10-line Poem Challenge #6: Ercil

The Ercil was created by James Gray in honor of Arkansas poet Ercil Brown. It appears to be an exercise in meter.

Continue reading “10-line Poem Challenge #6: Ercil”


10-line Poem Challenge: San Hsien

When I began searching the Internet for 10-line poems, I had no idea how many forms my research was going to uncover—35 to be precise. At first I was going to present them as a tutorial, but then I thought it would be more fun to make it a challenge.

So, each week for the next 35 weeks, I’ll introduce you to a different 10-line poem, explain briefly how to write it, give you links to find where I learned what I know about it, and include my own sample poem. All you have to do is write one of your own. Nothing to it!

Then look for more to come every Friday. When we’ve exhausted the 10-line poems, we’ll move on to something else, but we will keep learning something new. Who’s up for the challenge?


Challenge #1: San Hsien

We’ll begin with some forms that were created specifically for use in the classroom as a teaching tool or a writing exercise. And while we are learning new forms of poetry, let’s also learn a new term. For some of you, this word is not new, but it was new to me. It is the term decastich, and it simply means “a 10-line poem.”

  • The San Hsien was created by Jessamine Fishback.
  • Pronounced [SAN-shee-en], the name comes from the san hsien (or sanxian), a Chinese lute with three strings.
  • It is a decastich in iambic dimeter.
  • Lines 1 and 2 are repeated as a refrain on lines 10 and 9 respectively (reversed).
  • Rhyme scheme: ABbaccabBA



Below are two samples that I’ve written for you. The first turned out a bit deep, and though it has been revised, it still needs work. The second is rather light-hearted. I deliberately kept punctuation at a minimum in the second one. At first I had punctuated it properly, but because of the short lines and its overall brevity, the punctuation seemed to take over, and it quickly got in the way, so I removed almost all of it. Since I haven’t seen any strict rules about punctuation, you may do as you like with regard to your own poems.

No Truer Friend

To condescend
Is not unkind,
But one may find
No truer friend
Than he who sees
His loss your ease.
For in the end,
He, being blind,
Is not unkind
To condescend.

© 2017 Abigail Gronway – All Rights Reserved

Based on Romans 12:16 “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.” In other words, this is the Golden Rule applied in such a way that one would be willing to do without for the benefit of another.


Sandwich Delight

I love to eat
It is no lie
On wheat or rye
Pile on the meat
The veggies too
Please, not a few
It’s such a treat
So build it high
It is no lie
I love to eat!

© 2017 Abigail Gronway – All Rights Reserved


Dig Deeper

To find more samples and to learn from those who taught me, check out these sites. All links open in a separate tab so you can easily find your way back here.

Poet’s Collective ~ The forms on this website are not organized in alphabetical order, but he does have at least one sample poem for each form, he even has tags for rhyme scheme. He also has a visual template for every form so you can see the rhyme scheme and stress patterns, as applicable. That is extremely helpful.

Sol Magazine ~ This resource covers much more than just 10-line poems.

“Metric Forms from Pathways for the Poet” ~ This is an outline of information from Pathways for the Poet by Viola Berg (1977), a book for and by educators. This resource also includes more than just 10-line poems, but it helped to fill in the gaps where my other sources were a bit scanty with their information.

Shadow Poetry ~ This is my favorite resource for learning about poetic forms (and not just the decastich), but I have discovered that there is ever so much more to learn than what I can find here. This is, however, a very good place to start.


It’s Your Turn!

Now it’s time for you to write a San Hsien. Go ahead and strum those strings! Then when you are ready, share your masterpiece with the rest of us.

Don’t know how? Follow these simple steps…

  1. Write your blog post.
  2. Optional: Include the tag San Hsien Challenge or 10-line Poem Challenge
  3. Include a link to this post in your post so I can find you.
  4. Publish your post.

Japanese Poetry Forms

Lately I have been exploring the many forms of poetry, both new and old, because sometimes I find it easier to write with a blueprint. Ultimately I intend to try my hand at every form I come across, for the sake of expanding my horizons, though undoubtedly I will use some of them only once. My main resource for this study is a website called Shadow Poetry: A Poet’s Writing Resource. Someone has asked me to share what I am learning, and I’m very happy to do so. So here is my first article about poetry, and I’ve created a new tab in the menu, “About Poetry,” for the express purpose of sharing what I’ve learned.

This first installment is about Japanese poetic forms. There are six that I have come across, and all of them are quite short. Evidently, the Japanese are fond of brevity.

Some characteristics are true of all the forms.

  1. Often these poems are untitled, but I don’t suppose it’s a crime to put a title on them. I title mine but have left the titles off of the examples below.
  2. Punctuation generally is not used.
  3. Initial capitals are optional as well.

Here are the 6 Japanese forms in summary, but read below for more information on each one.

Name       Stanzas       Lines           Syllables       Theme
Haiku            1                 3                  5-7-5            nature
Senryu          1                 3                  5-7-5            human nature
Katauta         1                 3          5-7-5 or 5-7-7     love (“half” poem)
Sedoka          2            3 each       5-7-7, 5-7-7        love (“whole” poem)
Tanka            1                 5              5-7-5-7-7         anything
Lanturne      1                 5              1-2-3-4-1         anything (shape poem)



This is by far the most easily recognized of all Japanese forms. True Haiku is made up of 3 lines, with 5-7-5 kana (Japanese scripts), respectively. They cannot truly be compared to English syllables, but that is as close as we can get in the English language. So the rule for an English Haiku calls for 17 syllables divided in 5-7-5 over 3 lines. A master at this form may use fewer than 17 syllables, but never more. Haiku is generally not written in one long sentence. Instead, either the first or last line will be a phrase, and the other two will support that phrase. To be a true Haiku, the subject should be nature, and it should capture a single moment in time.

Fragile yellow bloom
stretches toward the sunlight
nothing else matters

Senryu (pronounced, sen-RYE-you)

Many poems you see labeled as Haiku are actually Senryu. A Senryu looks like a Haiku, but the subject of the poem is human nature, as opposed to nature itself.

Privileged hands these
Which utter things
My tongue may not tell

Perhaps an improvement on the above example would be:
Privileged hands these
Boldly they utter things
My tongue may not tell

It is still within the 17-syllable limit, but now the center line has more syllables than the top and bottom, and it is divided into a phrase and a sentence, rather than being one long sentence.


Katauta may also look like a haiku, although it is equally acceptable to have two “extra” syllables in line 3. The subject of the Katauta is love, and the poem itself is written from a lover to his or her beloved. A Katauta is considered to be only half a poem.

Darling, I love you
more than I did yesterday
less than I will tomorrow


Two Katauta poems written together form a Sedoka. In the sample below, the first half is the lover addressing the beloved, and the second half is the beloved’s response. I don’t know that it has to be this way, but this is how I chose to apply the form.

Will you still love me
when youthful vigor has gone
and golden hair waxed silver?

I will love you till
the sun forgets how to shine
and the moon falls from the sky


Tanka is one of the longer Japanese forms, if you can call it long. It has 5 lines as opposed to the usual 3. The syllables are distributed as follows: 5-7-5-7-7. Although the Tanka is written as one stanza, it generally has two parts, with the second part either contrasting or elaborating on the first. The nice thing about Tanka is that the poem may be written on any subject.

Without is sunshine
new green, a warm gentle breeze—
Dark clouds rage within
choking out life, threatening
to destroy all that is good


Also 5 lines long, the Lanturne is a shape poem, intended to resemble the shape of the Japanese lantern. To achieve this effect, the line lengths are 1-2-3-4-1 syllables respectively, and the lines are centered on the page. Like the Tanka, the Lanturne may also be written on any subject.

Sample 1:
shine your light

In this example, I was originally going to use the word lantern, but I liked the way the longer word looked on the page, for it provided a better balance to illuminate. Not only that, but it gave a double meaning to the poem.

Not all Lanturnes will look as tidy as this one, however. Here’s another example:

Sample 2:
to lovers
of all ages,

As you see, the shape will vary with the words chosen, even though the syllable count is the same.

To learn more about these forms, I recommend you begin with this article from Shadow Poetry, and then dig deeper at your local library or other online resources. And have fun mastering these six Japanese poetic forms.

All poems above © 2017 Abigail Gronway – All Rights Reserved