Friday, March 29th, 2013

Writing Prompt: Structured Poetry – The Tanka

It’s been a while since we’ve done a prompt dedicated completely to poetry, so I thought we’d start there this morning.

Writing poetry the tanka way dates back nearly 1,200 years. The subject matter usually deals with nature and the seasons, or very strong emotions. It’s highly structured.

I like all kinds of poetry, but the structured kind holds a certain appeal to me because it’s often like fitting a puzzle together — and I really like puzzles. The “pieces” are the rules of the poem, usually a syllable count, but sometimes there can be others.

For example, the tanka is much like a haiku (I’ve a prompt about haiku, too) in that it requires a certain number of syllables and lines. But to be true to itself, the tanka must also use a simile, a metaphor and a personification.

Some definitions*:

simile: a figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by like or as (as in cheeks like roses)
metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money)
personification: attribution of personal qualities; especially : representation of a thing or abstraction as a person or by the human form

Merriam-Webster didn’t provide an example of personification, so here’s one from Toni Morrison in her book Love: A Novel:

“Pimento eyes bulged in their olive sockets. Lying on a ring of onion, a tomato slice exposed its seedy smile . . ..”

The other rules of the tanka are:

  1. It must contain five lines
  2. The first line contains 5 syllables.
  3. The second line contains 7 syllables.
  4. The third line contains 5 syllables.
  5. The fouth line contains 7 syllables.
  6. The fifth and final line contains 7 syllables.

Here’s my first try:

Waves crash like boulders…
“All hands on deck,” Captain cried.
“We’re lost,” the mate sobbed.
Fierce wind shears the mast in twain–
We are stone, sinking to death

It needs work, but it’s a start.

Here’s Your Prompt:

Write a tanka!

Suggestions: Think of your idea first and write the simile, metaphor and personifications without worrying about the syllable count. Once you’ve laid this groundwork, massage your passages to fit the structure. This could mean swapping out words or even adjusting the lines in the poem to fit the pieces.

Good Luck!

* All definitions are from Merriam-Webster on line dictionary.