Tanka, Somonka or Renga?

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.

Unsolved mystery,

bones scattered and lost in time.

Your secrets gone forever.

Vivien Teasdale 2021

3 thoughts on “Tanka, Somonka or Renga?

Add yours

  1. Hi I’ve been receiving emails from you for a while but haven’t made contact otherwise. Now, like many, I find I have more time and might like to write again. What arrangements do you have at the moment? Best wishes Lucy

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  2. Good morning Lucy, at the moment the group meets via Zoom twice a month for readings, workshops and general chitchat. If you would like to get in touch and find out how you can join, please use the Contact Us form (at right tab at the top) and well setup a meeting 🙂 Hope to hear from you, Sophie A.

  3. A very insightful post about lesser-known forms of Japanese poetry. Quite timely too, considering the romance element. I wonder how many people will give Somonka a go this Valentine’s Day? Thanks for this, Vivien.

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