2001 TSA International Tanka Contest Winners

Cherie Hunter Day and Paul O. Williams, Judges

 

It was not an easy task to select the winning tanka from this year’s 216 entries. There is so much to admire in these tanka winners and the non-winners alike. We wish to thank all the poets who shared their work with us. In each encounter we are changed.

 

 

First Place ($100)

 

field after field

so splashed with poppies and lupine

it’s impossible

to describe this feeling

back home my friend is worse

 

     David Rice

     Berkeley, California

 

After painting such a vivid scene in the first two lines, the poet is at a loss for words about his or her own feelings. We are suspended in midair for the next two lines. The condition of the friend is very present in the poet’s mind and heart. In the final line, though not much is stated, so much is intimated. The juxtaposition of the profusion of field flowers, the feelings of being overwhelmed, and concern for a friend all come into focus as if something spinning is stopped for a moment, and in that instant the heart and mind are clear.

 

 

Second Place ($50)

 

the pine sap

that would not wash from my hands

darkens . . .

night after night

dream creatures speak your last words

 

     Linda Jeanette Ward

     Coinjock, North Carolina

 

Again this tanka presents a clear image that the reader can identify with. How many of us have unknowingly gotten pine pitch on our hands, and the more we tried to rub it off, the stickier and dirtier our hands became? Because the first part of this tanka is so accurately portrayed, we trust what the poet tells us in the second half of the poem. There is an intuitive leap from the smearyness of the pine sap to a quality of that dark night. Someone’s last words even travel into the real of dreams and come back to haunt us.

 

 

Third Place ($25)

 

Father’s stroke-free hand

reaches for mine . . .

a tiny spider, green, green

and translucent as sea glass

descends from the bedside lamp

 

     Linda Jeannette Ward

     Coinjock, North Carolina

 

We can certainly identify emotionally with the intensity of this scene. The poet conveys this very well with the tiny, seemingly fragile spider. The choice of the color green is particularly interesting and telling. Usually green spiders inhabit plants. They use their color as camouflage so they can live their spider-lives incognito. This little spider is out of place on the bedside lamp. So, too, how out of place we feel at the bedside of a dying parent. The reader isn’t told the circumstances how the spider arrived, nor are we told if the relationship is tenuous between father and child. The movement in this particular moment is unwavering and direct. It pierces us.

 

 

First Honorable Mention

 

A dead limb

disturbs the river

where it pools—

an old black stone

practices my sermon

 

     Daniel Schwerin

     Jackson, Wisconsin

 

This tanka contrasts the slight disturbance of the dead limb with a feeling of contentment and satisfaction, which the stone, assumedly in the stream and making it murmur, brings. The stone’s sermon recalls the statement of Jacques in Shakespeare’s As you Like It, in which he expresses satisfaction with his country life, with its “books in running brooks, sermons in stories and good in everything.” The speaker of the poem quietly and indirectly expresses his sense of being soothed by the calmness of the scene.

 

 

Second Honorable Mention

 

the ten-year-old

counts cats in the living room

new year’s day

a man and a woman

compare corners of their lives

 

     Marc Thompson

     Lancaster, Pennsylvania

 

With fresh eyes, the poet sees this scene and presents it with cool detachment. It is this understatement that suggests the awkwardness of the moment. The pivot line, “new year’s day,” links the two halves of the tanka together. This hinge invites the reader into the poem. Typically, New Year’s Day is a day of reflection and new beginning. But we can only start from where we are, and it takes courage to see where each of us truly is. Poetry and beauty exist here in the most ordinary and quirky circumstances. We join with the poet and we ponder our lives a little longer.