Seeking Serenity, #Gogyohka or #Modern #Tanka

Whew! What a busy week it’s been. I’ve struggled to find time to work on my new poetry book amid a series of events which interfered in my time, every day. Between a four-hour power outage in my neighborhood, and the daily mess and noise from a new-build next door, I’m struggling for time to work on my book. Add a day of grocery shopping to prepare for the Coronavirus scare sweeping the world, and I’ll find myself working double-time this weekend to catch up.

This week it was Poet’s choice. Here’s what I came up with!

The greening of spring in my neighborhood

There’s always a ray of sunshine for me in the moments that give rise to inspiration. Such are the ways of the muse. She appears when you least expect her presence, sharing a precious moment of stillness.

Seeking Serenity, #Gogyohka

psychic detachment
Karma transcended
peaceful consciousness

©2020 Colleen M. Chesebro

I’ve written this Gogyohka in the s/l/s/l/l (short/long/short/long/long) syllable count of a modern Tanka in English, which differs from the traditional 5/7/5/7/7 count. Most poetic journals and literary contests, etc. will call this form the Tanka in English.

Many poets believed the Gogyohka to be more freeing than falling under the demands of a traditionally written Tanka. That’s not the case. The form still dictates the structure of short form poetry, as you don’t use sentences, rhyming, or punctuation. Each line is spoken in a breath, limiting the length of your phrases even though the Gogyohka claims no restraint on words or syllables.

From what my research has revealed, Tanka in English poets have abandoned the syllable counts because of differences between the Japanese and English languages, Tanka in English are functionally the same as Gogyohka in English.

We experienced the same changes in Haiku and Senryu. It appears Tanka/Gogyohka have experienced the same reduction in syllable count.

M. Key of Kujaku Poetry & Ships shares:

Gogyohka are short five line poems, which may or may not be end-stopped; that detail is not clear in Gogyohka. Since tanka in English abandoned syllable counting due to differences between the Japanese and English languages, tanka in English are functionally the same as gogyohka in English. The difference is of great importance in Japanese, but of no significance in English.

Tanka in English fulfill the definition given for Gogyohka. On the other hand, so do kyoka, waka, Japanese tanka, limericks, cinquains, and other five line forms, yet it is clear that Gogyohka does not embrace these as part of its definition and view.

The assumption of a lyric Japanese aesthetic is built into the genre without being specified. Thus, we can define five line poems lacking in a Japanese or at least a lyric presentation as not meeting the operational definition of Gogyohka, even if they meet the technical definition.

A Few Remarks on Tanka, Gogyoyhka, Gogyoshi, and 5Lines

So what does this mean for our challenge? Just like we did for the Haiku and Senryu forms, I’ll offer the traditional and modern forms for the Tanka.

Think of the traditional Tanka as the 5/7/5/7/7 and the Gogyohka, the modern Tanka in five lines: s/l/s/l/l.

Questions? Let me know in the comments.

Happy Friday, poetic friends. I’m done writing for the day!

Finding Clarity, #Tanka

This week for our poetry challenge it was “theme week.” It was Ken Gierke’s (Riverlogr) turn to pick the theme. He decided on the phrase, “finding clarity.” What a great choice!

Let’s talk about Tanka poetry this week. Many poets think this form is comprised of five lines, and 31 syllables. That’s true up to a point. As with most syllabic poetry, the syllables are disputed in poetic communities.

Some poets write their Tanka poetry as if it were one continuous thought – like a string of prose. That is not the case with Tanka or Gogyohka poetry.

Tanka poetry originated from the Waka, which in Japanese means poem or song. Tanka poetry does not rhyme.

There are five lines, each line consisting of a short, long, short, long, long rhythmic count.

For simplicity in this challenge, and because we are all perfecting our craft, we use the 5/7/5/7/7 syllable count. (However, if you want to write your poetry with less syllables, that works for me).

Remember, the syllables in a Tanka in English can be shorter sounds, as they are written in Japanese. For that reason, you will see most Tanka poetry with a smaller syllable count. The syllable count is not really an issue, however a Tanka rhythm of short, long, short, long, long that distinguishes it from a short poem (Haiku or Senryu).

Download the current issue of Cattails: A Journal from UHTS HERE. Read the winning entries, and count the syllables (copy and paste into You will see many of the forms are written correctly with less syllables. These are winning entries.

The Pivot

One of the most important aspects of the Tanka poem is the pivot. Usually found in third line, the pivot signifies a transition from examining a mental image being shared in the poem, to examining a personal response to that mental image.


The second aspect that is necessary in a Tanka poem is the idea of Mono-No-Aware.

Mono-No-Aware is a Japanese concept that asks the poet to examine the bittersweet realization of the transient nature of all things. It is the understanding that everything is temporary.

In Buddhism and in Asian culture there is the awareness of the transience of all things which heightens an appreciation of their beauty and evokes a gentle sadness at their passing. That is the emotion you want to insert inside your Tanka poetry.

Mono-No-Aware results in an “a-ha” moment for your reader. Take this winning poem from the Cattails Journal, pg. 61:

a Picasso print

catches the evening light

after sixty years

the colors of our youth

fade to a mottled grey

Cattails Journal ©2019 Susan Constable, Canada

“After sixty years,” is the pivot. Do you see how that phrase applies to your understanding of the first two lines, and then also to the last two lines?

The Mono-No-Aware is the comparison between the Picasso print and how the colors of their youth have faded. That is your A-HA moment!

Finding Clarity

a coral sunset
impressions left on pale clouds
finding clarity
when I listen to the wind
echoes of the masquerade

©2020 Colleen M. Chesebro

This poem is written in the 5/7/5/7/7 format. Do you see the pivot? The Mono-No-Aware moment is when I realize that the colored impressions of the sunset are echos of the masquerade… everything is only an illusion of light.

Get BUSY and write some syllabic poetry!