2. Set syllable count. From 19 to 31 English syllables are permissible.
3. The syllabic length of lines is set, which creates the traditional rhythm.
A. A short/long/short/long/long syllabic pattern is ideal.
B. Syllable counts may vary from a maximum of 5/7/5/7/7 down to a minimum of 3/5/3/5/5, ideally; but some flexibility within the s/l/s/l/l pattern is acceptable, e.g., 4/6/3/5/6 or 3/5/4/5/7, etc.
4. Diction: Use natural English phrasing on each line with no (or very minimal) enjambment. Do not end a line with a or the; avoid ending a line with a preposition. Ideally, each line is one poetic utterance ending with a caesura; this is often referred to as “five phrases on five lines.”
5. Japanese tanka build and build. They do not fall away like some English poetic utterances. The 5th line of a traditional tanka is the most important and significant line. Therefore that 5th line should ideally be at least as long as the 2nd and/or 4th lines. Sometimes the 5th line can be syllabically a little shorter than line 2 or 4, providing it is a strong line in meaning and/or utterance, or continues in the reader’s mind, e.g., with an ellipsis (e.g., “so she waited …” might be okay, in the context of the rest of the tanka). A one or two syllable 5th line not permissible.
6. A certain amount of ambiguity/dreaming room/ma can be a desirable quality but complete obscurity is not desirable.
7. The content/theme/subject is wide-open, but tanka is lyric verse and should not be didactic. For example, a “polemic tanka” is self-contradictory.
This definition is Copyright © 2009 by Amelia Fielden (Australia), Denis M. Garrison (USA), and Robert D. Wilson (The Philippines). Reprinting and publication of this definition, with proper attribution, is expressly permitted by the copyright-holders. Further permission requests are not required.
Traditionally there is a minimal use of punctuation, with no use of full stops/periods and capitalization is only used for place/personal names and the word 'I'.
For some excellent contemporary examples take a look the tanka section of the online magazine Simply Haiku:
Available collections of Japanese tanka in english translation include:
A little bit of Turkish: Japonya (Japan) Konuşmak (To Speak)
Japonca konuşabiliyor musunuz?
Do you speak Japanese?