2003 TSA International Tanka Contest Winners

Marianne Bluger and Tom Clausen, Judges


All fine tanka are lyric poems characterized by their formal structure, and by the immediacy and intensity of one particular moment. They tell us where a body is in the world, and what is going on in the poet’s heart and mind. And then, by the force of the image(s) and by the clarity of both perception and language, the reader is transported from those very particulars to some kind of transcendence. If the tanka poet is gifted, a sense of awe and privilege arises from being drawn into communion with this other life, this other world.

      Note too that all fine tanka have an unmistakable freshness about them. They are not obscured with thick imaginings or overlaid with vague, grey thought.

      Every one of these poems achieves “tanka splendor,” that lift-off into truth and loveliness that brings the reader solace and joy, however sad the subject matter. In each case, we get a feel right away for who the poet is, we sense and love the authentic ‘voice.’ Tanka poems are naked poetry. The soul is bare, somehow. There are minor flaws in some of these poems, but in reading each of them you will experience a deep moment with a fine poet.

      None of these poems is marred by sentimentality, none trades in clichés, none is overwritten and none is merely a one-sided report of either a natural setting, or else an inner event. All are balanced, and all read well. For at the end of the day a real tanka must be a poem and must read like poetry. There must be a natural ease and genuine rightness to the words chosen to express what is deep and what is present in the outer and inner things.

      We thank you for according us the honor of judging this contest and we commend these poems to you as excellent models of the art of tanka.



First Place ($100)


from my hospital window

I see across a bare field

in the morning rain

a yellow silk umbrella

on its solitary way


      Sanford Goldstein

      Niigata, Japan



Second Place ($50)


I chased the moon

across the Red River

for your borning cry

all these times around the sun

and you still call me “Daddy”


      Dan Schwerin

      Greendale, Wisconsin



Third Place ($25)


rungs of a fire escape

shadowed on the moonlit wall

—a switch clicks

in the rented room

next to mine


      Linda Jeannette Ward

      Coinjock, North Carolina



Honorable Mentions (listed alphabetically)


far above

the high tide mark

a bleached dinghy

colourless as I feel

in my old age


      Janice Bostok

      Dungay, Australia



the carpenter

stops his saw

to ask if I see the sun

setting through the leaves

of dark bamboo beyond


      Sanford Goldstein

      Niigata, Japan



I wake to the sound

of December rain.

Early each morning

my father quietly

closed my window


      Peggy Heinrich

      Bridgeport, Connecticut



these branches

laden with snow

in early spring

our troubles

far from gone


      Laura Maffei

      Staten Island, New York



tight buds

against a gray sky

this spring

you might, I tell them,

want to wait awhile


      Laura Maffei

      Staten Island, New York



from her swing

my friend’s daughter


wisdom from her small world

and I learn some things


      Art Stein

      Northfield, Massachusetts



A Note from the Contest Coordinator

Having read all the tanka submitted to this contest, I was struck by their variety and high quality. I certainly hope those who did not win commendation will do something with their work as much of it certainly deserves publication. —Paul O. Williams


About the Judges


Marianne Bluger is a Canadian lyric poet. She wrote Gusts, a much-praised, book-length tanka collection. Her eighth book, Early Evening Pieces, has just been published by Buschek Books. To read some of her prize winning tanka, go to www.mariannebluger.com.


Tom Clausen is a lifelong resident of Ithaca, a college town in upstate New York. He works in a library at Cornell University. Tom has had his tanka published nationally and internationally in anthologies and serials. He has one tanka collection, A Work of Love, and his most recent chapbook, Homework, published by Snapshot Press in England, features tanka with haiku.