New Editor's Introduction:
After Michael McClintock's superb editorship, I am assuming the duties of the Tanka Editor of Simply Haiku. It may be fun and challenging as well to work for the highly acclaimed Simply Haiku. I am very honored to do this job and thank Robert Wilson for his confidence in me.
English tanka has become fairly popular these days. Many people writing haiku also show an interest in tanka. As a native speaker of Japanese who lives in Canada, I have been wondering why tanka, compared to haiku, is not known well in the western world. However, in the last two or three years, many new English tanka journals were born one after another: red lights, Ribbons, Gusts, Modern English Tanka, and Eucalypt. I feel very happy about this. As an editor of Gusts and Simply Haiku (Tanka), it is my wish that English tanka will become even more popular.
Nowadays, most readers/writers of tanka know that tanka means short song or short poem. However, many people still don't know well how short is short. Because earlier waka/tanka translations were done using 31 English syllables, and even now, in the Oxford English Dictionary, haiku is defined as "a Japanese poem with three lines and usually 17 syllables" (the word tanka is not listed in the OED yet), some very traditional tanka poets might prefer English tanka with 31syllables. However, English tanka with 31 syllables sound too long! English syllables and Japanese syllables are quite different. Japanese words don't have consonant clusters as in English. This means that Japanese words use more vowels (more syllables) in one word. That is, "desk" is one syllable, but the Japanese version of "desk" is "desuku", which has 3 syllables.
For some people, syllable counting may be a nuisance. Then, how about counting words? It is hardly known that words used in one Japanese tanka are usually about 10-15 words. Yes, that's few. This shortness is the basis of tanka. Therefore, if we compose English tanka using about 10-15 words, or up to 20 words maximum (using about 20 English syllables), it would sound like "real" tanka. Please pare off unnecessary words in the process of composing tanka. If you use many words, it would become a free verse even if you write in five lines. In Japan, tanka (and haiku) are called "teikei-shi" (fixed form poetry). Please respect the form. Of course, content is important, but the form is also important in tanka. Many tanka poets (Japanese and English) say that the fixed form is liberation, not a restriction.
Some people might say that the five lines should have the "short/long/short/long/long" format, reflecting the Japanese syllable sequence of 5/7/5/7/7. In Japanese, the repetition of 5 beats and 7 beats (Japanese syllables are like beats) sounds very rhythmical. This rhythm cannot be obtained if it's 6 beats and 8 beats, or any other beats. This 5/7 beat rhythm cannot be transferred to English, so if you feel the "short/long/short/long/long" sequence sounds rhythmical, you can use it, but it is not required always.
Regarding punctuation, you don't need to use a period at the sentence final position. Also, you'd better not use a capital letter at the beginning of each line or at the first line. Use commas and dashes only when you really need them.
You can submit a group of tanka (10 -15 tanka with a title or no title), or individual tanka. I have opted to use blind-review, so our co-editor(s) will make a preliminary selection of submitted tanka (author's name removed), then I will make a final decision. Please send your unpublished and original tanka with a brief biographical note (and a photo if available) by email to me at [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]. The subject line should be Simply Haiku Tanka. I'm really looking forward to reading your tanka.
Kozue Uzawa is a tanka poet, editor, translator, educator, and researcher (in second language learning). Originally from Japan, she lives in Canada, and writes tanka in both Japanese and English. Her home page: http://people.uleth.ca/~uzawa/
Copyright 2007: Simply Haiku