Hainka (Haiku and Tanka): A New Genre of Poetic Form

I feel poetry is a way of planting or rejuvenating new trees from the aesthetic old seeds, thus the poetic endeavor of experimentation and newness. I had coined the idea, precisely on the day 21st March 2016, of the fusion version of ‘haiku and tanka.’ Later the linking and repetition of the ‘fragment’ of the haiku as the ‘pivot line’ (kakekatoba) of the following tanka and its literary relevance have been conceived in the evolvement of this new genre, hainka.

The new form of poetry was well appreciated by Hedonori Hiruta, Jim Kacian, Garry Eaton, Ion storr, Mohammad Helmi Al-Rishah, Susan Weaver, and many eminent literary persons. Some of the hainka have been translated into Arabic (published in Algerian newspaper, Middle Maghreb, 2020) and Japanese (published in Akita Haikuist Network, 2021) languages.

Unlike the continuous linked form as seen in renga, hainka is proposed as a single and independent genre of its own. Instead of linking a haiku with tanka on the qualitative term, the synthesis in hainka is based on the image linking (the ‘fragment’ of haiku acting as the ‘pivot line’ of the following tanka). Garry Eaton while introducing my new form of poetry about the new genre quotes it as an interesting form of sharing of single image or line while assimilating a haiku and a tanka.


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Hainka poetry explores nature, human aspects like love, emotion, etc. Overall hainka needs to portray a broader manifestation of coherency of the images juxtaposition keeping in view the aspect of ‘link and shift’ within the framework of the combined poem. Interestingly a formal ‘hainka’ is characterized by total count of 48 syllables (5-7-5, 5-7-5-7-7) which is identical to one of the major ancient Indian Vedic poetic meters, ‘Jagati,’ characterized by a total of 48 syllables in each stanza. The linked verse, hainka can be written independent of syllable count of short/long/short /long/long (s/l/s, s/l/s/l/l form) like contemporary haiku and tanka writing. The poem can composed either by the poet himself or in collaboration—haiku by a poet and tanka by another poet.

I wish to briefly narrate the background of Japanese short forms of poetry, genetic linkage, the structural framework for a better understanding of the new genre, ‘Hainka’.

Historical Perspective of Japanese Short Form Poetry

Japanese literature is largely influenced by Chinese literature during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in China. Waka or uta (song in Chinese) originated in the seventh century AD in Japan and was later known as tanka (five-line poem). The waka was written on seasonal subjects (kidai). The schemata or morae (sound units) follow 5-7-5-7-7 (known as ‘sanjuichi,’ the Japanese word for ‘31’). The waka (wa means ‘Japanese,’ ka means ‘poem’) remained as the neoclassical Japanese literature. The original structure was in the form of 5-7, 5-7, 7 and subsequently, it became 5-7, 5-7-7 during the Man’yo period.

Towards the end of the 12th century, slowly the 5/7/5/7/7 (waka) format had been modified by dividing it into 5/7/5 and 7/7. By the 14th century, this took shape of renga written in sequence by the participating poets. In the 16th century the opening stanza (starting verse; 5-7-5, go schichi go) of renga was named as hokku characterized by a kigo (seasonal word) and a kireji (cutting word), and the last two-line (second verse) as ‘wakiku.

Renga is the Japanese collaborative linked verse and its later derivative is known as renku (haikai no renga). Haikai, a type of renga poetry, consists of at least 100 verses with alternating stanzas, or ku, of 5-7-5 and 7-7 mora (sound unit) per line and are linked in succession by the poets. Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) was the pioneer of writing classical “hokku” and he had rendered aesthetic values to the verse writing. Later Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) named “hokku” as “haiku” (ha-i-ku, 3-sound in Japanese), independent of the haikai-no-renga (renku), at the end of the 19th century.

There has been an urge for literary renewal of the style and content of poetry. Shasei (“sketch from life”) movement was stirred by Masaoka Shiki. Later waka was widely known as tanka, a five-line short song named by Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). In Japanese, tan means ‘short’ and ka means ‘song.’ The Tibetan origin of tanka means: ‘image, painting’ (t’áṅ-ka). By employing Japanese aesthetic qualities such as wabi-sabi, yūgen, aware, and makoto, tanka evokes a sphere of emotion without sentimentality.

Haiku: Fragment and Phrase

The Japanese haiku comprises three sections namely kami go (the top five-section), naka shichi (the middle seven-section), and shimo go (the lower five-section). Haiku consists of 17 ‘on’ or ‘morae’ (sound units), written in Japanese in a vertical single line (top to bottom) and in English it is written in the pattern of short/long/short.

The art of haiku writing (non-rhymed) is a way of imaging nature (kocho-fuei), and exploring human feeling and awareness. Generally, the strict syllable style is not followed in English and it is written in the form of short/long/short lines, all in lower case. Jane Reichhold discussed the fragment and phrase theory of haiku. It comprises two images or thoughts in the form of ‘fragment’ (Line 1) and ‘phrase’ (Lines 2 and 3) and they juxtapose each other either as association or contrast. The fragment could also be expressed in the third line. At times, in haiku, Line 2 becomes a common or bridging line to Line 1 as well as Line 3 in constituting the ‘phrase,’ and here the fragment could be interchanged (either, Line 1 or Line 3).

The art of juxtaposition (renso) is an exploration of reasoning and logic. Between fragment and phrase, there lies a surrealistic silence in the form of pause (kireji) that bridges (syntactic pivot) the two images by facilitating a “leap.” This infers a break and it is represented in English as a dash or ellipses. In haiku the significant component is the contained space ‘ma.’ Alan Summers opines that the essential component of haiku is not said in text but is inherited in the form of whitespace, ‘ma’ in between the images.

Tanka and Pivot Line

Tanka (small song) is a non-rhymed poem consisting of 5 lines as short, long, short, long, long syllable count/ rhythm in the English language. Generally, syllable counting is preferred between 21 and 31. Each line is an independent poetic expression and tanka as a whole is a lyric verse. Tanka is divided into two strophes. The first three lines (5-7-5) of tanka are known as kami-no-ku and the last two lines (7-7) as shimo-no-ku. Sometimes there is a rare composition of three strophes.

The upper strophe is generally related to nature and the lower strophe is related to human aspects. Tanka is more subjective in contrast to haiku which is objective in nature. The art of interrelationship (sort of juxtaposition) between the upper and lower parts with a twist makes a tanka different from the conventional five-line free verse. The twist (known as the swing line, zeugma or pivot line, kakekatoba) is the main characteristic of “link and shift,” which distinguishes tanka from the other form of poetry.

Tanka is characterized by one break that occurs either in the first, second, third, or fourth line. The break can be indicated by a punctuation mark (en dash, em dash, ellipsis), or it can be implied by having no punctuation. The ‘pivot line’ in tanka is commonly preferred as Line-3 (3/2 arrangement as opined by Sanford Goldstein), and it elucidates the art of link and shift by bridging the upper strophe and the lower strophe of tanka.

Hainka: Assimilation of Haiku and Tanka

Haruo Shirane in his article expressed, “One of the ideals that Basho espoused toward the end of his life was that of the ‘unchanging and the ever-changing’ (fueki ryuko). The ‘unchanging’ implied the need to seek the ‘truth of poetic art’ (fuga no makoto), particularly in the poetic and spiritual tradition, to engage in the vertical axis, while the ‘ever changing’ referred to the need for constant change and renewal, the source of which was ultimately to be found in everyday life, in the horizontal axis.”

The 17-syllable haiku is the shortest form of poetry, and the 31-syllable tanka is probably the second shortest format of verse. Precisely the new form of poetry, hainka, is an assimilation of objective sensitivity of haiku with the more subjective oriented of tanka poetry. The synthesis in hainka is based on the image linking (the ‘fragment’ of haiku acting as the ‘pivot line’ of the following tanka) to explore and interweave human nature, love, emotion, humor in a broader sense by juxtaposition of the imageries.

It is also interesting to see the syllabic coherency between the ‘fragment’ (5-syllable words) with the 5-syllable words of the ‘pivot line’ of tanka. The final structural configuration would be 5/7/5/5/7/5/7/7 (s/l/s/s/l/s/l/l) with the significance of the image linking. A breathing gap (swinging space) is preferred between the haiku and tanka for the reader to imagine and experience the essence of poetry.

This image-linking across time and space is the art of painting an integrated poetic expression and exhibiting the fervent elucidation of hainka writing. Moreover, it retains its focus on the beauty of genetic image-linking to explore the poetic spell within the broader structural framework of the aesthetic essence and rhythms of Japanese short forms of poetry. Echoing the spirit of Basho’s ‘atarashimi’ (newness), I wish that the new verse will entwine the art of gratitude encompassing nature, living beings, non-living beings, and humanity as a whole.

Hainka Example Poems

I have experimented the following ‘hainka,’ the new form of poetry, for poet lovers. For convenience, the fragment and the pivot line are denoted in italic:

melting snow
sharing warmth
each other

under sunshine
kids clap together
melting snow
unfolding the secret
gathers smiles on smiles

**** **** ****

cloud patches
a mole on the moon
and on her face

gust of breeze
unlocks her braided hair
cloud patches
descend as achromatic drops
erasing her floating thoughts

**** **** ****

a spider web
between the dry twigs
dripping icicles

of painful separation
dripping icicles
pour streams of grief
from her swelled eyes

**** **** ****

rock exposure
the music of waves
rhymes on its edge

cloud sails
over the hillocks
rock exposure
gathers streams of hope
rinsing the scars of dryness

**** **** ****

mountain peaks
the clouds so close
in my dream

migratory birds
on an ever long streak
mountain peaks
standing silently record
the footprints of their journey

**** **** ****

stormy ripples
the boatman stares up
at the sky

disappears like rainbow
stormy ripples
he holds tightly
against the pouring rain

**** **** ****
a glance
from aboard
the early sun

fast enough
moving eastward
the early sun
I meet on the way
leaving starlit sky behind

**** **** ****

winter morning
the bud tries to unfold
its desire

arduous journey
through the barren land
winter morning
carries faint fragrance
of the caged petals

**** **** ****

a fish
jumps up and down–
ripple follows ripple

full moon
behind the swinging leaves
at midnight sky
ripple follows ripple
the joy of becoming a mother

**** **** ****

a circular path…
walking around the garden
again marigold plants

in the muse of repetition
a circular path…
child writes in cursives
Mummy practiced long back

**** **** ****

your poetry
I set to the muse
of rainbow colours

so cherished
aroma to the flowers…
your poetry
tunes my prose of life
the pages of our love anthology

**** **** ****

far from the earth
the Gale crater of Mars
with layers of hope

red ball
in the clear dark sky
far from the earth
man dreams to travel to his
ancestor’s bluish homeland

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