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Tanka in Need of Direction

posted Dec 15, 2012, 12:53 AM by Michael Dylan Welch
It has been a while since I added content to this website relating to tanka. New to the Essays page, and linked to from the Tanka page, is “Directions in Tanka.” This is an old and rather long essay of mine on definitions of tanka, its distinctions from haiku, notions of poetic honesty, and the vagaries of self publishing. This essay was never published before appearing here, most likely because of its length. I first wrote this essay in early 1994, around the time I published Footsteps in the Fog, which I believe to be the first English-language tanka anthology (it was followed a few months later by Wind Five Folded from AHA Books). At the time, tanka was not yet widely embraced, but quite a few haiku poets did nevertheless write tanka. I revised this essay throughout 1994, again in 1995, and again in 1997, during which time the first-ever tanka journal, Five Lines Down, came and went (the earliest draft of this essay referred to the journal in future tense). These were formative days for tanka, and while several years earlier, in one of my notebooks, I had already made a note to myself that there ought to be a Tanka Society of America, it was not until the year 2000 that I finally made that happen. Back in 1994, for many poets tanka didn’t yet have much direction, and I only wish this essay might have been published then, if only to hasten tanka’s maturity and to help it find better direction, if I should be so bold as to suggest that it might have helped.