Let’s Talk: tanka prose

Let’s talk tanka… tanka prose, that is!

The Basics of the tanka prose form:

I try to adhere to the basic structure of tanka prose—which includes the five-line tanka written mostly in the form 5-7-5-7-7, but always in the format of s-l-s-l-l; where the middle line is a pivot between the first and the last two lines. In addition, tanka prose contains a title. As in most Japanese poetry, there is no rhyming.

Tanka poetry is not 31 continuous syllables written in a sentence.

Tanka poems derive from the Japanese waka, which is a song-like chanted poem. We write tanka in quick, breathy phrases. And like a haiku, a tanka should share a moment of awareness with the reader.

The pivot, or turn, usually happens in the third line. The pivot connects the upper poem with the lower poem with a transition from examining the image to sharing the poet’s personal response to the image.

Example from pg. 64, Word Craft: Prose & Poetry:

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

Colleen M. Chesebro

The pivot line is: finding clarity

Read the first three lines together:

a coral sunset— 
impressions left on pale clouds 
finding clarity

In the first three lines, I share the beauty of a spectacular sunset. The pivot is the aha moment when everything seems to come into hyper-focus.

Now take the pivot line and the last two lines:

finding clarity
when I listen to the wind
echoes of the masquerade

I reflect on my feelings in the last three lines. The sound of the wind reminds me of impermanence and how temporary this moment of splendor truly is. The last line reminds me that the colors are a short-lived illusion.

Notice how this tanka has two different meanings… also, each section can be read backward, which gives another dimension to the tanka.

The Prose Part

I also feel that the prose paragraph(s) must also seek to be, if not poetic, at least something that grabs our attention. It must compete with the verse in its style, intending to be inventive and expressive all on its own.

In tanka prose, there is one basic requirement: one paragraph, and one tanka.

However, there are different combinations:

  • 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:

The Preface (explanation): This is where the prose paragraph is narrow, concerned with only providing the reader a factual summary of the basic information including the time and place, the name of a person, or a public occasion as the reason for writing on the set topic. A tanka follows the prose. Or you can write your tanka as the preface, and your prose reflects on the tanka.

Poem Tale (episodic narration): gives way to a subjective and more expressive interpretation of the scene or event the poet is writing about. It gives the poet the opportunity to share intimate details or thoughts with their reader. A poem tale can be a mini short story or even a biography. Remember to include a beginning, middle, and ending.

My first example uses the preface (explanation):

My next example is a prose envelope (one tanka, two prose paragraphs) Poem

Another prose envelope (two tanka, multiple paragraphs) Poem Tale, episodic narration:


Graceguts – Tanka

Twenty-five Examples of Tanka Prose & an Editor’s Thoughts about Tanka Prose

Spilling Tanka: An Interview with Sanford Goldstein

Graceguts: The Seed of the Human Heart: Writing Tanka

Kigo: Japanese Season Words for Crafting Haiku

Kigo (季語, “season word”) is a word or phrase associated with a particular season, most often used in traditional forms of Japanese poetry such as haiku, renga and renku.

Photo by Evgeny Tchebotarev on Pexels.com

Wikipedia provides an excellent definition of haiku:

Haiku is a short verse genre written in one line in Japanese and commonly three lines in English and other languages. It has achieved significant global popularity, having been adapted from Japanese into many other languages. Typical of Japanese haiku is the metrical pattern of 5, 7, and 5 on (also known as morae). Other features include the juxtaposition of two images or ideas with a kireji (“cutting word”) between them, and a kigo, or seasonal reference, usually drawn from a saijiki, or traditional list of such words. Many haiku are objective in their depiction of personal experiences.”


Most haiku written today still follow the ancient tradition by including a kigo. Be aware that most haiku groups and editors of haiku publications insist that haiku should include a kigo. I’m a traditionalist, so anything that does not have a kigo is something else, either senryū or zappai (miscellaneous haikai).

A saijiki (sigh-gee-key) (歳時記, lit. “year-time chronicle”) is a list of kigo (seasonal terms) used in haiku and related forms of poetry.

The following list has been quoted from: Yuki Teikei Haiku Society. I’m not sure that this site is still functional, as many of the site links go to 404 pages. The links below will take you to the site.

The Yuki Teikei Haiku Season Word List

Haiku Seasons

“These season words or kigo are from the 1977-78 Haiku Journal. Originally the list was selected from Japanese saijiki (kigo “dictionaries”) and translated by Kiyoko Tokutomi. Over time words have been added that have seasonal resonance for our predominantly North American members. We present these lists as a guide and aid to English-language writers who want to think about this aspect of haiku in their own writing, as well as in appreciating the haiku of other poets.”

Copyright 1997-2019 All rights reserved.

Season: spring months: late February, March, April, and May; beginning of spring, early spring, departing spring, late spring, lengthening days, long day, mid-spring, spring dream, spring dusk, spring evening, spring melancholy, tranquility, vernal equinox.
Sky and Elements: balmy breeze, bright, haze or thin mist, first spring storm, hazy moon, March wind, melting snow, lingering snow, spring breeze, spring cloud, spring frost, spring moon, spring rain, spring rainbow, spring sunbeam, spring snow, slush, warm (warmth).
Landscape: flooded river/stream/brook, muddy/miry fields, muddy road, spring fields, spring hills, spring mountain, spring river, spring sea, spring tide, red tide.
Human Affairs: balloon, closing the fireplace, kite, shell gathering, grafting, planting or sowing (seeds), plowing or tilling fields, soap bubbles (blown from a pipe or wand), sleeping Buddha, spring cleaning, swing, windmill, April Fools Day/April fool, Boys Day/ carp flag, Dolls Festival, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Easter ( ~ bonnet/clothes, ~ eggs, coloring/hiding ~ eggs, ~lily, ~ parade, ~ rabbit/chicken/duckling), May Day ( ~ basket, ~ pole), Memorial Day, Mothers Day, Passover, Saint Patrick’s Day, Valentines Day.
Animals: abalone, bee, baby animals (nestlings, fledglings, calf, colt, kitten, puppy, fawn, lamb, etc.), butterfly, bush warbler, cats in love, crane, flying squirrel, frog, horse-fly, lizard, pheasant, robin, mud snail, soaring skylark, stork, swallow, tadpole, whitebait (a fish), hummingbird, nightingale, wild birds’ return (geese, etc.).
Plants: anemone, artichoke, asparagus sprouts, azalea, bracken, bramble, camellia, cherry blossoms, cherry tree, crocus, dandelion, daphne, blossoms or leaf buds of trees and shrubs (almond, apple, apricot, maple, oak, pear, peach, pine, wisteria, etc.), forget-me-not, grass sprouts, hawthorn, hyacinth, lilac, lily of the valley, mustard, pansy, parsley, plum blossoms, plum tree, California poppy, primrose, seaweed or laver (nori), sweet pea, shepherd’s-purse, tulip, violet, willow, pussy willows or willow catkins.
Season: summer months*: June, July, August; beginning of summer, end of summer, midsummer, summer evening, summer morning, summer solstice, short night, slow day.
Sky and Elements: calm morning/evening, cumulus/billowing cloud, cloud peaks, coolness, drought, heat, hot, lightning, ocean fog, rainbow, sea of clouds, south wind, scented breeze, scorching/blazing sun, sudden shower, summer dew, summer fog, summer rain, summer sky, summer sun, summer wind, thunder.
Landscape: clear water, deep tree shade, summer grove, summer hills, summer lake, summer moor, summer mountains, summer sea, summer river, waterfall.
Human Affairs: awning, bare feet, beach umbrella, camp, cooling oneself, fan, fly swatter, fireworks, fountain, ice house, ice water, iced tea, mosquito net, midday nap, mowing grass, nakedness, parasol, perfume, prayers for rain, rattan chair, summer concert/opera, summer hat, summer house, summer vacation, sunburn, sunglasses, sundress, swimming, swimming pool, sweat, wind chimes, weeding, Armed Forces Day, Fathers Day, Fourth of July (Independence Day).
Animals: ant, bat, caterpillar, cicada, cormorant, crab, crayfish, firefly, flea, goldfish, heron, house fly, jellyfish(medusae, Vellella, comb jelly, etc.), kingfisher, louse, moor hen or coot, mosquito, mosquito larvae, moth, silverfish, slug, (garden) snail, snake, spider, summer butterfly, termite, toad, tree frog, trout, silkworm, water beetle.
Plants: amaryllis, barley, summer bracken, bamboo sprouts, cactus flower, carnation, summer chrysanthemum, (blue) cornflower, dahlia, dill flower, foxglove, fuchsia, gardenia, geranium, gerbera, gladiolus, summer/rank grasses/weeds, hibiscus, hollyhock, honeysuckle, hydrangea, iris, lily (calla, daylily, etc.), lotus, marguerite, marigold, mold (mildew), moss grown (mossy), oxalis, peony, phlox, pinks, evening primrose, rose, salvia, silk tree (mimosa), snapdragon, sunflower, summer thistle, yucca, zinnia, summer fruits/vegetables (apricot, banana, blackberry, cucumber, cherry, eggplant, green grapes, green (unripe) apple, green peas, green walnut, melons, pineapple, potato, strawberry, tomato).
*In Japanese haiku, the word for July is a summer kigo, even though Tanabata (in early July) is an autumn kigo (see the note under Autumn). August is an autumn month to some poets and summer to others; it is most in line with North American views to put it in summer .
Season: autumn months*: September, October, November; autumn equinox, autumn evening, autumn morning, beginning of autumn, chilly night, departing autumn, long night, lingering summer heat, mid-autumn.
Sky and Elements: autumn rain, autumn sky, autumn storm, autumn wind, long night, Milky Way/river of heaven/river of stars, moon (understood to be the full moon), night of stars, sardine cloud.
Landscape: autumn moor, autumn mountains, autumn sea, autumn woods, leaves turning, reaped or harvested fields, stubble fields (corn, pumpkin, etc.), vineyards.
Human Affairs: autumn loneliness, end of summer vacation, gleaning, harvest, hunting for red leaves, mushroom gathering, raking/burning leaves, scarecrow, school begins, Tanabata /Star Festival, Obon Festival/dance, Labor Day, Rosh Hashanah, Halloween (jack oÍ lantern, trick or treating, witch, black cat, ghost, haunted house), Thanksgiving.
Animals: autumn mackerel, bagworm, bird of passage, clear-toned cicada, cricket, deer, dragonfly, red dragonfly, grasshopper or locust, ground beetle, insectsÍ cry, katydid, monarch butterfly, migrating geese/cranes/storks, praying mantis, quail, salmon, shrike (butcher bird), siskin, snipe, wild geese, woodpecker.
Plants: apple, wild aster, autumn leaves, banana plant, buckwheat, bush clover, chamomile, chestnut, chrysanthemum, corn, cranberry, dried grass or plants, fallen or falling leaves (e.g. fallen willow leaves), gourds, grapes (except green grapes), huckleberry, maiden flower, morning glory, mushrooms, nuts, orchid, pampas grass plumes, pear, persimmon, pomegranate, pumpkin, reeds, reed flowers/tassels, rose of sharon, squash, vines, weed flowers.
* In Japanese haiku, many phenomena of July and August are traditionally considered autumnal: for example,Tanabata (in early July), Obon (in early August), the Milky Way, and morning glory are autumn kigo. In the Haiku Journal, they were listed in both seasons in consideration of non-Japanese poets for whom these topics unambiguously evoke summer feelings. In this list, we defer to the traditional category, to avoid confusion.
Season: winter months: December, January, early or mid- February; start of winter, depth of winter, short day, winter day, winter morning, winter night.
Sky and Elements: frost/hoarfrost, freeze, hail, ice, icicle, north wind, sleet, snow/first snow, winter cloud, winter moon, winter rain/first winter rain, winter solstice, winter wind.
Landscape: winter creek or stream, winter mountain, winter sea or ocean, winter seashore, winter garden, withered moor.
Human Affairs: banked fire, bean soup, blanket, brazier, buying a new diary, hot chocolate, charcoal fire, cold or flu, cough, foot warmer, gloves/mittens, grog, heater, hunting, falconer, fish trapper, ice hockey, ice skating or skates, ice fishing, old diary, old calendar, overcoat/fur coat, popcorn, quilted clothes, shawl, skiing/skis, sleigh ride, snowshoes, snowman, snowball fight, winter seclusion, winter desolation, winter vacation, whale watching, Chanukah, Chinese New Year, Leap Year Day, Groundhog Day, Christmas Eve or Day (Christmas tree, tree decorating or decorations (lights, glass balls, etc.), wrapping gifts, wreath, cutting greens, gingerbread men, holiday shopping), Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Twelfth Night.
Animals: bear, codfish, fox, hibernation, marten or sable, oyster, owl, perch, rabbit, reindeer, sardine, sea slug, swan, weasel, wild duck, winter birds, winter bee, winter fly, winter sparrow, winter wild geese, wolf, whale, wren.
Plants: carrot, celery, dried persimmon, (dried) prunes, early plum blossom, holly, heavenly bamboo(Nandina), pine nuts, poinsettia, radish, scallion,tangerine /mandarin orange, turnip, winter camellia, winter chrysanthemum, winter grass, winter narcissus, winter peony, winter quince, winter tree or grove, withered or frost-nipped plants (tree, grasses, leaves, twig, etc.).
New Year’s*
Sky and Elements: first morning, first sunrise, new years’sun.
Human Affairs: first day of the year, first dream of the year, first writing/poem/brush painting, new diary, new calendar, New Years’ Eve or Day, year of the (Zodiac) animal (Rooster, Horse, Rabbit, etc.).
*January 1; but late January or early February according to the lunar calendar formerly in use.

Wikipedia.com also has a kigo word list with the Japanese names HERE. This is an amazing list!

This should be enough to get you started on your haiku writing journey. ~Colleen~

Haiku & Zappai

Haiku is a form with three or more lines following the short-long-short, 3-5-3, 2-3-2, (5-7-5 traditional) of approximately twelve syllables. Haiku are written about nature, the seasons, a beautiful moment in nature, an emotional experience while in nature, or change. No title. (Kigo required). No rhyming. Season word list: https://yukiteikei.wordpress.com/season-word-list/ & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_kigo. 

My version of How to write haiku HERE.

Photo by Bagus Pangestu on Pexels.com

Let’s talk about haiku… What should haiku contain?

  • Choose a single moment. What is the significance of that moment?
  • When we write haiku, we share two interdependent images. Do these images have a cause-and-effect relationship? Did you only write half a haiku by sharing only one image?
  • Suggest a season. A haiku is not a haiku without a season word. When we write haiku without a season word, our poem becomes less a haiku and more pseudo-haiku.
  • Don’t say too much. Provide what is essential, but leave the rest up to your reader.
  • Follow the order of perception. Check how you’ve presented the images. You might need to rearrange them.
  • Engage the senses. Show don’t tell. Haiku should never explain or draw conclusions.
  • Use internal comparison. How do your images interact?
  • Use the power of suggestion.
  • Haiku is the poetry of nouns… but check to see if you have added verbs. Verbs give your haiku movement. Cut unnecessary words.

This list comes from Lee Gurga. He states:

“Haiku is… about discovery, not invention. It is about what is essential, not what is entertaining. Haiku is about sharing, not persuading. Haiku is about showing, not showing off.

Haiku—A Poet’s Guide, pg. 116


Some of what I’m seeing lately is called zappai, or pseudo-haiku, which is not truly haiku. Just because a poem has three lines and twelve to seventeen syllables, doesn’t make it a haiku. If your poem does not feature a season word, it’s not a haiku. It’s haiku-like or pseudo-haiku.

Zappai means miscellaneous haikai verse in Japanese. Some of these poems are written as a joke—think spam haiku, gothic haiku, sci-fi-ku, etc. Zappai is closely related to senryu, featuring a touch of humor. Zappai are not senryu! Senryu features irony in its structure.

If a poem sounds like an aphorism, epigram, proverb, or fortune cookie wisdom, it’s usually a zappai.

Don’t be fooled. Zappai are not haiku. We should not aspire to write zappai.

Gurga states, “while zappai were recognized as a form of poetic entertainment, they were not recognized as being as high an art as either haiku or senryu.”

Zappai are controversial. The Haiku Society of America refers to zappai as “miscellaneous amusements in doggerel verse,” although a more accurate definition to me is syllabic poetry that “includes all types of seventeen syllable poems that do not have the proper formal or technical characteristics of haiku.”

READ: What is Zappai?

READ: The Distinct Brilliance of Zappai: Misrepresentations of Zappai in the New HSA Definition

More Haiku Definitions

In the world of haiku, there appears to be little agreement about the zappai form. The only genuine statement is that you aren’t writing true haiku unless you use a season word. For all other haiku-like forms, they seem to break down into:

Branded haiku — is a kind of haiku that tries to follow the Japanese rules as much as possible.

Generic haiku — means that by popular usage, the word haiku evolved to cover all three-lined poems written in seventeen syllables or less.

For our challenges, we write haiku or senryu because we desire to write the way the ancients taught. And, as poets and haijin (haiku poets), we take our craft seriously. <3

Many thanks to David of The Skeptic’s Kaddish for asking the hard questions. He gets a ⭐️ for his question. I’ll continue to research pseudo-haiku and let you know what I discover.

First Frost, #haiku

I’ve been doing a thorough analysis of haiku, senryu and pseudo-haiku (sometimes called failed haiku). Haiku has always been one of my favorites, and the use of a season word (kigo) is what fulfills the true meaning of a haiku. These season words are essential to the understanding of haiku. Haiku and nature are forever connected.

silver hair...
winter's first frost
touches her eyes

© Colleen M. Chesebro

We write haiku by giving our readers at least two images to connect with. The idea is to create a juxtaposition between the two images.

In the haiku above, I compare silver hair to winter’s first frost. Then, I take the images a step further… I compare winter’s first frost to the glint of age (glaucoma, possibly?) showing in her eyes. However, there is also a connection to the impermanence of time. After all, we all grow old. Winter also signifies death, as the natural world is in hibernation waiting for spring to reawaken the dormant world.

Image by ThuyHaBich from Pixabay

But the season is critical to making this haiku work. It’s easy to see that we lose the deep connection if we remove the kigo of winter’s first frost.

This haiku is part of #TankaTuesday. Join in HERE and write some color poetry.

I hope this helps you craft haiku. Namaste & Blessed Be!

How to craft Syllabic Poetry

Are you new to crafting syllabic poetry and don’t know how to start? Let me show you two syllabic poetry forms to get you started on your poetry writing journey now…

Let’s start with an American form, the Crapsey Cinquain. 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 that builds into the fourth line. 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. Cinquain poems need a title.

Use a syllable counter as you compose your poetry. I use sodacoffee.com/syllables/. See my example below:

"Day Dawns"

pink blush—
fairy sunshine
smudges morning's gray clouds
dew sparkles against the grasses

© Colleen M. Chesebro

In the Crapsey cinquain above, I described a morning sunrise. True to the form, I pivoted in line five. My last two-syllables are where I turned away from the beauty of the scene and added the word “thunder.” This gives a hint that not everything is as it seems in the idyllic scene I described.

LEARN more about the Crapsey cinquain form at cinquain.org.

If Japanese poetry intrigues you, start with the haiku. Haiku contains three lines following the short-long-short, 3-5-3, 2-3-2, (5-7-5 traditional) syllable count. Your haiku should contain approximately twelve syllables. We write haiku about nature, the seasons, a beautiful moment in nature, an emotional experience while in nature, or change. Haiku are untitled. The use of a Kigo (season word) is optional. Haiku do not rhyme. Do not use metaphors or similes in haiku.

(When you’re first learning how to write haiku, use the 5-7-5 syllable structure until you’re ready to embrace the shorter formats.)

When we write haiku, we’re sharing an encounter between nature and ourself as a human. We describe our experience at that exact moment. These are the moments that stand out and grab our attention in unexpected ways.

clouds stitched together
against the blue cloth of sky
summer's heat rises

© Colleen M. Chesebro

In the haiku above, I describe the clouds, and how they look against a blue sky. Notice my choice of words. I also used a kigo or season word, which is summer. Now, you’re experiencing the moment with me…

Break your haiku into two separate word images:

clouds stitched together against the blue cloth of sky

against the blue cloth of sky summer’s heat rises

This is a great way to check your haiku when you’ve finished writing. Combine the first and second line of your haiku. Does a mental image appear? In this example, you can see the clouds contrast the color of the blue sky. Remember the brevity of words.

However, when you take the second and third line and combine them, you receive another mental image. Now you see the heat shimmers against the blue sky.

The idea is to write about two contrasting or somehow similar images, and to connect them in unusual ways. Haiku are all about images. How does the haiku make you feel? Have you created emotion without telling your reader how to feel?

That’s it! You’re ready to craft syllabic poetry. Join us every Tuesday on wordcraftpoetry.com for Tanka Tuesday and get your poetry writing groove on!

I’ve done the work of researching these syllabic forms for you. Word Craft: Prose & Poetry is available as an Ebook and a Print book. mybook.to/WordCraftProsePoetry Let’s write syllabic poetry together! <3

Finding Poetic Inspiration

I’ve had a few poets ask me about poetic inspiration. Where do you find it, and how do you go about acquiring this precious commodity?

I dedicated a section in Word Craft: Prose & Poetry, The Art of Crafting Syllabic Poetry to just that subject. In my opinion, inspiration is everywhere. But not everyone feels that way.

Here are a few suggestions to find your own poetic inspiration:

  • Get outside in nature. Go for walks and observe the world around you.
  • Take notes. Keep your observations and thoughts in a notebook or in your phone.
  • Take photos. If you photograph your inspiration, you can write about how the photo captured the scene and memorialized it for that moment in time.
  • Write about your own experiences.
  • Read other poetry written by the greats and new poets.
  • Free write your thoughts for five minutes and see what inspires you.
  • Create a vision board!

Yes… create a vision board for your poetry. This is a fun exercise. If you love to take photos, create a vision board for your poem.

Vision board created with Canva.com

I used a vision board to create this haiku. I went through a bunch of photos on Canva.com for inspiration.

Things to note:

  1. Haiku are untitled.
  2. My syllable count is 3-5-3.
  3. My kigo is loud thunder—which signifies a season (really any season). It can thunder in all four seasons depending on where you live in the United States.
  4. The ending should be a surprise. This is the pivot. That is when you talk about one thing and then switch to talking about another thing. In my haiku, sunshine rain is the pivot.
  5. The pivot is where we create that juxtaposition of divergent or convergent images that compliment each other. We recognize this reaction as the “aha” moment.

We hear the thunder and see the clouds swirling. Then, the sun breaks through and the rain begins to fall. It looks like it’s raining sunshine. It’s a magical moment, one that you can remember by immortalizing it with a haiku.

We can use vision boards for many kinds of literary inspiration. Charli Mills, from Carrotranch.com, taught me how to use a vision board in her “Vision Planting” class I took with her this spring.

Charli Mills’ advice:

“Represent your vision with the tools of manifestation—use a vision board to create poetry.” @Charli_Mills #inspiration

I’ve done the work of researching these syllabic forms for you. Word Craft: Prose & Poetry is available as an Ebook and a Print book. mybook.to/WordCraftProsePoetry Let’s write syllabic poetry together! <3

I’m still having glitches with the themes on the wordcraftpoetry blog. WordPress must be doing more updates. The simpler themes seem to work better. So here I am, again… Sorry for all the switching around. This theme seems to be stable. <3