Tanka Talking, Cherita Cherishing – show don’t tell

As a writer, being part of a writing group of some description is vital. Within that environment we learn, sometimes simply by absorption or the process of osmosis. Listening to the speaker holding a session, exchanging thoughts with the person either side of you, or watching reactions, the way a face rearranges itself to show emotion when someone is reading a piece is a contribution to the writer’s education.

Actively seeking like-minded people is an important part of the growth process. I write contemporary drama and romance and I write poetry. And more specifically I dabble in Japanese poetry. This came about because I understood I needed to condense my thoughts when committing them to paper. To my surprise and pleasure, this beautiful form of art has done  much to improve my writing in general, including blogging. Whilst I agree writing is a solitary process, improving is not. Finding the best method to better your writing is not just a case of handing over to an editor. A writer also needs to take improving on as a daily task in whatever manner works for them.

Haiku, tanka, and haibun are extremely disciplined forms. I am a very undisciplined person. My mind sees constant overviews and often fails to see the small details. The result is I may know what I am talking about but do others? These forms require the poet to condense size and language – to say more with less, to be precise. Although novel and non-fiction are more generous with their word count, their performance and thus connection for the reader improves when the writer says more with less. Concentration is enhanced and so is understanding. Word choice allows us to show through word choice rather than tell by word count. Show don’t tell – writer’s bane.

Hence my increasing fascination with Japanese poetry, and in particular the tanka, and the cherita. A relative to the haiku, the tanka is a Japanese five-line lyric poem. I love it because the increase in syllables gives me more room to move but the limits still stand. They survive because the intensity in the expression of emotions is alive and kicking. Playing with implications, barely whispered suggestions and managing intimacy is a challenge to the literary mind.

Tanka talking

baby powder sweet

and midnight feedings call –

creatures of the night

approach with stealth and cunning

and suck your blood

Emotions in Existence and The Emotions Anthology Box Set

The cherita has its own form of magic and it delights in telling a tale with a little more leeway. In fact, cherita is the Malay word for story or tale. The form itself consists of a single stanza verse, followed by a two-line verse, and lastly finishing with a three-line verse, or not. The poet may choose the order if they wish for it is the manipulation of the stanza lines that creates the tension and the twist in the tale. A cherita is presented centred, with line lengths at the discretion of the poet and like the tanka, untitled.

Cherita cherishing

The two I have chosen below can stand alone or together continue the tale. The reader decides.

The soft breeze surprises

Floats and tickles


Delicate branches dance

As scattered leaves blanket

The ground sighing in relief


A finger flicks a switch – the breathing stops

Joy is tinged in sorrow profound

as musical notes tinkle softly, solemnly

followed by the swish of fabric


Spiritual strength in the lift of arms

and in the long silent walk


The pallbearers look straight ahead.

Emotions in Existence and The Emotions Anthology Box Set

There is always a delicious twist in the lines of both a tanka and cherita that allows the reader to apply meanings specific to them particularly since titles don’t exist (although they can if the poet deems it necessary). Consequently, an application to our own lives is possible. Of course, there is a lot more to Japanese poetry but that is for another post or one that has gone. The trick however is applying what I learn to the genre I write in. It needs more than five lines, and it doesn’t need to be shaped or the reader may get lost in the process. Small scream.

For now, I am wondering what you think of these two forms. They are tools in my educational journey. Do you have your own way to increase your understanding of the demands made on a writer by engaging in writing? Gosh, that last sentence was a mouthful, but do you know what I mean? Feel free to share your thoughts. After all, I just did.

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See you next time



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  1. This is a very interesting and well put explanation of this writing style. You reminded me of my past studies and work in filmmaking. The biggest difference in a performance by the actors that is very important to keep in mind with their performances in film work versus being on stage, is that in the film more often than not “less is more.”

  2. I like Haikus, but I like the original tradition of writing it about nature and the seasons. I think I remember reading that one requirement was that it was supposed to be about change, specifically. I don’t like free verse poems, because I think it requires less creativity. I like the forms, and like you said– saying more with less.

    • I do know what you mean but everything moves forward and what is happening in this traditional form has a lot of merit. I have been fortunate enough to be published in some journals and am astounded at some of the beautiful work I read and the cleverness of adaptation. Thank you for stopping by.

  3. Hey! I found the idea that learning to express yourself in a condensced, disciplined way has helped your writing at large. I’ll have to give it a go. My favourite line? “Whilst I agree writing is a solitary process, improving is not.” (Go writing groups)!!!!

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