Behemoth’s Breath: No. 1 Tanka poem

What is a Tanka poem?

Tanka is one of the oldest form of Japanese poetry from the 8th century. In the original traditional Japanese form, Tanka is a one-line poem. Contemporary Tanka has five lines (5,7,5,7,7,) with 31 syllables, whereas the similar Haiku poem has only three lines with 17 syllables (5,7,5,) to it. The Tanka first three lines are the “upper phrase” and the lower lines the “lower phrase” (in my words) Act One and Act Two!
You write it in the present tense and about nature, love, and the seasons. Tanka poetry is untitled. I call mine Behemoth’s Breath for convenience. If giving it a title is against the rules, can I call it Tanka No. 1 as this is my first attempt at this beautiful Japanese poetry form?

The Poetry Challenge

Jaideep Khanduja is this week’s poet of the week for W3 Poetry Prompt #40. The poetry challenge is to write a Tanka poem personifying the beauty and complexes of a city. The poem must also include the phrase “concrete jungle”.

A Behemoth’s Breath | Photo: Lesley Scoble

Tanka No. 1
A concrete jungle
Grows o’er cobbled valley
where I stand and view
rock doves fly in narrow skies
through clouds of behemoths’ breaths

Tanka No. 1.  Lesley Scoble February 2023
Large Concrete Structure | Photo: Lesley Scoble

A Glass Jungle

I and my family live in the City of London and enjoy meandering through the ancient alleyways that still exist. In my poem, I refer to the alley as a cobbled valley with a concrete jungle growing up around it. In reality, these days the modern jungle of London is a glass jungle. The buildings are getting taller and most appear to have a grey-green glass façade. The old alleys are in shade, cast in permanent shadow from the looming edifices above them. When I look up, I see feral pigeons fly in the narrowing skies. Are they are seeking an impossible roost in the sheer glassy cliffs of modern London? They are the descendants of the rock doves that live on high rocky cliffs.

Glass Jungle | Photo: Lesley Scoble

Thank you Jaideep Khanduja and David W3 Poetry Prompt #40 for this tanka of a challenge. I enjoyed it very much.


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