2006 TSA International Tanka Contest Winners

Dave Bacharach and Thelma Mariano, Judges

 

We would like to thank everyone who participated in this contest. It was a privilege to glimpse so many private moments from other people’s lives as expressed through their tanka. In our repeated readings, some of the things we looked for were lyrical flow, creative use of metaphor, originality, the interactions of sound and sense and, above all, the overall emotional impact of the poem. Due to the near record number of submissions this year (317), we chose three prize winners and five honorable mentions.

 

 

First Place ($100)

 

a lightning strike

splits our old apple tree—

I never dreamed

the death that parted us

would not be one of ours

 

      Beverley George

      Pearl Beach, Australia

 

This poem opens with a violent, vivid metaphor that expands with each rereading. An apparently solid couple has suffered a major loss. Is it the death of a child? Another close family member? Is it the relationship itself that has died? We are not told. The event came unexpectedly, out of the blue like a bolt of lightning, and it has shattered their world and their relationship. The poet thought that they were unassailable, with deep roots, like the old apple tree, and indeed, it had been a fruitful union, but in that very fruit lay their vulnerability. The shock and horror of this event has split them apart, as the lightning strike has split the tree, to the point that they have separated. The poet couldn’t have imagined anything but death having the power to effect such a separation. But like an evil genie, fate played a trick.

      Additional meaning appears when we remember that the apple has age old symbolic weight in western religion and literature. The apple, and the tree of knowledge upon which it grew, were the source of all human guilt and suffering, especially between the first couple. Guilt and mutual blame are then often major factors in subsequent separation. The apple tree, which so dominates this tanka, thereby takes on even added resonance, and the true complexity of the metaphor emerges. With exactly placed alliteration (strike/split, dreamed/death) and strong assonance centered on the letter “o” (out/old, could not one/ours), the rhythm beats its way to the end, leaving a sense of inexorability. The raw pain of this couple, the terrible knowledge they must share, and now share alone, is driven home deeper and deeper, revealing a poem of extraordinary power and sympathy.

 

 

Second Place ($50)

 

months after he’s gone

the bar of Ivory soap

in his bathroom

still holding

the shape of his hands

 

      Margaret Chula

      Portland, Oregon

 

We don’t know if he’s just gone away, or if he died, but the subject of this highly evocative tanka has not been around for some time. The language of this poem is simple and straightforward, the central image even banal in naming the most ordinary brand of soap. Yet this poem catapults the reader into someone’s living quarters with its stunning last two lines, whose critical importance is stated by the poet through the indentation of line four. The bar of soap, so uninspiring in itself, takes on the significance of the man’s entire being, reflecting the impact he must have made wherever he spent time. This haiku-like tanka, as if by magic, moves from the most mundane of settings to the most universal and spiritual.

 

 

Third Place ($25)

 

candling goose eggs

in the warmth of his hands

Daddy once stood

in a B-17

and dropped bombs

 

      Linda Jeanette Ward

      Coinjock, North Carolina

 

One of the great mysteries is the coexistence of extremes in human nature. The same species that cares for its own also wreaks massive, bloody warfare upon itself. Our third place tanka captures this timeless dualism with a brilliantly bisected structure that utilizes two definitive symbols: eggs and bombs. Eerily similar, but so fundamentally different, they are placed symmetrically at the ends of the opening and closing lines. In the middle is the word “Daddy,” a child’s loving reference to her father who is capable of the gentlest nurturing as well as terrible destruction. Only love resolves the implied conflict, love on a very personal level that accepts the entire individual.

 

 

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

 

this creek

torrential in spring

a trickle now

all the things in me

that wanted voice

 

      Larry Kimmel

      Colrain, Massachusetts

 

A powerful tanka, with a perfect use of metaphor. Like the creek that once rushed with water, the poet once passionately craved expression in certain aspects of his life. It is implied that these things were never realized and now it’s too late.

 

 

another box

taped tight for books

and I bundle my life—

into these brown rectangles

not a single inch of joy

 

      Sanford Goldstein

      Shibata-shi, Japan

 

The definite images in the first two lines are followed by a flow of metaphors as the poet prepares to move against his will. With boxes becoming “brown rectangles,” the poet steps back to feel his emotion, which he then delivers with magnificent impact in line five.

 

 

the doctor tells us

of the baby’s heart murmur—

outside the hospital window

snow half way

down the distant mountain

 

      Michael Dylan Welch

      Sammamish, Washington

 

After such devastating news, the distant mountain becomes a compelling symbol, its snow indicating the chilled numbness that the parents must feel. Just as the snow is half way down the mountain, we realize this child’s life may be curtailed.

 

 

this long night

lost in surf sound

the agitation

of not doing anything

to its full potential

 

      Beverley George

      Pearl Beach, Australia

 

Sense and sound merge in the opening lines here, their “s” sounds providing the hiss of the surf, with the middle line working as a perfect pivot. The constant to and fro of the surf in this original metaphor remind the poet of her inability to take anything to completion.

 

 

nineteen months

of unemployment

still too early

to tell whether the cactus

will bloom again

 

      Cherie Hunter Day

      San Diego, California

 

 

A cactus lives in the desert, for long periods without rain. In prolonged unemployment, the subject is unsure if better days will come and faces life in uncertainty—much like the cactus. Using this powerful metaphor we feel the desperation, hope, and dignity of people in this difficult situation.

 

Contest Coordinator: Kirsty Karkow