Some of you will know that I am the new haibun* editor at Simply Haiku, an online Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry, and in honour of the latest issue this prompt will ask you to work with a minimum amount of words, and a limited amount of poetic tools.
The following poem is a tanka by Dave Bacharach**:
empty flower pots
stacked upside down
inside each other
we wonder why
the kids don’t call
Tanka traditionally have five lines with some kind of ‘break’ in the poem, often around the middle. They don’t have titles, and adopt a similar approach in their construction to haiku, in that the economy of the form demands that every word counts.
What I admire about this tanka is how the image in the first three lines, sets us up for the statement in the last two. The relationship between empty flower pots and wondering ‘why the kids don’t call’ is not explicit, but the poem immediately feels right to me. When I go back and unpick the image to find out why, I note:
1. the flower pots that presumably once held flowers make me think of the home and the children who used to live there
2. 'upside down’ is not the way a flower pot is meant to function, so something isn’t quite right here, or maybe it’s not the season for flowers now
3. there’s both a sadness and an intimacy suggested by the pots being ‘empty’ and stacked ‘inside each other’
I’m sure there are other observations to be extracted from this short poem too, and feel free to post your responses in the comments box.
While I‘m not going to ask you to write a tanka, as there’s far more that needs to be said about the particularities and possibilities of the form, I am going to challenge you to write a five line poem, some of which might end up being tanka:
Write an untitled, five line poem with each line being no longer than 5 words:
The first three lines should contain an expanded image.
The last two lines should contain a statement.
And it goes without saying that each part needs to inform the other.
Bon courage… as people keep saying to us here when they see how much work we have to do on the house!
*Haibun is a form that combines prose and haiku, with each part being autonomous, yet informing each other at the same time.
**Dave Bacharach is editor of Ribbons, a quarterly journal and the official publication of the Tanka Society of America