top of page

Small songs

An illustration of a Great Tit, facing to the right, sitting on a twig, on a blank background. From Svenska Fåglar (Swedish Birds) by the von Wright brothers

When I first took part in the #TankaThursday prompt on that Twitter, I worried I’d reveal my many technical limitations. I was right, but I didn’t mind, because writing tankas made me happy.

Soon I learned that tanka can be translated as ‘small song’, which made them less scary. Everybody is allowed to sing.

I find it absorbing to work within a structure, that search for rhythm and resonance in simple words. I love to focus on one happening or emotion. To me, writing is about finding and expressing a truth, which is often discoverable in details. Tankas somehow allow me to express or imply ideas I might otherwise keep to myself. The rules, I think, free me to spill beans.

It’s such a delight when a tiny personal observation makes sense to somebody. It feels like sharing a joke with a stranger, or singing along.

Oh, I’m not pretending my tankas are ace. I break the rules too, when new ones sound better.

In addition, I’ve only ever written to prompts. Otherwise, I’m overwhelmed by possibility. I take the word to a specific moment it seems to belong to, then I stay there until I have lines I believe. Sometimes a little research is needed to help me along. Occasionally, I give up in a huff, but mostly I feel more alive than when I started.

I wrote this tanka for #NaTankaMo on BlueSky, hosted by It began with the prompt ‘teacher’. That suggested the call of a Great Tit, which I didn’t want to mention for obvious reasons. As I was a bit stuck, I looked up the bird, then listened to the rain on the windows and let minutes drift. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it, and recommend you take part in Tanka Month. There’s joy to be found in small songs.

Sunday still

a songbird counts time

two teachers

life’s many lessons

of each here and now

PS The Great Tit’s song sounds like a bicycle pump squeaking ‘teacher-teacher’. However, these wee birds each sing around 40 melodies. In Welsh mythology, they’re associated with healing, and in Estonia with luck and happiness. Hooray for them.


bottom of page