The somonka is a Japanese poetry form, derived from Chinese poetry, which became popular in courtly life over a thousand years ago.
It began as a form of love poetry, sending messages or greetings to each other. One would write the first stanza, the other would write a response to it. Nowadays, one poet can write both stanzas using different ‘voices’. The theme of love has also been enlarged to its widest emotional sense and can encompass love of animals, pets, environment, even an inanimate object or the world and so on.
But there are rules:
1) Each of the two stanzas has a syllabic form of 5, 7, 5, 7, 7, making 10 lines in all
2) The first stanza makes a statement
3) The second stanza makes a response to that statement
4) The theme is ‘love’
5) The poem is unrhymed
6) The poem has a title
Often the second stanza not only reflects the thoughts and emotions of the first, but may use same or similar words in some of the lines. First and last lines sometimes ‘mirror’ each other, to encapsulate the emotion raised.
So is it a tanka, somonka or renga? Well, it’s a bit of all of them. Each stanza is in the form of a tanka (another Japanese poetry form). The somonka uses a two-tanka format. A renga uses anything from two to almost unlimited tankas and is often done by groups, each adding a tanka to keep the correspondence going.
Have a go and see what you can come up with!
I thought this the end.
At rest. Love’s mysteries gone,
My secret love lost,
back to earth and ash and dust.
Under my heart forever.
Cradled in my hand
your faces take shape once more.
bones scattered and lost in time.
Your secrets gone forever.
Vivien Teasdale 2021