Tanka-to-go (A Poetry Game)

So, yesterday morning, sitting in my favorite coffee shop, I began unpacking my messenger bag of it’s contents…journals, poetry books, a book on Tibetan teachers, a folder of my poetry, a folder of articles on short-form poetry and Buddhist thoughts on poetry…you get the idea. This is usually the point at which my mind begins to scan the various options for, what I call, “the point in.” As I then decide on an entry point for the day’s work, I feel quietly excited and ready to work.

But, yesterday, as I began pulling notebooks and folders from my bag, I became more and more mentally/creatively overloaded, spinning with ideas for writing poetry, drawing and painting in my latest art journal, planning the creating and sewing of a new handbag, learning how to self-publish my poetry, working on my novel, reading about Tibetan teachers, putting together a chapbook of tanka…and on and on and on.

Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, I flashed back over thirty years to my teaching days (that would have been right about the time I was teaching seventh grade), and I was filled with the delight and excitement I always felt when I would get a simple idea for creating a poetry activity/game for my classes…one which would allow me to focus on my own poetry while at the same time teaching them how to write poetry. Remember, this was without technology…computers, ipad, iphone, printer, etc. My tools were paper and pen, scissors, tape, glue, and the copy machine (at school).

So…shoving everything else aside, I dug in my bag for the twelve little squares that I had left over from a project I had recently completed to give as a gift to a friend’s daughter. For some unknown reason (at the time), I had saved them in a little plastic bag, which I had tucked into the back pocket of my favorite messenger bag. Then, setting those aside, I decided to first write my own tanka.

I wrote for a while in my journal until I had a twelve word tanka that expressed how I feel about this short-poetry form. I wanted it to express how every tanka I write leads me to something about myself that is quite surprising…or, another way of saying it…writing tanka always helps me become a bit more aware of my own feelings, thoughts, desires, intentions, etc.

these short poems
lead me down
the winding path–
a fox!

Strangely, as I read the finished poem, I realized that I had just repeated what I had been trying to say in my last post…that poetry, more so than any other creative endeavor, is the pathWay I intuitively follow into an awareness of the present moment.  I was attempting in this tanka to also capture one specific moment.  Two years ago, as I sat at my desk working on a poem, I felt very calm and centered.  At that moment, I looked up and there, across the road, a red fox was trotting through my neighbor’s snowy yard!

So, now I had twelve words. Turning my twelve cards over, I wrote each word on a card. Then, extending the range a bit, I added the possibility of “lead” being written as leading or leads. I also decided the poets playing with the word cards would find it helpful if “winding” could also be used as wind (both definitions…noun and verb).

So, the rest is easy! For the next hour, I happily rearranged the cards in order to create as many five line tanka as I could…tanka that, for me, held meaning, surprises, insights, or simply fun word order. By the time I was ready to leave the coffee shop, I not only had eight new tanka, but I felt happily creative and deeply appreciative of all those wonderful students in my classes who gave me the opportunity to play, create, laugh, and generally have fun, all the while sharing the magic of poetry.

Enjoy a few of my tanka that I wrote by rearraging my 12 cards.  I’ve named this  game the Fox Tanka Game Edition.

the path–
only a fox
winding these short poems
leading me

a fox
leads me
down the path–
these short poems
only wind


The path?
only me (a fox)
these short poems
down wind

Have fun trying your own word cards.  Just
remember to create your own tanka (or any
type of poem) before you write the word
cards…or not!:)

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