The following description is reposted with permission from Poetry Magnum Opus, with thanks to Judi Van Gorder for years of work on this fine resource.
The Somonka, is a Japanese verse form that takes the frame of 2 tankas and carries a central theme of love. From that point there are differences of opinion in the scope of the subject and in how many poets are involved. The earliest Somonkas can be found as far back as the Man’yôshû, 1st century AD. They were the exchange of romantic poems between court lovers. Viola Berg’s Pathways For a Poet-1973 refers to the Somonka as the Rengo.
The Somonka can be simply an exchange of romantic love poems. But there are other Somonkas in which the exchange expresses all types of love; love between friends, sisters, parent and child etc. All sources suggest the first tanka should be a statement of love and the second a response to that statement. “Love” has also been broadened to “What does the world need?” by students in LA California who joined with a group of students in Africa’s Kenya. In their project, each student wrote a statement tanka and exchanged it with a student from the other country for response.
Although the Somanka is most commonly found written by 2 poets, there are Somonkas written by a single poet.
The elements of the Somonka are:
- a poem in 10 lines, made up of 2 tankas.
- syllabic, 5-7-5-7-7 5-7-5-7-7 syllables per line.
- composed in the form of statement-response,
- often written by 2 poets, one writing the statement the other the response but a single poet can write both parts.
- built around the theme of love.
The following description and example are reposted with permission from Writer’s Digest, with thanks to Robert Lee Brewer
The somonka is a Japanese form. In fact, it’s basically two tankas written as two love letters to each other (one tanka per love letter). This form usually demands two authors, but it is possible to have a poet take on two personas.
Here’s an example somonka:
“Sugar,” by Robert Lee Brewer
I’m waiting to die;
I think it will happen soon–
this morning, I saw
two bright hummingbirds battling
over some sugar water.
I know; I was there.
I chased after them for you
until thirst stopped me.
Fetch me some water. I have
a little sugar for you.