John Mackenzie on Tanka, False Starts and The Writing Process

Some thoughtful words on what makes tanka so beautiful and difficult from John Mackenzie.

Mumbling Jack

I’ve been obsessed with writing tankas lately and an email discussion with my friend Jill has gotten me thinking about why, and about my approach, my process. It’s the constraints of the form that draw me. Tankas are not easy to write, much more difficult than they appear at first glance. And, for me, they usually involve a number of false starts* before I figure out how to put ’em together.

*Below you’ll find some of the false starts I’ve made recently and links to the three tankas I ended up with.

The overt constraint is the effort to fit something coherent, consistent, and worthwhile in so small a space. This forces a paring down of word and image which leads to a spareness and starkness for which I feel a great affinity in both reading and writing.

Other constraints are the personal efforts to use in the tankas I…

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