‘Order a tanka poem’ service results in book

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tanka poet Tatsuya Kinoshita is seen at bookstore Title in Tokyo’s Ogikubo district.

Tanka poet Tatsuya Kinoshita, 34, writes tanka in response to people’s requests, and an anthology of such poems has become so popular that it has gone into additional printings, which is unusual for a tanka anthology.

“Anata no Tame no Tanka Shu” (Anthology of tanka for you) was published in November by Nanarokusha Publishing, and 10,000 copies have since been printed across three editions. To commemorate the book’s popularity, bookstore Title in Tokyo’s Ogikubo district recently held an event called “Kinoshita Tatsuya Shoten” (Kinoshita Tatsuya bookstore) and had 50 tanka anthologies selected by the poet for sale.

Kinoshita debuted as a tanka poet in 2013 with his first collection, “Tsumuji Kaze, Koko ni Arimasu” (The whirlwind, it’s here), and attracted attention for his unique ideas and flexible sense of language.

Kinoshita offers a service called “Anata no Tame no Tanka isshu” (One tanka for you), in which he receives a topic from a customer via email, creates a poem, writes it on a sheet of paper and posts it to the customer.

“Since ancient times, tanka have been composed to convey one’s feelings to one’s beloved. I wanted to go back to tanka’s original, one-to-one starting point,” Kinoshita said.

A tanka is a five-line poem with a syllable count of 5-7-5-7-7.

Kinoshita has created more than 700 tanka poems since the start of the custom service in 2017. Kinoshita said no two were on the same topic. They included marriage, childbirth and the loss of a loved one.

When asked if he was interested in creating an anthology of these poems, Kinoshita said he thought it would be difficult. “Because all of the tanka were personal, and none of them had been left with me,” he said.

However, when he asked his customers whether they would donate the tanka he had written for them, he received more than 300 poems. Some of them said the tanka could be helpful for someone else, too.

“Anata no Tame no Tanka Shu” contains 100 such poems made to encourage each person with carefully selected words. For example, for someone who said they are not sure whether they should confess their love to the person they like, Kinoshita wrote, “What your love letter lacks is courage, the only stamp you can’t buy.”

“Tanka gave me an opportunity to change my viewpoint, and they helped me in my own difficult and painful times. I believe tanka has lots of ‘margins’ between words and often allows us to see ourselves in the poem. I think its poetic form has that kind of power,” he said.

Since he has already been paid for the custom tanka service, he plans to use the royalties from the book for “children who will forge the future of tanka poetry.” He plans to purchase various tanka anthologies at shops around the nation and donate them to schools and other institutions.

Courtesy of Nanarokusha
“Anata no Tame no Tanka Shu” by Tatsuya Kinoshita