Friday, February 2, 2018

Poetry Friday: The Poet, as seen by a squirrel (a tanka)

February is the shortest month, so it's fitting our poetry task is on the short side, too.  The tanka is a thirty-one syllable unrhymed poem, traditionally written (in Japanese) as one, unbroken line.

In English, however, it's usually divided into five lines. The first three lines are patterned by syllable count like a haiku---5-7-5---and the last two lines are a "couplet" of sorts----a 7-7 syllable pair.  In addition, the tanka should have a "turn"---or an image that bridges the two parts.  Quite a lot to pack into one poem!

And yet....there's more.  This month, each of the Poetry Sisters is responding to one of the other sister's poems from January. I've been given the lovely task of responding to Liz, who wrote a clever curtal sonnet about squirrels called "Kin and Plot."  You can read it here.   Hooray!

I love Liz's idea that in the face of frustration, we sometimes

"toss caution ‘cross the lawn and to the sky:
take what you need, take all that we have got!"

and yet...I can't help thinking that those squirrels would take our words, too, if they knew how much we writers hoarded them, and scrabbled for them, and spent our lives chasing them.

Thus, a tanka from the perspective of a squirrel encouraging a poet at work:

Oh, word-stuffed poet
on a limb. You weigh nothing—
chitter and chime! Leap
then! the glass world sways, may yet
break, and enter into verse.

      ----Sara Lewis Holmes (all rights reserved)

Here are the other tanka responses:

Liz, writing to Tricia's poem (and steady breath)
Tanita, writing to Kelly's poem (and her cat, Kismet)
Tricia, writing to Laura's poem (and warm horses)
Laura, writing to Tanita's poem (and two-sided truth)
Kelly, writing to my poem (and cauliflower words)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Mainely Write.


  1. I never get the turn right, but you nailed this. I love the transition from squirrel to poet. Leap then, indeed! Nicely done.

  2. Thanks, Tricia. The turn is tricky, and I usually have to wait until the very last tweaks to the poem to get it right.

  3. Appreciations for the furry imp who loves red-covered literature.
    And more appreciations for the tanka lesson & deft demonstration, much fun to digest, it lures me away from keyboard to notepad. Brava.

  4. Hah - we are nothing but weightless "chitter and chime." What a lovely way of describing Liz as a poet. That squirrel has a way with words... This really works.

  5. I am SO IN LOVE WITH THIS. Actually, with all of these poetic conversations. But I'm of course especially taken with this one -- and the fact that I just gave them sunflower seeds but you gave them a whole poem!! xoxo

  6. An absolutely stunning Tanka. The idea of being full but weighing nothing...and breaking into verse. That is gorgeous. Wow.

  7. Oh my god. That image--a glass globe/birdfeeder shattering into a million poems. Yes.

  8. The "word-stuffed poet" who "weigh(s) nothing" is wonderful!

  9. "word-stuffed poet" - I absolutely love that! :)


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