(AKA a short selection of my grievances, organised by syllable.)

A Tanka is a form of short poetry that originated in Japan and is often likened to an extended Haiku (a three line poem with a syllable pattern of 5,7,5).

When it comes to life with chronic illness, we often experience both beautiful and devastating moments which stay with us for life and can sometimes be hard to express through prose.

I have always loved the idea of a Haiku capturing these moments in time, but am often just a little short of the syllables I need to fully express myself. This is why the tanka (with its additional 7 syllable couplet) appeals to me.

In traditional Tanka poetry, the first three lines are often an observation, while the final couplet is an internal reflection. Haikus often centre around themes of nature and contain concrete imagery. Tankas on the other hand, are more likely to contain themes from the poet’s own life, such as love and grief, and include similes and metaphors.

The rules and expectations of these forms have become varied over time, especially as their popularity has spread to other areas of the globe. You can read more about the history and evolution of the Tanka here and here.

I generally try to respect the more unifying expectations of Tankas, for example, varying the rhythm of each line and avoiding accidental rhyming patterns. However, in some of the examples below you will see that I have not been able to let go of certain beloved phrases, sometimes at the expense of these traditions. So can they still be called Tankas? I really can’t be sure…

A Cautionary Tanka

If you upset me,

Trust I won’t run, scream or hide.

Instead you may find

Unflattering poetry,

Posted about you online.

The author, Jess, sitting on her couch with a lapdesk and writing on her ipad.



Wastebasket diagnosis?

A drug seeker’s dream?

No one believes your power…

Until you take them hostage.

Fibromyalgia II

This pain is so bright,

Like a thousand suns it burns.

Cruel and callous flames.

Sticks and stones may break my bones,

But fire broke my spirit.

A woman screaming in pain, hands to her face. Multiple frames are layered over one and other, creating the illusion that she is rapidly moving her head.

Fibromyalgia III

Begging me to stop,

Your cries fall upon deaf ears –

So you have to scream.

All fires need oxygen,

My denial is your air.



Come sit on my chest,

And put your hands on my neck,

Squeeze until it’s done.

Surely no one will miss me,

At least two weeks of the month.

Jess staring sadly into a mirror.


Black tar, feathered bird,

Screeching at the loveless world.

Maddened by the moon.

Caged together every month

But you can’t teach me to sing.

(Bonus points to anyone who can tell me which musical number this is based on!)


Demon inside me,

Warn me next time you’re coming.

I have sh*t to do.

Migraine II

It isn’t my fault.

I followed all your advice.

Did you really think

That vitamins and fish oil

Could contend with Thor’s hammer?

A cup of brightly coloured pills.

Migraine III


Of my internal despair…

Or epilepsy?

Everyone who doesn’t know,

Still has an opinion.



8 years therapy,

You still make my blood run cold.

Body can’t forget,

Thief who robbed me of my youth

And stained my once bright future.

Trauma II

Sweaty, sleepless nights

Follow cold and lifeless days.

Invisible walls,

Crafted from your echoed voice

And lack of recognition.

A woman lying on her side in a dark room, covering her face.

Trauma III

Words can’t heal these wounds

But they sure can make them worse.

Every raging voice,

Reminds me of your cruelty

And my wasted potential.


Oftentimes I feel

I’m bloated with endless tears, 

A bottomless well.

But each drip lowers the tide,

and I’m further from drowning. 

A single hand reaching out of a dark ocean.

Healing II

Even shallow wounds

Were once deep as the ocean,

Stung by salt water.

Closing slowly like a clam,

Protecting pearl-white treasure.

A clam with a pearl inside, sitting in the palm of a hand, covered in silver glitter.

Healing III

Healing seems endless

And in truth it well may be.

But never forget,

That although thick scars remain,

They fade from purple to grey.

Healing IV

Love and listening

Are the only things that heal

From the inside out.

Stitch up your wounds with the words

Exchanged with kindred spirits.

Jess sitting in a wheelchair, getting a hug from her fiance, Haydn.

Some of today’s images were courtesy of Unsplash.

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