up the street

and down it too

maples bud

a pregnant woman

opens her mailbox



I grade papers

on this waning day when

dogwoods bud

beyond the window

a whistle blows



first spring rain

the honk of a school bus

before daybreak

all of the silence

in this room


Lenard D. Moore teaches Advance Poetry Writing and African American Literature at Mount Olive College. He also directs their literary festival and serves as the advisor for the college’s publication,The Trojan Voices. He is the author of A Temple Looming; Desert Storm: A Brief History; Forever Home, and other books.


June 18, 2010


Pamela A. Babusci


never satisfied   

never satiated

no wonder

i count the stars




buying a new

cherry blossom kimono

as if it could


his spring kisses


Thank you, Pamela, for the great job you did in helping us with this issue and in planning for the future. Unfortunately,  you had to leave us due to your bout with an illness. You will soon be back on your feet. You’re an inspiring poet with a wonderful heart.

Taking her place is Amelia Fielden from Australia. 


About Pamela A. Babusci
June 18, 2010

Pamela was born in Rochester, NY into an Italian-American family surrounded by opera/classical music, art, books and lots of food. She started writing poetry and painting in her early teens. She became interested in writing haiku in 1994 while searching the index in Poet’s Market and then in 1995 through her friendship with Kenneth Tanemura, Editor of Five Lines Down, was introduced to tanka, fell in love with the poetry form and has been writing it ever since.

Pamela A. Babusci  is an internationally award winning haiku, tanka poet and haiga artist. Some of her awards include: Museum of Haiku Literature Award, International Tanka Splendor Awards, First Place Yellow Moon Competition (Aust) tanka category,  First Place Kokako Tanka Competition,(NZ) First Place Saigyo Tanka Awards (US), Basho Festival Haiku Contests (Japan), Honorable Mention Suruga Baika Literary Festival (Japan), and Joint 3rd prize for the 1st With Words International Online Haiku Competition. Pamela has illustrated several books, including: Full Moon Tide: The Best of Tanka Splendor Awards, Taboo Haiku, Chasing the Sun, Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka, and A Thousand Reasons.  She was the logo artist for Haiku North America in NYC in 2003 and Haiku North America in Winston-Salem, NC in 2007. You can visit her solo exhibit listed under past shows at: She was the sponsor and judge for the First International Erotic Tanka Contest for 2008. Her first tanka book: A Thousand Reasons was published in 2009 and has been praised by award-winning poet Leza Lowitz.  Pamela was the founder and now is the solo Editor of Moonbathing: a journal of women’s tanka; the first all women’s tanka journal in the US.  She has a deep desire to be creative on a daily basis, which feeds her spirit and soul and gives meaning to her life. Poetry and art have been an integral part of her existence since her early teen age years and will continue to be a driving force until she meets her creator.

Introduction to Tanka
June 18, 2010


A Definition of the ideal form of traditional tanka written in English
by Amelia Fielden, Denis Garrison, and Robert D. Wilson

An introductory note from the Owner and Managing Editor of Simply Haiku, Robert D. Wilson:


For a long time, I’ve read English tanka poetry in journals, workshops, newsletters, and anthologies that didn’t resemble the genre as I understood it. The S/L/S/L/L was missing; some of the poems contained fewer syllables than the average traditional English language haiku. It was as if the genre was becoming an anything goes in five lines free verse poetic form without rules. Is traditional English language tanka changing into its own entity?

My definition of traditional English language tanka has been:

A 5 lined poem that makes use of breaks (cutting words: i.e., punctuation or ellipsis, whenever necessary), utilizes a meter similar to that found in Japanese tanka, makes use of Japanese aesthetics, follows as much as possible the S/L/S/L/L schemata, makes use of juxtaposition as needed, and is not a haiku or senryu masquerading as a tanka such as a five lined poem using one or two words per line.

When I look at a traditional Japanese tanka, I hear a definite meter delineated by cutting words laid out in one line, which most English language poets express in five lines to delineate, with the aid of punctuation, the five sections of a given tanka. As an English speaker, I realize that it is almost impossible to duplicate the 5/7/5/7/7 metrical division the Japanese use to create that metrical pattern as the intonations of Japanese syllabic structure are shorter than its English language counterparts. The meaning of the word tanka is: short song. It’s called that for a specific reason. A tanka is song-like in its short metrical structure. Therefore, when an English poet composes a traditional tanka, the poet should, in my estimation, be cognizant of meter, and fashion the tanka to fall within a metrical structure that approximates Japanese tanka. To do this successfully requires that said English poets utilize an S/L/S/L/L schemata using fewer syllables.

I have seen these principles utilized in English tanka successfully.

through my childhood . . .
until I wake
to forgive and kiss
my dying father goodbye
         Carole MacRury
         In the Company of Crows

you snarl,
past bars on the cage
and my view
on preservation,
all the way down my spine
         Kathy Kituai
         In Two Minds

I began to question the authenticity of the alternative forms I was reading originally with members of the online Tanka Fields Roundtable which I moderate and later with members of the online Tanka Roundtable moderated by Denis Garrison. Discussing my questions and theories with others was an education and a journey which by no means has ended. Some questions asked:

1. Can an English language five line poem with 31 syllables or less be called a tanka?

2. Must an English language tanka include a metrical beat that is “song-like” and similar in its visual presentation?

3. Should the S/L/S/L/L schemata indigenous to Japanese tanka be utilized in English tanka?

In discussing what is and isn’t a traditional tanka in English with Denis Garrison, the publisher of Modern English Tanka, and the award-winning translator Amelia Fielden, over a period of several months, the three of us made the decision to define the gist of traditional English tanka. During this period we discussed our individual theories, which differed in many areas, shared these theories with colleagues, who in turn offered feedback and areas of disagreement, and began the tedious process of writing drafts based on said discussions and feedback, until we formed a definition of traditional English tanka we could collectively agree upon.

We are not saying this is the end all and be all regarding the defining of traditional tanka. But it’s a start and hopefully, will serve as a guide for those new to writing tanka. We are in no way denigrating or invalidating experimental and avant garde tanka; nor have we attempted to define the “new” tanka. That’s for some other group to do.

Although Simply Haiku will be the first to publish our definition of traditional English language tanka, followed by Modern English Tanka on July 1st, every publication has the express permission of Denis Garrison, Amelia Fielden, and myself to reprint this definition accompanied by an attribution to the three of us.

Robert D. Wilson
Owner/Managing Editor
Simply Haiku

Definition of the Ideal Form of Traditional Tanka Written in English

Parameters of Definition:

Ideal form—We are not attempting in this paper to define a strict prosody to be followed formulaically, viz., for the production of tanka in accordance with a slavishly followed rule or style. Rather, we seek to describe the prosody of tanka that may be confidently utilized, by learners of tanka writing, as an exemplar faithful to tradition, albeit adapted for English, and that may be considered a baseline from which to begin writing tanka. Such a form is “ideal” inasmuch as a poem that complies with such prosody would meet the formal definition of traditional tanka written in English. On the other hand, we consider that, if the fundamentals of traditional tanka prosody are ignored, discarded, or subverted by any poet, the resultant quintain cannot fit the definition of a “traditional tanka written in English.”

Traditional tanka written in English—Our concern in this paper is with poems written first in English which are intended to be in the form of traditional Japanese tanka. While there are linguistic and orthographic differences between Japanese and English that cannot be fully resolved, we believe that it is possible to follow the centuries-old waka/tanka formal poetic tradition to a substantial and meaningful degree. We do not seek to define nor deal with avant-garde innovations based on tanka in this paper, nor do we seek to restrain poetic experimentation by any poet. The definition we offer should be taken for what it is intended to be, no more and no less.

Seven Essential Guidelines for Writing “Traditional Tanka in English” in the Ideal Form:

1. Five lines. The form for English tanka (which is both singular and plural) is an untitled and unrhymed quintain.

2. Set syllable count. From 19 to 31 English syllables are permissible.

3. The syllabic length of lines is set, which creates the traditional rhythm.
   A. A short/long/short/long/long syllabic pattern is ideal.
   B. Syllable counts may vary from a maximum of 5/7/5/7/7 down to a minimum of 3/5/3/5/5, ideally; but some flexibility within the s/l/s/l/l pattern is acceptable, e.g., 4/6/3/5/6 or 3/5/4/5/7, etc.

4. Diction: Use natural English phrasing on each line with no (or very minimal) enjambment. Do not end a line with a or the; avoid ending a line with a preposition. Ideally, each line is one poetic utterance ending with a caesura; this is often referred to as “five phrases on five lines.”

5. Japanese tanka build and build. They do not fall away like some English poetic utterances. The 5th line of a traditional tanka is the most important and significant line. Therefore that 5th line should ideally be at least as long as the 2nd and/or 4th lines. Sometimes the 5th line can be syllabically a little shorter than line 2 or 4, providing it is a strong line in meaning and/or utterance, or continues in the reader’s mind, e.g., with an ellipsis (e.g., “so she waited …” might be okay, in the context of the rest of the tanka). A one or two syllable 5th line not permissible.

6. A certain amount of ambiguity/dreaming room/ma can be a desirable quality but complete obscurity is not desirable.

7. The content/theme/subject is wide-open, but tanka is lyric verse and should not be didactic. For example, a “polemic tanka” is self-contradictory.

This definition is Copyright © 2009 by Amelia Fielden (Australia), Denis M. Garrison (USA), and Robert D. Wilson (The Philippines). Reprinting and publication of this definition, with proper attribution, is expressly permitted by the copyright-holders. Further permission requests are not required.

Copyright 2009: Simply Haiku

Please send your tanka in accordance with the definition and the following guidelines to Amelia Fielden:

* in 5 lines

* 17 syllables (minimum) to 31 syllables (maximum)

* composed in a (flexible) short/long/short/long/long rhythmic pattern


June 18, 2010


Note:  Although traditional in our interpretation of English language tanka, Tanka Editor, Pamela A. Babusci, asked us to showcase Liam’s work in a separate segment, to give you a view of this poet’s skill and artistry.

Liam Wilkinson – Modern Free Verse Tanka


in the just enough

space of night

I ask myself

what I’m doing

     and the sun rises    



I rush into decisions

like cold empty rooms

the faint outline

of myself

                          in broken windows                           



trying to talk

to you

my voice clutched

by a need

                          to cry                          



there must be

ways of waking

my faith in things

a line of zeds

                                   around my neck                                   



no news

is good news

red ripples

cross the surface

                                         of my wine                                          



morning light

on the chaise longue day 

to be fifteen again

and just a handful of books

                                        into the world                                           



that faint stink

of cheap cigarettes

on the pages

of an old journal

                             I let the words blur                             



white as waiting

these fields of snow

I lift

the startling lightness

                                            of my load                                             



nailing down

a sigh of relief


not one moment

                            will escape me                              



perhaps the awesome

is nothing but

something different

snow in the grooves

of old footprints


Liam Wilkinson was born in South Yorkshire, England. For the last ten years his poems, including haiku, senryu and tanka, have been published widely in print and on the Internet.
He is the founding editor of 3LIGHTS: Journal of Haiku & Related Forms and the current editor of Prune Juice: Journal of Senryu & Kyoka. In 2009 he was editor-in-chief of Modern Haiga and, between 2007 and 2009, curator of the 3LIGHTS Gallery. His debut collection of tanka, The Darkening Tide, was released as an ebook in 2007.
Liam lives with his wife Diane in North Yorkshire, England. His website is at


June 18, 2010


Mary Lou Bittle-DeLapa


After you’re gone
I take my time washing,
preparing for bed.
Clouds gather in the darkening sky
and thunder sounds in the distance.


the day after
putting down the dog
I put in my mouth
tastes bitter


in my dreams I run
down hallways, searching
what was it you said
about love’s greatest sacrifice
before you turned away?


heat lightning
in the heavy stillness
fireflies urgently flashing
alone on the dark porch
I finally let you go


Lighting the candle,
the room’s darkness deepens.
Again I hold my breath
and wait upon the Sacred
to appear.


watering the new plants
murmuring encouragement
I see how the garden takes them in
your harsh words
beginning to fade


your 20-year mustache gone,
you come to me grinning
then kiss me tentatively
like a new lover


Mary Lou Bittle-DeLapa is a writer/artist living in Rochester, New York. Her work has appeared since the 1980’s in many haiku, tanka and poetry journals; in anthologies published in Japan, England and the United States; as well as in /Writer’s Digest,The Good Life and reative Spirituality.



June 18, 2010

 Terra Martin



still the dim cameo

of mother’s face

gingerly I transplant

the wild violet



when dropped

my heart’s like quicksilver


into wayward beads

of shiny sorrow



no wind

but the aspen


after hinting for more…

you slowly exhale



the improv

of the saxophone 

as vast, as a sky  

composed of every tone

of blue



as carefully

as wandering

through backwoods

I explore your

impatient mood




like an old photo

your death…

still in focus

the time we captured



as a child 

I dreamt in color

never grasping

the world

of black and white




the eyebrow moon


brings back your





around your words

I waltz

in and out of

kiss and make-up



if I were a tree

with roots firmly planted

would I outgrow

my beliefs

that limit change


Terra Martin is a practicing therapist in Toronto . Her poetry has been published  in Amaze, American Tanka, Asahi Shimbun (Japan), Atlas Poetica, bottle rockets, Eucalypt (Australia), Green Leaf Files (England), Haiga Online, Lynx, Modern English Tanka, moonset, Ribbons, Simply Haiku, 3 Lights Gallery (England), Landfall, Streetlights and The Tanka Prose anthologies. 



June 18, 2010


George Swede


In the beside lamplight

a new topographic map

of my hands and arms

revealing even more

      underground streams     



sea breeze

my body just being

while my mind

vainly searches

                                                for meaning                                                 



Awake from a

 dream of being lost

I gaze at stars

that might still

 be there 



Another evening

with bare black branches

 criss-crossing a sunset sky

and thoughts of what

lies beyond Sedna 



A wide valley

between rolling hills

 and jagged mountains

 the forces that shaped

     mother and father     



When I had no one

a yellow evening sky

evoked despair

now fear of

                                    impending loss                                  



Barber shop mirror

   more wrinkle and sag

than I thought

my hair invisible

                                     on the white apron                                    


Note: Simply Haiku no longer accepts non-traditional Japanese Short Form Poetry


His first collection of tanka, First Light, First Shadows, won the 2005 Snapshot Press Tanka Manuscript Competition and was published in  2006. His second collection of tanka, White Thoughts, Blue Mind, is forthcoming later this year from Inkling Press. In all, Swede has published 32 collections of poetry, 18 of them haiku. He is the current editor of Frogpond: The Journal  of the Haiku Society of America.


June 18, 2010

Kala Ramesh


rain catchers
near our banyan tree
here and there
leaves of the pond lotus
roll raindrop-moons  

the moon
on its journey . . .
over the cobblestones
I curse my path

during spasms
of loneliness
she gropes . . .
the money plant in its search
sends out aerial roots

having to wear
several masks in life –
if only I could 
drift away between scenes
like a dragonfly

you asked
I gave willingly
each time
I look back
all I see is my giving

by the traffic signal
— a woman —
the myriad expressions
we carry through life

illusions ride
on a fast fading rainbow
I let go of my childhood . . .
I must have

I walk my wounds
toward autumn’s end
nursing a hope
they’ll soon become scars, dry
incapable of oozing



Kala Ramesh comes from an extremely artistic and culturally rich South Indian Tamil family and believes, as her father is fond of saying, that “the soil needs to be fertile for the plant to bloom”. She also feels that she owes this poetic streak in her to her mother. Kala is keen to see children in India take to haiku and its genres.



June 18, 2010


Patricia Prime


how the old shed falls

in the frost-stained paddock

its pick-up sticks

every which way and white

       fissures through its body        



the light is ghostly

filled with mist

the lancewood

saws the air with stiff leaf swords

           poised at each tip a bead of water           




bundled in my arms

torch-blue flames

as my fingers twitch to play

                 with their arpeggio of colour                  



my talisman includes

a clay soldier from China,

finger-polished rosary beads,

 the wooden Buddha from Tibet,

             a medal blessed by the Pope           



I’m struggling to recall

that first winter of marriage

down the steep lane

trees outside our bedroom window

                                            covered with snow                                             




you think love is

love is

never quite

                                           like that                                          



it’s autumn here

where the lowering sun

swamps the blue

and the wind you feel

                   is the wind I share                    



let me be permitted

to plunge into glorious failure

with the speed of light

yet with the gentle slowness

of a falling cherry petal    


Patricia is co-editor of Kokako, reviews editor of Takahe and Stylus, and is assistant editor of Haibun Today.  She has interviewed various poets and editors and currently has poems appearing in the World Poetry Anthology 2010 (Mongolia).