Syllabic Poetry FormS for TANKA TUESDAY ON Word Craft ~ Prose & Poetry

It’s time for a refresher! This tutorial will help poets acquaint themselves with the different forms to use for our Weekly Tanka Tuesday Syllabic Poetry Challenge: haiku, senryu, haiga, tanka, gogyohka, haibun, tanka prose, renga, solo-renga, cinquain and its variations, Etheree, nonet, and shadorma. (updated 11/27/2020)

This form is located on the page: Poetry Challenge Cheat Sheet.

Remember to follow the schedule for each week:

*HAIKU IN ENGLISH: Traditional Haiku in English is written in three lines with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the last line: 5/7/5, for a total of seventeen syllables written in the present tense.

  • Haiku do not rhyme, nor do they contain metaphors and similes. The use of an implied metaphor is acceptable.
  • The current standards for creating Haiku in English suggest a form with three lines and syllables of 3/5/3 (11 syllables). Even the more abbreviated haiku version with three lines and syllables of 2/3/2 (7 syllables) is now thought of more favorably than the traditional 5/7/5 format. Hybrid haiku are written with seventeen-syllables in one or more lines.
  • Most haiku are written about nature, the seasons, a beautiful moment in nature, an emotional experience while in nature, or change. A haiku should share a special moment of awareness with the reader.
  • There is often a seasonal word used to explain the time of year, called a kigo, which is a seasonal description, such as: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, and New Year’s. There should only be one kigo per haiku. It’s up to the poet to decide if they want to include a kigo in their poem.
  • Most haiku do not contain titles.
  • The use of punctuation is optional in the creation of the haiku.
  • Three or more haiku written together are considered a series or sequence.

*SENRYU IN ENGLISH: Traditional 5/7/5, Current 3/5/3, and Current 2/3/2syllable structure. A Senryu is written about love, a personal event, and should have irony present.

  • Traditional Senryu in English is written in three lines with five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the last line: 5/7/5, for a total of seventeen syllables written in the present tense.
  • Senryu do not rhyme, nor do they contain metaphors and similes.
  • The current standards for creating Senryu in English suggest a form with three lines and syllables of 3/5/3 (11 syllables). Even the more abbreviated senryu version with three lines and syllables of 2/3/2 (7 syllables) is now thought of more favorably than the traditional 5/7/5 format.
  • A senryu is written about love, human foibles relating to a personal event, and should have an element of irony present somewhere in the form.
  • Senryu focus on the awkward moments in life making the human, not the world around them, the subject of their creative endeavor. Senryu poetry deals with the human condition focusing on sexual matters, family relations, religion, politics, and anything that touches on the pain we experience through sorrow, prejudice, oppression, anger, and frustration.
  • Humor and sarcasm are two of the most favorable elements in a senryu.
  • Use precise, simple language and be direct and explicit in your word choice.
  • Senryu are blunt and do not deal in sentimentality.
  • Three or more senryu written together are a series or sequence.

What is the difference between haiku and senryu?

*HAIGA IN ENGLISH: First, the haiku or senryu portion of the poem is the most important part and must standalone without the image. It is created by using the traditional 5/7/5, or the current 3/5/3, or the current 2/3/2 syllable structure (but not all three together). Haiga, often called observational poetry, contains an image with either a haiku or senryu written on it or near it. Haiga usually combines three art forms:  imagery: photographs or original art, poetry, and calligraphy.

  • Second, images cannot complete the haiku or senryu. If the image is necessary, to understand the poem, then both the image and the poem fail.
  • The image should add something to the reader’s appreciation of the piece.
  • The image can create an alternative interpretation to the one articulated by the literal reading of the poem. That additional interpretation is what the poet should strive to convey.
  • The image should form a contrast, or comparison with the imagery expressed in the poem. We should strive to produce an emotion of the moment between the poet and the reader, the image, and the poem.

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

  • Your tanka should be filled with poetic passion, including vivid imagery to make up both parts of the poem. The first three lines of the poem consist of one part and should convey a specific theme. The third line of your poem is the often where the pivot occurs, although it can happen anywhere. The pivot gives direction to your poem, whose meaning should be applied to the first two lines of your poem, as well as the last two lines so that your tanka can be read forward and backward.
  • The last two lines of your tanka are where the metaphor (where the poet compare two concepts without the words: like or as), simile (where the poet compares two concepts with words: like or as) or where a comparison occurs to complement the first three lines of your poetry. Use words you are comfortable with from everyday speech. Avoid ending your lines with articles and prepositions.
  • Make use of your five senses. Don’t describe your theme. Instead, use adjectives, or exclamations of sound, taste, and smell, along with hearing and sight to make your tanka powerful.
  • Tanka are untitled and should be written in natural language using sentence fragments and phrases, not sentences.
  • While many poets will adhere to the 5/7/5/7/7 structure, there is no rule that says this is written in stone. Remember, tanka poetry is looser in structure than Haiku. Let your creativity guide you. Follow the short/long/short/long/long rhythmic count instead of counting the syllables in the traditional fashion.
  • Tanka poetry does not require punctuation. You don’t have to use capitals at the beginning of each line, nor do you need to add a period at the end.
  • A double tanka is two poems. Three or more tanka poems are a sequence. They are usually linked by a common theme.

*GOGYOHKA IN ENGLISH:  A Gogyohka is a short poem based on the ancient Japanese tanka.

  • Gogyohka contains five lines but could have four or six lines. It’s up to the poet.
  • Each line should consist of one phrase with a line-break after each phrase or breath.
  • Gogyohka has no restraints on the numbers of words, or syllables used. However, this form should be written as other Japanese short verse poetry.
  • The theme for gogyohka is unrestricted.

*HAIBUN IN ENGLISH: The rules for constructing a Haibun are simple.  

  • Begin your haibun with a title. The title should hint at something barely noticeable in the beginning, which comes together by the ending.
  • Your haibun prose can be 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.
  • Keep your prose simple. 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 a haiku sandwiched between, to longer memoir works including many haiku.
  • There are different Haibun styles: Idyll: (One prose paragraph and one haiku) haiku/prose, or prose/haiku; Verse Envelope: haiku/prose/haiku; Prose Envelope: prose/haiku/prose, including alternating prose and verse elements.
  • Your prose tells the story and gives the information which helps to define the theme. It creates a mood through tone, paving the way for the haiku.
  • The haiku should act as a comparison—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.

*TANKA PROSE: Tanka prose combines two types of writing verse and prose.

  • The tanka poem is typically written in the 5/7/5/7/7 or s/l/s/l/l five-line syllabic structure.
  • Unlike the single tanka, tanka prose contains a title.
  • There is one basic requirement: one paragraph, and one tanka. However, just as with Haibun, there are many Tanka prose combinations, such as Idyll: (One prose paragraph and one tanka) tanka/prose, or prose/tanka; Verse Envelope: tanka/prose/tanka; Prose Envelope: prose/tanka/prose, including alternating prose and verse elements of your choice.
  • There are two basic forms in classic tanka prose: Preface (explanation), and the Poem Tale (episodic narration).
  • Be creative. Do experiment with the placement of your prose and poetry on the page. If the elements of tanka prose are present, you can rearrange your prose lines separated by the lines of tanka poetry.

*RENGA, SOLO-RENGA, SOLO-NO-RENGA: The Renga or Renku is syllabic, featuring alternating stanzas, usually of 5-7-5 and 7-7 syllables. (onji or the Japanese sound symbol for which there is no exact translation in English, the closest we can come in translation is a syllable)

• A cooperative poem, written by 2 or more poets.

• Spontaneous.

• Composed with stanzas or verses that “link and shift”, it does not tell a sequential story.

• Structured with a beginning, middle and end. Hokku (starting verse) followed by linked verses and ends with a Tanka (small poem).

• Connected to the seasons. The hokku shows the season in which the gathering occurs, somewhere within the renga, there should be verses referring to each of the seasons to create a complete circle.

The first part of the renga is a (5/7/5) haiku (hokku) written by your guest. The second part of the renga is the host’s response (wakiku): (7/7). The renga’s value exists in the interaction between the different links. It’s that transition between the first three lines and how they leap to the last two lines, penned by two different poets, that defines the renga.

Now, you can see where the renga resembles the tanka: 5/7/5, 7/7. The difference between the tanka (written by one poet), and the renga (two poets collaborate to write the poem) is the number of authors. Sometimes, you will see a renga called a “Tan-Renga” which means short poem. It still means the same thing.

(Remember, the renga will feature a haiku (nature related) where a tanka is a much looser form, allowing for different subjects other than nature. A tanka does not require the first three lines to be a haiku. There’s your difference between a renga and a tanka).

solo renga or solo no renga both mean that the renga was written by one poet. The first three lines are still a haiku, and the last two lines are written with seven syllables per line. It is customary to write the haiku, skip a line between and then add the last two lines.

*CINQUAIN: A cinquain is a form of shape poetry that looks great 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.

The Crapsey cinquain is a five-line, non-rhyming poem featuring a syllable structure of 2/4/6/8/2. Choose words that create drama which builds into the fourth line. Remember, the turn occurs on line five, the most important line. This is where you change your focus away from the drama in some interesting way. Surprise your readers!

The Crapsey cinquain has seen several 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.

*ETHEREE: The Etheree poem consists of ten lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10syllables. 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.  

An Etheree should focus on one idea or subject. Remember to create a memorable message within the required Etheree syllabic count. The poem is unrhymed but should contain rhythm and flow. Always give your Etheree poem a title. This form must include a sense of meaning with the emphasis on imagery.

The table below will help you remember the different types of Etheree poetry:

Classic EthereeTen lines featuring a syllable count of 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10 syllables per line.
Reverse EthereeTen lines featuring a syllable count of 10/9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1 syllables per line.
Stacked/Double EthereeTwenty lines with a syllable count of1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10, 10/9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1 syllables per line, which looks like two triangles joined together in the center.
Stacked/Double Inverted EthereeTwenty lines with a syllable count per line of 10/9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1, 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10 syllables per line, which looks like an hourglass when centered on the page.

*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 can be used to represent time’s passage.

Decide on a meaningful subject and add a title to your nonet. Don’t use words that rhyme. Instead, choose nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Always show more than you tell. Use minimal punctuation.

The table below will assist you in writing nonet poetry.

Classic NonetNine lines featuring a syllable count of 9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1 syllables per line.
Reverse or Inverted NonetNine lines featuring a syllable count of 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9 syllables per line.
Double Nonet
At least two or more stanzas with nine lines each, featuring a syllable count of 9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1, 9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1 or (double reversed) 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9, 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9 syllables per line.
Double Inverted NonetEighteen lines with a syllable count per line of 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9, 9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1 which looks like two triangles joined in the middle or 9/8/7/6/5/4/3/2/1, 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9 syllables per line which looks like an hourglass.

*SHADORMA: The Shadorma is a poetic form consisting of 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 if each stanza follows the meter.   


8 thoughts on “Syllabic Poetry FormS for TANKA TUESDAY ON Word Craft ~ Prose & Poetry”

  1. ❤️This is wonderful! Having explanations of the various poetry forms in one post is most helpful. Now I have a detailed and reliable go-to. Thank you, Colleen. 😘

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