Some Tanka


I can no longer
tell my dreams from plodding life.
Which world shall I wake?
Will it be within your arms,
bewildered by last night’s lust?

The act of writing
is a powerful gesture.
Women who write poems
weave tapestries of wisdom
and form up lives that endure.

This is the problem!
Never give your precious life
into a man’s hand.
Plant your roots in deep water.
Don’t let sweet whispers seduce.

In the beginning
I offered my heart to you.
You held it lightly.
Unseen, it fell in the dirt,
made bitter by its journey.

The wind bullies chimes.
What ghost would dare come near me!
I could strike a match
and set these dark rooms ablaze.
More than one would die tonight.

In my heart’s black depth

I kept our secret smothered

although today I suffered

the usual pangs

needing to hear it aloud.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010

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4 Responses to “Some Tanka”

  1. Berowne Says:

    A quick scan suggests that you adhere pretty closely to the Japanese 5-7-5-7-7 syllable/mora formalism of classical tanka; but perhaps, in English, a less literal rendering of the form might allow you greater freedom of expression? The top winner of last year’s tanka competition ( is in the form 2-4-7-5-7. The judges’ comments on it and the others are worth reading even if one doesn’t agree with all of them.

    I like the blunt Miltonic monosyllables of “heart’s black depths” and the following sibilance of “secret smothered, suffered, usual”. If you could harness that sibilance to convey a feeling as Auden did in “Seascape” (“Stand stable here / And silent be / That through the channels of the ear / May wander like a river / The swaying sound of the sea”) it would be even more effective.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Oyi~! You expect toooo much, Berowne.

    Leave off, MacDuff…..I am just easing myself into tanka form. I do believe it takes a mindset: you have much to do here: count, for one. LOL!

    And for this woman,….well, counting is really a severe discipline. I don’t measure anything except by hand (pouring flour, sugar, etc. in the hand) or by eye…..(tragic what happened to the baseboards).

    Then there is an eye…or thought actually to the weighty issue of theme….and all the inners.

    I believe tanka is something you grow into. It’s been a slow process for me so far.

    As to the Miltonic monosyllables you like,…this tanka has a very different approach in a way. The first 3 lines are more ‘airy’? And the last two, 7-7, … more pragmatic?

    Tanka has the lovely ability to be conversation. The ‘voice’ can show inflection, and a range of emotions. I think all these aspects were why in Japan, even today, tanka is so popular.

    These are very early (1-2 years) of tanka, but I am thinking it is good to first compose within the formal line count. That teaches something, probably a bit like those challenging ‘flashers’ of 200 words.

    Then, of course, all the other stuff….

    But more importantly, thank you, Berowne, for reading and commenting.

    Checked out that website, and it’s very good. Will take a longer look later. Tanka, again!

    Lady Nyo


  3. Berowne Says:

    > Oyi~! You expect toooo much, Berowne

    Your reach should exceed your grasp, Jane; think of it as a challenge, a gauntlet thrown down for the 2010 contest. “And in this corner, in the purple trunks…”

    P.S. Not sure I see “heart’s black depths … secret smothered” as “airy”; more the opposite.


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Purple trunks???!!!! I’m not THAT old yet!


    oh….I see what you mean….I meant something….more metaphorical?….vaporous?

    The last two lines seem nuts and bolts.


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