Tanka prose

Tanka prose is a type of prosimetrum, a literary form that combines the two modes of writing, verse and prose, in a single composition. One may distinguish it from other varieties of prosimetrum by its preference for tanka as the verse form that it employs. Tanka is a short poem consisting of five lines in the pattern 5-7-5-7-7 that originated in ancient Japan. The term “tanka prose,” therefore, may be understood to refer to a prose composition, written “in the spirit of tanka,” that also incorporates one or more tanka. Modern writers of tanka in English created this form of literature, partly inspired by the many examples of classical Japanese prose-plus-verse writings, such as The Tale of Genji or the .
Due to the uncertain classification of many of these Japanese writings on their home turf and to the circumstance that writers of tanka in English, while modeling some compositions on Japanese originals, have not hesitated to introduce new forms of prose-plus-tanka without Japanese precedent, Japanese academic distinctions between monogatari and nikki can be said to be of less import for English-language poets than has been their conviction that the presence of prose and tanka in a single composition is the common denominator shared by all of these works.
Tanka prose, in its many varied forms, is built upon one common basic unit of composition (one paragraph, one tanka); variation in the number and placement of tanka in relation to the prose is widespread in today’s practice of the tanka prose genre. The basic unit of one paragraph of prose plus one tanka is a very common form while inversion of that unit (one tanka followed by one paragraph of prose) is a frequent variation. Another common form of tanka prose is the verse envelope—tanka, prose, tanka. Many other forms are in use, most generated by inversion or compounding of the basic unit of one paragraph, one tanka. These variations in number and placement of tanka are not without effect upon the flavor and character of the individual tanka prose work.
Tanka prose is still in its nascent form. Early examples, like Florida Watts Smyth’s “Festival of Spring” (1959) and Sanford Goldstein’s “Tanka Walk” (1983), are sporadic and vary widely in style and content. Jane Reichhold, Larry Kimmel, and Linda Jeannette Ward are some notable tanka poets who adopted tanka prose in the 1990s. Contemporary practitioners include Gary LeBel, Ingrid Kunschke, Bob Lucky, and Patricia Prime. Online journals where new examples of the genre appear with some regularity include Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose, Haibun Today, Modern English Tanka and Atlas Poetica. Tanka prose is also included in the annual anthology series, Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka (MET Press, 2009-2012).
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