Syllabic Poetry Form Cheatsheet

This tutorial will help poets learn the ten different forms to use for Colleen’s Weekly Syllabic Poetry Challenge.

Remember, if you are entering syllabic poetry challenges/contests/or submitting for publication into literary collections, these forms often change into less or more syllables in Haiku, Senryu, Haiga, Tanka, Gogyohka, and Haibun poetry. READ the rules and examine the poetry from their publications so you know what to expect before you submit your work. ~Colleen~

Image by Thought Catalog from Pixabay

HAIKU IN ENGLISH: 5/7/5, 3/5/3, or 2/3/2 syllable structure. A Haiku is written about season changes, nature, and change in general. Read this post for more information: 5/7/5 vs 3/5/3 & 2/3/2 Haiku & Senryu Styles

SENRYU IN ENGLISH: 5/7/5, 3/5/3, 2/3/2 syllable structure. A Senryu is written about love, a personal event, and should have irony present. Read this post for more information: 5/7/5 vs 3/5/3 & 2/3/2 Haiku & Senryu Styles

What is the difference between a Haiku and a Senryu?

HAIGA IN ENGLISH: 5/7/5, 3/5/3, 2/3/2 syllable structure. Haiga is called observational poetry because it contains an image with either a Haiku or Senryu written on it or near it. There are a few hard and fast rules for creating Haiga. The Haiku is the most important part and must standalone.

In short, the poem itself must be worthy to be considered independently, before inclusion in a Haiga. Images cannot ‘complete’ the haiku. If the image is necessary to understand the poem, then both the poem and the Haiga have failed. No matter how beautiful an image is, the poem is ‘the thing’ to trigger the reader/viewer in their appreciation of the Haiga. If all the image adds is a pretty picture of the poem, but adds no higher level of appreciation to it, then you may as well just publish the poem by itself.

TANKA IN ENGLISH: 5/7/5/7/7 syllable structure. Your Tanka will consist of 5 lines written in the first-person point of view from the perspective of the poet.

The last two lines of your Tanka are where you use the metaphors or similes that complement the first three lines. Click the links and look up the meanings to these words. They are important. Use words you are comfortable with from everyday speech. Avoid ending your lines with articles and prepositions. If you don’t know what an article or preposition is, look up the meaning.

When writing a Tanka, we consider the third line your “pivot,” but you can let it happen anywhere or you can exclude it. It is not mandatory. If you use a pivot, the meaning should apply to the first two lines, as well as to the last two lines of your Tanka. Remember, great Tanka poem can be read both forward and backward.

GOGYOHKA IN ENGLISH:  is a five-line, untitled, Japanese poetic form. Unlike Tanka (5/7/5/7/7 syllables), Gogyohka has no restrictions on length. ( This structure is the modern Tanka form used in many contests and journals: (s/l/s/l/l) syllable count (short, long, short, long, long).

The Gogyoka in English syllabic poetry form is the only form that does not require a syllable count per the five lines. Please be mindful that each line should be the duration of a single breath or a phrase. Choose your words carefully. ( Blog)

Five rules of Gogyohka by Enta Kusakabe (1983):

  • Gogyohka is a new form of short poem that is based on the ancient Japanese Tanka and Kodai kayo.
  • Gogyohka has five lines, but exceptionally may have four or six.
  • Each line of Gogyohka consists of one phrase with a line-break after each phrase or breath.
  • Gogyohka has no restraint on numbers of words or syllables.
  • The theme of Gogyohka is unrestricted.


A Haibun in English (translated as Haikai) is a Japanese genre that permits an author to express more than Haiku via the addition of personal prose. It allows a wider scope of subjects, such as nature orientation, literary allusion, intimate storytelling. It is a terse, relatively short prose poem in the Haikai style (Japanese linked verse), usually including both lightly humorous and more serious elements.

A Haibun usually ends with a Haiku. The secret to composing a successful Haibun is the subtle pairing of Haiku with prose while linking and shifting, similar to the way each verse in a Renku (linked verse). The Haibun is prose (or a prose poem) interwoven with one or more Haiku. Make each word count in the prose text, as in a prose poem.

Compact micro-Haibun limit the prose text, such as to 20-to-180 words. Most commonly only one Haiku is included, placed after the prose, and serving as a climax or epiphany to what came before.

Many Haibun include more than one Haiku and longer text than the above range, as long as the resulting work is strong enough. I’ve not found evidence that Haibun are written with any other form other than a Haiku/Senryu.

  • Each Haibun must begin with a title as it is a prominent part of the poem. It should suggest something barely discernable in the beginning which pulls the poem together by the ending.
  • Haibun prose contains descriptive language written in present or past tense including, first-person (I), third person (he/she), or first-person plural (we).
  • Subject matter: autobiographical prose, travel journal, a slice of life, memory, dream, character sketch, place, event, or object. Focus on one or two elements.
  • In keeping with the simplicity of the accompanying Haiku, all excessive words should be pared down or deleted. Nothing should be overstated.
  • The length can be brief with one or two sentences with a Haiku, or longer prose with Haiku sandwiched between, to long memoir works including Haiku.
  • There are different Haibun styles: Haiku/prose, prose/Haiku, Haiku/prose/Haiku, prose/Haiku/prose/Haiku, etc.
  • The prose tells the story, gives information, and helps to define the theme. It also creates a mood through tone, paving the way for the Haiku.
  • The Haiku is a sort of comparison— seemingly different yet somehow connected to the prose, as it moves the story forward by taking the narrative in another direction.
  • The Haiku should not attempt to repeat, quote, or explain the prose. Instead, the Haiku resolves the conflict in an unexpected way. Sometimes, the Haiku questions the resolution of the prose. While the prose is the narrative, the Haiku is the revelation or the reaction.

It is the discovery of this link between the prose and the poetry that offers one of the great delights of the Haibun form. The subtle twist provided by an elegantly envisioned link, adds great pleasure to our reading and listening.

TANKA PROSE should not be confused with Haibun. This challenge encourages poets to write prose accompanied by one or more Tanka poems. Haibun and tanka prose share a common identity as Japanese hybrids that wed prose and verse.

CINQUAIN: A CRAPSEY cinquain is an American form of shape poetry and is always centered on the page. The required syllables needed for each line give it a unique shape. The cinquain (aka the quintain or the quintet) is a poem or stanza of five lines, 2/4/6/8/2 syllable count per line.

Cinquain variations

The Crapsey cinquain has subsequently seen a number of variations by modern poets, including:

Reverse cinquaina form with one 5-line stanza in a syllabic pattern of two, eight, six, four, two.
Mirror cinquaina form with two 5-line stanzas consisting of a cinquain followed by a reverse cinquain.
Butterfly cinquaina nine-line syllabic form with the pattern two, four, six, eight, two, eight, six, four, two.
Crown cinquaina sequence of five cinquain stanzas functioning to construct one larger poem.
Garland cinquaina series of six cinquains in which the last is formed of lines from the preceding five, typically line one from stanza one, line two from stanza two, and so on.

Didactic Cinquain (A place to start if you are new to syllabic poetry)

The didactic cinquain is closely related to the Crapsey cinquain. It is an informal cinquain widely taught in elementary schools and has been featured in, and popularized by, children’s media resources, including Junie B. Jones and PBS Kids. This form is also embraced by young adults and older poets for its expressive simplicity. The prescriptions of this type of cinquain refer to word count, not syllables and stresses. Ordinarily, the first line is a one-word title, the subject of the poem; the second line is a pair of adjectives describing that title; the third line is a three-word phrase that gives more information about the subject (often a list of three gerunds); the fourth line consists of four words describing feelings related to that subject; and the fifth line is a single word synonym or other reference for the subject from line one.

Other Cinquains: (Exclude the Tanka, as it is covered above)

Tankais a five-line form of unrhymed Japanese poetry, totalling 31 moras structured in a 5-7-5-7-7 pattern.
Tetractysis a five-line poem of 20 syllables with a title, arranged in the following order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 10, with each line standing as a phrase on its own. It can be inverted, doubled, etc. and was created by English poet Ray Stebbings.
Lanterneis an untitled five line quintain verse with a syllabic pattern of 1, 2, 3, 4, 1. Each line is usually able to stand on its own.

ETHEREE: The Etheree poem consists of ten lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 syllables. An Etheree can also be reversed and written 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The trick is to create a memorable message within the required format. Poets can get creative and write an Etheree with more than one verse, but the idea is to follow suit with an inverted syllable count.

Reversed Etheree Syllable Count: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Double Etheree Syllable Count: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 10, 9, 8, 7, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

NONET: A Nonet is stanzaic and written in any number of 9-line stanzas with the following syllable count per line: 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 syllables per line. It can be written on any subject and rhyming is optional, although they are usually unrhymed. Because of the hourglass shape of a double nonet, it’s often used to represent the passage of time.

SHADORMA: The Shadorma is a poetic form comprising a six-line stanza (or sestet). Each stanza has a syllable count of three syllables in the first line, five syllables in the second line, three syllables in the third and fourth lines, seven syllables in the fifth line, and five syllables in the sixth line (3/5/3/3/7/5) for a total of 26 syllables with no set rhyme scheme. It is a syllabic poem with a meter of 3/5/3/3/7/5.

When writing a Shadorma I would concentrate on a specific subject. The brevity of syllables is perfect for that kind of structure.

A Shadorma poem may consist of one stanza or an unlimited number of stanzas (a series of shadormas). This form can have many stanzas, as long as each follows the meter.

INVESTIGATE these forms in more detail. Have fun!

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