Our Tanka Tuesday challenge this week is to write some tanka prose. We typically write tanka prose in the 5-7-5-7-7 or a s/l/s/l/l five-line syllabic structure. Tanka prose should contain a title. There is one basic requirement in writing tanka prose: one paragraph, and one tanka.
There are two basic forms in classic tanka prose: Preface (explanation) and the Poem Tale (episodic narration). Tanka prose does not rhyme.
Preface (explanation): Is where the prose explains the basic information in the narrowest sense. It is a factual summary of the experience. Usually, you write one prose paragraph and one tanka.
Poem Tale (episodic narration): The poem tale/episodic narration is a more formal structure where you share a more personal experience through your prose. In general, the tanka poem is always the center on which the narrative episode (prose) comes from. Write your tanka first. With this type of tanka prose, the prose often shares a beginning, middle, and an end, as if it were a short story. You can have one or more tanka within the prose.
Below, I’ve crafted an episodic narration:
During this morning’s walk, I felt the first hint of Autumn. The trees looked bedraggled by last week’s heat wave. The leaves, like an old hat, looked dull against the backdrop of a blue scrap of sky.
summer's passage creeps through the leaves, colors dreary Autumn hears the call... red and gold hues dress the trees a farewell to summertime
A sound in the trees overhead caught my attention. I watched as the sleek tan-colored body of a Sandhill Crane rose from the nearby edge of the pond. Cranes are the messengers of the gods, and even in Michigan, such a sighting is rare. It is said, if you see a crane; it is to remind ourselves of the passage of time and our mortality.
the wheel of time turns spinning toward the future use your time—wisely... love longer, laugh hard, hate less, and learn to forgive yourself
I stood at the edge of the pond, a witness to the passage of time, until the buzz of mosquitoes reminded me I should be on my way. Time marches on…
© Colleen M. Chesebro
Episodic narration tanka prose is one of the most freeing forms to write. In this piece above, I was careful to stay true to the construction of the tanka portions by creating two meanings separated by the pivot in line three of each tanka. This is where you take the first three lines of your tanka to create one meaning. Then, take line 3, 4, and 5 to create the second meaning to your poem.
summer's passage creeps through the leaves, colors dreary Autumn hears the call...
Autumn hears the call... red and gold hues dress the trees a farewell to summertime
I kept both messages in this tanka similar because I was showing the passage of time. This is the theme of the piece.
The prose shares my experience during this morning’s walk. I made sure and used a metaphor in the first paragraph to help set the mood. Later, I used the Sandhill Crane taking off in flight as a metaphor for the passage of time. Tanka prose is where you can get poetic by including metaphors and similes. If you don’t know what those are, look up their definitions.
The prose and poetry combine to read like a short story with a beginning, middle, and an ending. Autumn, signifies the dying time of year before winter’s long slumber. The passage of time is a favorite theme in Japanese poetry. I love autumn… it’s my favorite time of the year.
Here’s a recent review from D. L. Finn on Amazon.com:
In “Word Craft: Prose & Poetry” Ms. Chesebro has written a detailed guide of syllabic poetry. There’s history, instructions on writing the poem, several examples, and then the information is recapped for each form. Section one of the book offers Japanese Syllabic Poetry. Here are the chapters covered, Haiku, Senryu, Haiga, Tanka, Gogyohka, Haibun, Tanka Prose, and Renga. Then the second section is the American Syllabic Poetry. The types covered here are Crapsey Cinquain and all variations, Etheree, Nonnet, and Shadorma. Although I’ve spent years writing free verse poetry, I’ve come to love syllabic poems too, thanks to Ms. Chesebro. This is a fantastic guide to learn about syllabic poetry and how to write them. I will buy the paperback version for a quick reference to a style I want to try or simply refresh my memory on writing a certain type of poem. I highly recommend this guide for all poets who love this style or would like to learn about it.