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:

  1. a poem in 10 lines, made up of 2 tankas.
  2. syllabic, 5-7-5-7-7 5-7-5-7-7 syllables per line.
  3. composed in the form of statement-response,
  4. often written by 2 poets, one writing the statement the other the response but a single poet can write both parts.
  5. titled.
  6. unrhymed.
  7. 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.


The following description and example are reposted with permission from Poetry Magnum Opus, with thanks to Judi Van Gorder for years of work on that fine resource.

The Kouta 小唄 (little or short song) is a popular Japanese verse form of the Muromachi Period, 14th thru 16th century.  The lyrical song was resurrected as a Geisha song in the late 1800s and is still popular today. The form has several variations, though always short in only 4 lines a 5th line is sometimes is added.  The theme reflects ordinary life and often uses colloquialisms and onomatopoeia.  The most popular are love songs.  The elements of Kouta are:

  1. a poem in 4 lines. (an occasional 5th line may appear)
  2. a stand alone poem but often is accompanied by other Koutas with the same theme.
  3. syllabic, variable odd numbered syllable lengths, the most common patterns are written in lines of alternating 7-5-7-5 syllables or 7-7-7-5 syllables. 
  4. secular, personal, themes of ordinary life
  5. often includes onomatopoeia.

Three small sisters dressed alike
in pink polka dots on white.
Ribbons tie blonde pony tails,
“Smile girls, be polite.”

My Example

Form: Kouta


three old men sitting at the bar
grumbling ’bout the things that are
the good thing is they can’t go far
momma has the car

© Lawrencealot – February 13, 2015


Senryu is a Japanese syllabic verse that deals primarily with human nature and is often expressed through humor. It developed in the 18th century and is named after Karai Senryu who was a judge of comic verse contests. They were originally poems of the merchant class and often made fun of corrupt officials and professionals.

The official’s child—
How well he learns to open
and close his fist!
———- —anonymous

The focus of the modern Senryu can be just about anything as long as it has a human or humorous slant. Senryus are lively, often humorous and sometimes even vulgar.
The main characteristics of the Senryu are energy or liveliness in the focus and choice of words, humor as revealed in human nature and use of subjects such as relationships, family, professions, children and pets. It is written in the same frame as the haiku, 17 syllables or less, 2 units of imagary and 1 unit of enlightenment.

So if you are wondering if a 3 line, 17 syllable poem is Haiku or Senryu, you can pretty much place the serious poem in the Haiku column and the more human, humorous poems as the Senryu. (but there are humorous Haiku and serious Senryu, go figure..)

The Senryu is:
• a poem in 3 lines or less.
• syllabic, 17 syllables or less.
• commonly written in 3 lines but can be written in 2 lines and can be written with fewer syllables, never more.
○ L1 5 syllables describes image.
○ L2 7 syllables, adds conflicting image or expands first image
○ L3 5 syllables provides insight (the ah ha! moment)through a juxtaposed image.
• written as a natural human experience in language that is simple, humorous, sometimes bawdy or vulgar.
• presented with an energy or liveliness in the focus and choice of words
• often humorous
• written in the moment.
• an imagist poem (draws the humor from the image)
• untitled but can be #ed.

Some of my own senryu: —Judi Van Gorder

small child ignores call,
parent warns and begins count,
“Daddy, don’t say fwee.”

some roads meander
others flat out ask for speed
don’t forget your map

fire ignites within
flame mushrooms to the surface
autumn days

pelican’s head bobs
beak bulging with trigger fish,
shore’s stand-up comic

Pasted from Poetry Magnum Opus, with thanks to Judi Van Gorder for years of work on this fine PMO resource

My Example

Form: Senryu

dumpster diver digs
begs for change upon the street
lives a tax-free life

(c) Lawrencealot

Renga – Reference

Renga, Renku, or Haikai-no-renga is the linked poem discipline developed by Basho. It is a cooperative poem of many stanzas. Poets, (2 or more) gather to create a spontaneous poem of alternating 17 syllable (5-7-5), 14 syllable (7-7) stanzas. A popular form of Renga is written in 36 stanzas known as kasen renku. The custom dates back to 13th century Japan.

The poets in rotation take turns writing the stanzas. The poem begins with the hokku (5-7-5) recording when and where the gathering occurs, see below. The next stanza (7-7) is usually written by the host, in response to the subtle compliment suggested in the hokku. From there the stanzas are written in turn by the various members of the assembly in an alternating (5-7-5), (7-7) pattern. The poem is ended in a tanka (short poem) which combines 2 renga stanzas into 1. (5-7-5-7-7)

The renga or renku is not meant as a narrative, it doesn’t tell a sequential story. It is meant to move around, the stanzas should “link and shift” Bruce Ross, How to Haiku. The stanzas link in some subtle way to the previous stanza only, not the whole poem. The link can be through a word, a mood an idea set in the previous stanza. It “develops texture by shifting among several traditional topics without narrative progress” William Higgins, The Haiku Handbook.

The Renga or Renku is:
• syllabic. Alternating stanzas, usually of 5-7-5 and 7-7 syllables. (onji or sound symbol for which there is no exact translation in English, the closest we can come is syllable)
• a cooperative poem, written by 2 or more poets.
• spontaneous.
• composed with stanzas or verses that “link and shift”, it does not tell a sequential story. Can have over a 100 verses (hyakuin renku), but the most popular form is to end at 36 known as kasen renku. (nijuin =20 verses, hankasen = 18 verses, shishi = 16 verses, jusanbutsu = 13 verses & junicho or shisan = 12 verses
• structured with a beginning, middle and end. Hokku (starting verse), followed by linked verses, and ends with a Tanka (small poem).
• connected to the seasons. Although the hokku indicates the season in which the gathering occurs, somewhere within the renga, there should be verses referring to each of the seasons to create a complete circle.

The following isn’t a full renga but the stanzas are written by different poets and it gives you an idea of the pattern of stanzas and “link and shift”. 

shade of giant tree 
lacy shadows cool poets
summer parasol 
— jkt (hokku by guest poet) 

walk of friendship warms the feet
the head cooled by task at hand 
—jvg (host’s response, wakiku or side verse)

those who walked before 
never turned to look for us
but left their footprints
—fj (daisan, the third)

walk with a poet awhile
cool sand between tanned toes 

a walk in the woods 
putrescent trees on the ground 
life for small creatures
— mm

the smallest life is my life
I sit in stillness and write.
— jvg

perhaps a poet, 
summer, spring, winter, or fall, 
will abide with me. 
— cl

time ever moves without pause
a circle, new life to old

winter snow is back 
beginning new coverup 
to spring’s confusion 

crystal covers burrowed home
I snuggle under down quilt

Small gray rabbit melts 
prone into soft snow furrow 
I’m really not here 
— bh

the pocket of a soldier
carries my letter from home
— jkt

in God’s Name we war 
hate can grow in any season 
we feel no sorrow
— rab 

sorrow holds regret
for loss of what went before
loss of what did not
spring to winter, back to spring
circle of life, love and hate
— jvg (tanka)
• Hokku, (opening verse) is the introduction to the Renga or Renku, a communal poem. Poets gather to write a Renga, a kind of poem writing party. Usually as a compliment to the host, one of the guest poets writes the hokku. The purpose of the hokku is to record the logistics of the gathering, when (season, month and/or time of day) and where (natural setting) the renga or renku gathering occurred as a compliment to the host. This custom dates back to 13th century Japan. 

The hokku is the precursor of the stand alone, haiku that came into popularity a bit later. It is this hokku rule of time and place that was carried over into the later haiku which established naming a season with images of the environment as elements of the traditional haiku.

The hokku is:
○ syllabic, 17 syllables or less. (onji or sound symbol for which there is no exact translation in English, the closest we can come is syllable)
○ commonly written in 3 lines of 5-7-5 syllables.
○ names the season, month, and/or time of day as well as the location where the Renga gathering occurs. All of the above can be named through symbols of the season etc.
○ usually written by a guest poet.

If I were the guest poet writing a hokku in this time and place, (summer in Northern California) I could write a hokku something like,

shade of giant tree 
lacy shadows cool poets
summer parasol 
• Nijuin is a 20 stanza renga introduced by 20th century renga master Meiga Higashi. The form not only has the limited # of stanzas, it is the shortest of the rengas, but it also divides the poem into 3 sections. The first 4 stanzas begin in Spring, the next 12 travel through the seasons including love and moon verses and the last 4 stanzas end back in Spring.

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My thanks to Judi Van Gorder for years of work on this fine PMO resource.


Jisei is a poem written by the poet before their own death. These poems reflect the final reflections of one’s life. It was generally a tradition with zen monks but were written by poets as well. These poems originated in Japanese, Chinese and Korean cultures as far back as the 7th Century, and can be written in any poetry form, but were traditionally written in tanka or haiku style.

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Now this is one of the few poems, I am documenting, without providing an example of my own.

Instead I am providing a link to a well researched and enlightening column written by Marie Marshall, writing on Allpoetry as Mairi-bheag.–by-Mairi-bheag

Iroha Mokigusari

Iroha Mokigusari is a kind of Japanese Alphabet Poem. The Iroha Mokigusari takes the acrostic alphabet poem another step, beginning and ending each line with sequential letters of the alphabet The structure is flexible but usually will follow some form of the alternating 5-7 lines.

answers, terse and glib
cause reactions best unsaid
even off the cuff
growling, complaining too much
insensitive hadj
keening, sounding the death knell
mourning in the rain
objecting with a loud clap
quelling a mad war
stone silence defies combat
unwelcoming spiv
who prey on the opposite sex
yell NO! Take a whiz!

(I won’t even put my initials on this one. If you are laughing, you try it….) 

Pasted from
My thanks to Judi Van Gorder for years of work on this fine PMO resource.

Related forms: ABC PoemsAbecedariusAlliterated Alphabet Poem, Alphabeastiary, Iroha Mokigusari, Twenty-six letter, twenty-six words

My example

Mixed Results (Iroha Mokigusari)

Any chick looks chic
Dancing in evening attire
Friendly girls giggling,
Having pastrami
Just sliced by my robust cook,
Ladies on my arm
Nudging libido
Past the point I need a tranq.
Royalty arrives
Then there’s a snafu;
Victoria starts to show
Xeroxes of my
Zany friends light verse.

© Lawrencealot – September 3, 2014


Type: Structure, Metrical Requirement, Other Requirement
Description: Quintet in syllables 5-7-5-7-7. The first two lines treat one subject, the second two treat another, and the last line is a refrain or paraphrase. The first two lines are a dependent clause, while the last three are independent.
Origin: Japanese
Rhythm/Stanza Length: 5

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My thanks to Charles L. Weatherford for his years of work on the wonderful Poetrybase resource.


Researching, I found: that this is a general and ancient classification of Japanese poetry, where Wa means Japanese and Ka means poem. It differentiated poetry writing in their own language from that written in Chinese, which was the more formal method.

All of the following are then examples of Waka. But I shall persist
and write one specifically to the form indicated by Mr. Weatherford.


Name                     Form                 Note
Katauta                 5-7-7                 One half of an exchange of two poemThas; the shortest type of waka
Chōka                    5-7-5-7-5-7…5-7-7
Repetition of 5 and 7 on phrases, with a last phrase containing 7 on.
Mainly composed to commemorate public events, and often followed by ahanka or envoi.
Numerous chōka appear prominently in the Man’yōshū, but only 5 in the Kokinshū.
Tanka                  5-7-5-7-7         The most widely-composed type of waka throughout history
Sedōka                 5-7-7-5-7-7     Composed of two sets of 5-7-7 (similar to two katauta).
Frequently in the form of mondōka (問答歌 “dialogue poem”?)
or an exchange between lovers
Bussokusekika  5-7-5-7-7-7       A tanka with an extra phrase of 7 on added to the end
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Co-dependent? (Waka)

Men of power use
young women as their just due.
Groupies seek the light.
They will comply completely.
They’re quid quo pro dependent.

© Lawrencealot – August 30, 2014


The most intricate Japanese Poetry form is the Choka, or Long Poem.
The early form consisted of a series of Katuata joined together. This gives a choice of form structures of
5/7/5/5/7/7… etc.  or  5/7/7/5/7…etc
The Choka could be any total line length and indeed many exceeded 100 lines.
Looking at this, it is easy to see why Poetic Historians believe the Katuata is the original basic unit of Japanese poetry using either the 17 or 19 unit onji.
Another interpretation –
Structure, Metrical Requirement, Simple
The choka is a Japanese form of unrhymed alternating five and seven syllable lines that ends with an extra seven syllable line. It can be any odd number of lines.
A nine-line choka would be:xxxxx
The choka (長歌 long poem) was the epic, story telling form of Japanese poetry from the 1st to the 13th century, known as the Waka period. Storytelling was rare in the Japanese language during the Waka period although it is found in the Man’yôshû and even the Kokinshú. Most often the Japanese poet would write epics in classical Chinese. Still, the occasional poet with a story to tell would tackle the choka, the earliest of which can be traced back to the 1st century. It describes a battle and is 149 lines long.
Originally chokas were sung, but not in the Western sense of being sung. The oral tradition of the choka was to recite the words in a high pitch.
I always check this site for confirmation when cross-checking forms Judi Van Gorder has done a remarkable job for PMO.
Structure, Metrical Requirement, Simple
The choka is a Japanese form of unrhymed alternating five and seven syllable lines that ends with an extra seven syllable line. It can be any odd number of lines.
A nine-line choka would be:xxxxx
The most intricate Japanese Poetry form is the Choka, or Long Poem. 
The early form consisted of a series of Katuata joined together. This gives a choice of form structures of ….. 5 – 7 – 7 – 5 – 7 – 7.. etc, or .. 5 – 7 – 5 – 5 – 7 – 5.. etc.
The Moth 
there is no freedom
escaping from my cocoon
I must seek you once again
I am drawn to you
like a moth to a candle
circling nearer and nearer
the deadly flame calls
now my wings are scorched
why must my nature be so?
Specifications, Restated: 
Origin:                          :  Japanese
The form is syllabic : 5/7/7/5/7/7   or  5/7/5/5/7/5
Traditional style       : Stanzas consisting of any number of the above structures (called Katuata)
or  alternaively        : Alternating five and seven syllable lines that end with an extra 7 syllable line.
Meant for longer poems. 
I have written a one using the Katuata style.
Poem Sample
Above the Sun (choka) Katuata Version
setting out with you
in late summer’s rising sun
hastens Honchu’s heat
yet our packs hold coats
which hold nourishment for us
for cold nights ahead.
many foreigners
pass and are passed as we climb
the holy mountain;
all are of like mind-
to climb to Mount Fuji’s peak
for spiritual joy.
We begin our last
ascent early in the night-
cold now, velvet sky
lightens, bows to rising sun.
We watch from above, awed.
© Lawrencealot – November 23,2013
Visual Templates.
(with Thanks to Judi, I used her poem to depict the alternating line version)


Japanese poetry seems to be gaining greater and greater popularity with Western poets. The much abused Haiku of course has worn the brunt of this assault by everyone from first year poetry teachers and students, to Microsoft and office jokes, but serious poets recognise that this little poem is a truly remarkable art form. The Tanka is also gaining in popularity and rightly so and both of these forms will be dealt with later. Before dealing with these two forms however, there are two other Japanese forms which in my opinion should be discussed, and may interest poets looking for something different. The first form is called the Katuata, and the second the Choka.
The Katuata originally consisted of a poem consisting of 19 sound units or onji, (in the west we would describe this as having a syllable count of 19).
There was a break after the fifth and twelfth onji and this would give us a form structure of. 5 – 7 – 7.
Later poets also wrote using only 17 onji and this gave a form structure of 5 – 7 – 5.

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Thanks to the Poetsgarret!

• Katuata, (片歌, side poem or half poem) is emotive verse. Intuitive rather than logical; the katuata asks a sudden question or makes an emotional statement and then responds to it. This is a stand alone, 3 line poem, however it is often written as a side poem to the renga. This dates back to 8th century Japan found in the Manyõshú (the oldest collection of Japanese poetry)

Katuata is:
○ syllabic, 19 syllables or less.
○ usually a tercet. 5-7-7. This can also be reduced to a 5-7-5 syllable count if desired.
○ emotive not necessarily logical. 

lost in haze of doubt 
thoughts of you fog my vision 
will mist clear? in due season 
— Judi Van Gorder

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Thanks to Judi Van Gorder of PMO

Example Poem

wanting your embrace
wondering are you awake?
yes sweet I am now


Haibun (俳文?, literally, haikai writings) is a prosimetric literary form originating in Japan, combining prose and haiku.
haibun may record a scene, or a special moment, in a highly descriptive and objective manner or may occupy a wholly fictional or dream-like space.[citation needed] The accompanying haiku may have a direct or subtle relationship with the prose and encompass or hint at the gist of what is recorded in the prose sections.

The haibun is prose (or a prose poem) interleaved with one or more haiku:

  • The prose is not an explanation of the haiku.

  • The haiku is not a linear continuation of the prose.

Make each word count in the prose text, as in a prose poem.

Compact micro-haibun limit the prose text, such as to 20-to-180 words. Most commonly only one haiku is included, placed after the prose, and serving as a climax or epiphany to what came before.

Many haibun include more than one haiku and longer text than the above range, as long as the resulting work is strong enough.

The juxtaposition of prose and haiku is important.

  • The prose should add to the depth with which we experience the haiku.
  • The haiku should add meaning to the prose.





  Missing Man  (By J Zimmerman)
    Mid-November after I rake the leaves I stand at Central and First,  holding the Stars and Bars. All of them died in Nam — my brother Joe, my cousin Freddy, mom’s youngest brother Jack. Sometimes I just have to come out on the streets and stand with my flag. There’s no parade.
            The smell of burning
            could be diesel
            could be napalm

First published in Frogpond 34:1 (Winter, 2011)


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Related Forms: Alphabet Haiku,  Crystalline,  Haibun,  Haiga,  Haiku,  Haikuette,  KimoLune, PixikuRhaikuSijo, UkiahZip

Example Poem


To Kill Those Mocking Words









He was told to write outside of his comfort zone, choosing a form in which he’d never written and make it his own for just a little while. “Let me use my pencil and tablet ma, this keyboard is already outside of my comfort zone.  ”  But she replied that it was all part of his learning experience.  He continued, dejected because chewing his pencil helped him think.

dialog message
unblanks his screen again –

finger hits cancel


© Lawrencealot – March 19, 2013