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learning: 31 Poetic Senses Part II - an'ya

31 Poetic Devices II an’ya

As we all know the use of poetic devices in haiku is for the most part, taboo, whereas in tanka they are a bonus. There are 31 poetic devices available for us to use for emphasis, clarity, and to create a unique effect, plus convey feelings to help the reader grasp what we are trying to say on a deeper level. Poetic devices have 2 aspects: poetic “elements” or poetic “techniques”:

Poetic Elements are inherent in tanka to develop the setting, characters, nature, mood, theme, etc.

Poetic Techniques, on the contrary, are usually words or phrases in a tanka to achieve not merely artistic ends but also give readers a greater understanding and appreciation of structure.

Allegory (1)

An allegory can be used in tanka to send a message about a real-life historical moment in which a character, place, or event presents a hidden meaning of moral, spiritual, or political significance. An allegory is used to illustrate or convey complex concepts via symbolism:

war bride a letter of love and honor never delivered after the bombing

Alliteration (2)

Alliteration is a series of words or phrases that all, or almost all, start with the same sound. It’s the conspicuous repetition of identical sounds in successive or closely associated syllables with a group of words even if spelled differently. It works very well to enhance the rhythm of a tanka:

in subdued

winter light dangling

leaf lichen

lets loose of its host

and floats downriver

Allusion (3)

Allusion is when we make an indirect reference to a figure, place, event, or idea originating from outside the text. Tanka often makes reference to a previous work of literature or art:

at my ear sounds of the red priest’s* “four seasons” now come and gone since our last tête-à-tête

*Vivaldi’s nickname

Anachronism (4)

An anachronism occurs in a tanka when there’s an errata in its timeline. An inconsistency, especially the juxtaposition of a person, event, object, or custom from a different era. The most common anachronism is an object misplaced in time, but it can also be a verbal expression, a technology or philosophical idea, a music style, a material, plant or animal, or anything else associated with a particular period place outside its proper temporal domain. An anachronism can also be used to convey, nostalgia:

to bygone days

when gentle men spent time

composing verse of pillow book poetry



Anaphora (5)

Anaphora is when a word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of multiple sentences throughout a piece of writing. It's used to emphasize the repeated phrase and evoke strong feelings in the reader. Anaphora is a rhetorical device that features the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive lines. Anaphora works as a poetic device that allows our writing to convey, emphasize, and reinforce the meaning which can be very effective in tanka.

a cold day a cold day of rain turns to sleets sleet that turns into snow- deeper grows my desire

Anthropomorphism (6)

An anthropomorphism occurs when something nonhuman, such as an animal, place, or inanimate object, behaves in a human-like way. The difference between anthropomorphism and personification is that with anthropomorphism non-human figures actually “become” human-like characters. However, with personification, the object or figure is simply “described” as being human-like. In this tanka, there is an actual characterization of “King Neptune” that became “a wrecking ball”:

our driftwood

palace built atop

the sand dunes

until King Neptune’s tides

became a wrecking ball

Asyndeton (7)

Asyndeton is one of several poetically rhetorical devices that omit out conjunctions (such as "and," "or," "but," and "for") in a group of words or phrases so that the meaning is emphasized.

mid-august dog-day-air hot humid to a fault I wait for you to bring cool dry wind my way

Colloquialism (8)

Colloquialism is the use of informal language and slang. It's often used by authors to lend a sense of realism to their characters and dialogue. Forms of colloquialism include words, phrases, and contractions that aren't real words (such as "gonna" and "ain't"). A true experience:

garbage day coming eye to eye with a bear- I chicken out way long before it finishes

Epigraph (9)

An epigraph is when an author inserts a famous quotation, poem, song, or other short passage or text at the beginning of a larger text (e.g., a book, chapter, etc.). An epigraph is typically written by a different writer (with credit given) and used as a way to introduce overarching themes or messages in the work:

a red, red rose* the same as my heart valentine’s day love is in this card bound for your mailbox

*Robert Burns, “a red, red rose”

Epistrophe (10)

Epistrophe is similar to anaphora (see above), but in this case, the repeated word or phrase appears at the end of successive statements. Like anaphora, it is used to evoke an emotional response from the readers, and is quite effective in the tanka genre:

wintertime finally makes its debut - ongoing in curtains of acid rain the sky’s a stage of acid rain

Euphemism (11)

A euphemism is when a more mild or indirect word or expression is used in place of another word or phrase that is considered harsh, blunt, vulgar, or unpleasant. For instance, saying someone “didn’t make it”, rather saying the person “died”:

gone are sail winds

that came in the night

same as you

I knew we would end

on a still day in time

Flashback (12)

A flashback is an interruption in a narrative that depicts events that have already occurred, either before the present time or before the time at which the narration takes place. This device is often used to give the reader more background information and details about specific characters, events, plot points, and so on:

the good old days when life was still easy to contemplate and cross-legged we sat in a meadow of wildflowers

Foreshadowing (13)

Foreshadowing is when the poet indirectly hints at—through things such as dialogue, description, characters' actions, or natural disaster—what's to come later on in the tanka. This device is often used to imply that something equally worse will happen:

another quake

and moments of being

on shaky ground

our relationship too

becoming unstable

Hyperbole (14)

Hyperbole is an exaggerated statement that's not meant to be taken literally by the reader. It is often used for comedic effect and/or emphasis:

from the gaping lips

of an old stone gargoyle

spring rainwater

I shall turn it to champagne

if you look at me twice

Imagery (15)

Imagery is when we describe a scene, thing, or idea so that it appeals to the readers' senses, also known as a “picture tanka”. This device is often used to help the reader clearly visualize the tanka by creating a strong mental picture:

between us

and warm summer sun

lilac buds

on the very brink

of becoming scent

Irony (16)

Irony is when a statement is used to express an opposite meaning than the one literally expressed at first. There are three types of irony in tanka, verbal, situational, dramatic irony, and romantic irony. In romantic irony, as far as what the reader or viewer knows, the state of the action or what is happening is the reverse of what the person supposes it to be. Here is an example of dramatic irony:

downsizing the one thing I wanted for keeps was love* but it had a nomadic soul**

*literal statement

**reverse action

Juxtaposition (17)

Juxtaposition is the comparing and contrasting of two or more different (usually opposite) ideas, characters, objects, etc. This poetic device is often used to help create a more clear picture of the characteristics of one object or idea by comparing it with those of another:

with logic

you explained what went wrong

between us

on this day annually

I’m full-on of emotion

Malapropism (18)

Malapropism happens when an incorrect word is used in place of a word that has a similar sound. This misuse of the word typically results in a statement that is both nonsensical and humorous; as a result, this device is commonly used in comedic writing but can be used in tanka for a fun exercise nevertheless. My original tanka and an example of malapropism following:

iffy cast

fisherman and stream

trade places

even the trout flies

seem to be laughing

iffy cast

fisherman and stream

tirade places

even the trout flies

seem to be laughing

Metaphor/Simile (19)

A metaphor is a poetic device often used in tanka, that imaginatively draws a comparison between two subjects. It does this by stating that one thing is another. Through this method of equation, metaphors can also help explain concepts and ideas by colorfully linking the unknown to the known; the abstract to the concrete; the incomprehensible to the comprehensible. It can also be a rhetorical device where the poet specifically appeals to our sensibilities as readers:

you are the a

and I am the z alter-egos

in love’s alphabet opposites attract

A simile is a type of metaphor in which an object, idea, character, action, etc., is compared to another thing using the words "as" or "like":

old memories like tangled fishhooks impossible to pick up only one without all the others

Metonym (20)

A metonym is when a related word or phrase is substituted for the actual thing to which it's referring. This device is usually used for poetic or rhetorical effect, which can also be incorporated into a tanka:


living for each moment

we spoke our minds

the generation of love who “agreed to disagree”…

Mood (21)

Mood is the general feeling the writer wants the audience to have. The tanka poet can achieve this through dramatic description, the setting, dialogue, and word choices:

a midsummer’s eve underneath a rose moon I’ll wait for you until my hands are bloodied from holding back the dawn

Onomatopoeia (22)

Onomatopoeia is a word (or group of words) that represents a sound and actually resembles or imitates that sound or sounds it stands for. It is often used for dramatic, realistic, or poetic effects:

autumn sky animated with flocks homeward bound

geese honking their way

back into canada

Oxymoron (23)

An oxymoron is a combination of two words that, together, express a contradictory meaning. This device is often used for emphasis, for humor, to create tension, or to illustrate a paradox:

to small-large the varying sizes of snowflakes that fall this afternoon on me here, you elsewhere

Paradox (24)

A paradox is a statement that appears illogical or self-contradictory but, upon investigation, might actually be true or plausible. Note that a paradox is different from an oxymoron: a paradox is an entire phrase or sentence, whereas an oxymoron is a combination of just two words:

sleeper car I travel by train to see you albeit apart … together in dreams

Personification (25)

Personification is when a nonhuman figure or other abstract concept or element is described as having human-like qualities or characteristics. (Unlike anthropomorphism where non-human figures become human-like characters, with personification, the object/figure is simply described as being human-like.) Personification is used to help the reader create a clearer mental picture of the scene or object being described:

maple leaves

dancing in the wind

a magpie

wearing the colors

of an autumn day

Note; “dancing refers both to the leaves and the magpie also before the tanka pivots.

the breast feathers

of a great blue heron

tickle my thoughts

this evening your heart

brushes against mine

Repetition (26)

Repetition is when a word or phrase is written multiple times, usually for the purpose of extreme and often romantic emphasis. It is often used in tanka for purposes of rhythm as well:

O my love tomorrow tomorrow tomorrow O my love my love I’ll be there tomorrow

Satire (27)

Satire is a genre of writing that criticizes something, such as a person, behavior, belief, government, or society. Satire often employs irony, humor, and hyperbole to make its point. Tanka can also use this technique:

keep the faith my heart tells me but news media reports otherwise - beginning of the end

Soliloquy (28)

A soliloquy is a type of dramatic tanka where the poet speaks aloud to themself and/or to the reader thereby revealing innermost thoughts and heartfelt feelings:

my paramour why do you leave me for another is not my blossom always open to you?”

Symbolism (29)

Symbolism refers to the use of an object, figure, event, or situation in a tanka to represent something else—typically a broader message of romantic imagery, or deeper meaning that differs from its literal meaning. The things used for symbolism are called "symbols," and they'll often appear in the tanka (per this example, a nod to Greek mythology, and a change of direction:

I whispered of love to whomever would tell you so quoted the goddess of a gentle west wind

Synecdoche (30)

A synecdoche is a literary device in which part of something is used to represent the whole or vice versa. It's similar to a metonym (see above); however, a metonym doesn't have to represent the whole—just something associated with the word used:

all you left me was lipstick on a glass of bubbly* how often I recall we sat beside the creek

*synecdoche for champagne

Tone (31)

While mood is what the reader is supposed to feel, tone is the poet’s attitude toward their subject. A tanka poet should always want the reader to feel the mood they're trying to evoke, even if the reader may not always agree with that tone. Tanka can have many different types of tone, such as solemn, humorous, intimate, ironic, arrogant, condescending, sentimental, and so forth. Any emotion that the tanka poet can convey to readers is an example of tone in that tanka:

as a sailor longing for the sea

am I for love the kind that will be endless fathoms deep

All tanka examples are by an'ya.



97 views8 comments


Kavita Ratna
Kavita Ratna
Oct 16, 2022

Such an exhaustive and generous share. So much food for thought. A heartfelt thank you for this very special post.


Debbie Strange
Debbie Strange
May 31, 2022

Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge in these amazing articles!


Marcie Wessels
Marcie Wessels
May 20, 2022

This is a fantastic resource. Thank you, an'ya!


Muskaan Ahuja
Muskaan Ahuja
Apr 07, 2022

So good to read and understand haikai poems through the literary devices ! Thanks, an’ya.


Pradnya Joshi
Pradnya Joshi
Apr 01, 2022

Thanks a million an'ya. Its really beautiful . abundance of love...!

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