Journal logo

A Piece About Tankas

Like a haiku only longer

By James U. RizziPublished about a year ago 7 min read
A Piece About Tankas
Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

Just as the title suggests, this piece is about the ancient Japanese writing technique, known as a tanka, a formulated poem that includes 5 lines each, with a pre-set syllable count for each sentence for a total of 31 syllables. The set up is five syllables for the first line. Seven syllables for the second, five syllables for the third, seven syllables for the fourth and fifth line. To make it easier, a little number sequence 5-7-5-7-7. So, like a Haiku, but longer.

When compiling my thoughts and research for this piece, I had initially got snagged on the tone. Should I deliver it in a style that is more indicative of a research piece, especially one of which includes the somber and mindful nature of an ancient Japanese art? Or do I go my usual route and showcase free flowing, more than likely forced whimsy? The fact that this snippet made it into the piece should tell you after literally two seconds of thought I choose the latter. Solely on the basis that this whole thing started with some forced whimsy. And more so, this is a piece about diving into the unknown. Reveling in the challenge. Trying something new. Just some of my thoughts and reasons for dipping my toe into this sector of this new inground poetry pool, so maybe you can too.

Before I unleash my stylistic proses that rivals the best poets of our time, and times past, (please don’t scroll down, it'll ruin this joke.) I'd like to dive into why I had decided to do this piece all together.

It started honestly from a very deep writing drought. I think my 80th this week. I have been feening for something to snap me out of my stagnant stupor. I tried cruising the pages of Vocal for maybe a new challenge to spark my interest, or I dramatically threw myself at friends to light some type of creative fire under me. Oddly enough, the solution would come in the combination of the two. “Let’s write a haiku”, one of my dear writing friends would say. “Vocal has been displaying a sleuth of them on their site. I think it’s a perfect way to get back into it”

Ugh fine, I threw myself into it like an angsty teen forced to go on a family vacation.

Two things became predominantly evident when we started culminating ideas for our theme appointed haikus. First, I was so incredibly terrible at doing haikus. Second, I wanted to do it more. An odd juxtaposition, but in my experience obsessively doing something you're bad at, usually helps you like, be good at it.

It occurred to me that my writing style did not favor the strict form of a haiku. I tend to be long-winded, and overbearingly flowery (if you couldn’t tell). It’s ok to admit your flaws, this is a safe space, we are growing here. (flower pun nice) each haiku I tried to tell an extravagant story, one that would bear no meaning in the confines of this ancient tradition, keeping that in mind, coupled with a bit of research into the matter. I began to see the true purpose of the haiku.

Set originally in the 17th century to be a reflection of nature. Using chosen words to evoke an emotional response. A minor blip that focused on the world around us. Mastered later on by philosopher, and master Japanese poet of the late 16th century, Basho. A devout to the ways of Zen. His staple form of writing would become the haiku. His fore-bearing thought being the style of poetry would confine the meaning of the world and deliver it in a simple pattern, believing it revealed the connection of all living things on earth. Beautiful isn’t it?

A mindful journey with a friendly liaison, and a welcome spark struck by the litany of vocal challenges centered on haikus, began to weave a tapestry of destiny. Unknowingly or knowingly, I seemed to surround myself with all things ancient Japan. Sub consciously directed to feed this gnawing sensation to get back into writing.

I read books:

The Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi

A comprehensive military like manual that went over the philosophy and techniques written by one of the greatest samurai who ever lived. An undefeated winner of 61 duels. starting at the age of 13. Not only did he speak on militarized techniques or brutally defeating your opponent, but he spoke of the mindfulness that it took to achieve victory in those intense confrontations. A mindfulness that would be preceded by the ancient and learned art of, you guessed it, poetry. A resounding figure who had a violent streak enough to kill a man with a plank of wood (Bokken - a wooden samurai sword shaped like a Katana used for training.) Would sit amongst the trees and write about birds. Beautiful isn’t it? Clearly I jest, only a small quip on another wise bigger picture. I digress. Here was just another stepping stone on the winding path that led me to this piece

I played games:

Ghost of Tsushima

Ok I’m gonna go full nerd on this one, cause i caught something here. A beautifully stylized video game that took place in feudal Japan (on the island of Tsushima). Centered around the first mongolian invasion, which occurred in 1274. But as I mentioned before, haikus didn’t exclusively appear until the 17th century. GOT EM THEY MADD. again, I digress. This less than 100% historically accurate game, still manages to deliver a sprawling landscape, that’s beauty can only be rivaled by actually being there (seriously check it out). Amongst the immaculate fixation of detail to all things ancient Japan, the player was tasked with locating special points of interest, here the player would scenically take in their surroundings, and compose a haiku. (see destiny, it has to be) albeit with pre-written lines. This transcended the level of immersion. Clearing my scope on the matter of ancient Japanese writing. (also you got a cool headband). Diving deeper into exploration, while galloping on an armor studded horse through a bamboo forest, I stumbled upon these hidden shrines hidden around the island. Equipped with a super cool looking skin for my Katana it had a small poem etched on its stone. The poem this time was a tanka.

I did it. It only took me three pages to come full circle but we're here.

Shaken by the invaluable hand of destiny, and my newfound willingness to surrender myself to its ways, I took a leap and decided to explore the new craft, with the help of my friend who started this expedition in the first place.

So the following are three tankas I have composed. Now bear in mind this is an exposé, on writing and my thoughts on it, be that as it may, the following are more of an amalgamation, an experiment. Which is what this experience is really and truly about. We evolve by learning,. But we also evolve by trying. Without further adieu, here are some tankas by me. There mine. I did them.

Not so fast. Each one is going to need an explanation, obviously

The theme or question raised for this one was what something that makes you happy. I had ambivalently chosen the subject of those who had come before me, that inspired me to keep going

This particular poem was my first try at a tanka. I had decided to break the rules of tradition and despite the need to commit to a complex pattern, I tried to, once again, do something I shouldn't and tell a bit of a story. You can tell me if it works.

The gift you gave

Lost in dark of night

Guided by your shining light

I received your gift

One of which you’ll never know

Remember me when sorrow grows

For my second I decided to take the route paved by origin, and assign the poem to nature and its entanglement with life. More exclusively I reflected on the idea of change, and how nothing really is permanent. (sorry for the sad boy hours).


water cuts through rock

even stones wither away

the sapling to oak

the last plume of an orchid

leave your mark with permanence

So here, for my third and final one, I thought about a particular element and how it is stylistically relevant to express an emotion. I choose the emotion of anger, because quite frankly it doesn’t get enough attention. In a number of instances, it almost seems taboo but it is very real, and should not be ignored. But decidedly, through the instructions of the poem, I left the last line to be profound. Acknowledging that anger can also be harmful. It’s the poison we give ourselves.

Inner inferno

do not wish me gone

learn to tame the rage within

do not quell desire

fan the flames that churn the fire,

smoldering embers to ash

So there it is. My hopefully enlightening exhibition on tankas, Japanese poetry. and my illuminating journey of how I got out of one of my biggest writing Slumps. More on that matter, this is truly what this piece is about. Learning to surrender and give yourself to the things you love, sometimes helps you to remember why you love them in the first place.

arthumorhow tohistory

About the Creator

James U. Rizzi

I cant wait to see what I can create here.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights

Comments (2)

Sign in to comment
  • Rachel M.Jabout a year ago

    BEAUTIFUL, and many laughs, my favourite laugh being; "An odd juxtaposition, but in my experience obsessively doing something you're bad at, usually helps you like, be good at it."

  • Caroline Janeabout a year ago

    I have missed your writing! You shine through this. Fantastic article... adore all the detail... There is a real sincerity to your poems too. Lovely. Truly.

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.