2007 TSA International Tanka Contest Winners

Marjorie A. Buettner and Denis M. Garrison, Judges



First Place ($100)



a winged seed makes its way

to the ground

the strange beauty

of my own crooked path


      Cherie Hunter Day

      San Diego, California


The single word in the opening line is a keynote. This tanka spirals slowly from natural observation through its turn to introspection. It has the gentle touch of the nearly weightless seed as it beckons the reader to likewise look inwardly to regard the unique path of his or her own life lovely in its very singularity, in its personality. In every age, people have felt their smallness, their facelessness, in the midst of multitudes. Still, like the seed making its once-in-a-lifetime journey to the ground littered with millions like it, for our moment in time, we spiral, we dance, we are beautiful in someone’s eyes―we are someone. Line two is remarkable for its evocation of the back and forth movement; it makes the reader take time with the line only to slide home on the smooth diction of the closing couplet. This tanka is a joy to read and to contemplate.



Second Place ($50)



it’s what he would’ve done

for me

I light the cigarette

someone left on his grave


      Andrew Riutta

      Travers City, Michigan


This tanka is remarkable for its laconic display of noblesse oblige in a modern idiom. If it weren’t made clear by the word “cigarette” that this is recent, it could be an elegy of one knight at another’s grave. This deceptively plain tanka is eloquent in its evocation of the male predilection for actions rather than words. The depth of feeling hits the reader like a wave in the strong final line of the poem, a line that colors everything before it. It puts a lump in one’s throat. The iambic meter of lines one through four slams into the opening trochee of the more complex final line, making us feel the shock as we finally see the whole scene. A deeply moving tanka, this; and a memorable one.



Third Place ($25)


on the last day of summer

we watch blood pump

through a shrimp’s translucent skin

. . . how I missed all the signs

you were ready to leave


      Linda Jeannette Ward

      Coinjock, North Carolina


The image of watching the blood pump through the skin of a shrimp is a very unique and disturbing image. The first line tells the reader all: it is the last of the last times to watch, to enjoy summer, to be with a friend or lover, to feel. The concluding lines tell the reader a bit more but not too much. This is when the image of the blood through the skin transcends the moment and becomes a universal symbol for human frailty and finality. We never know when it will be time to leave and already it may be too late―this last day of summer. Wonderful!



Honorable Mentions (in no special order)


does any direction

ever lead to home?

I sit and watch

as skeins of wild geese

unwind across the sky


      John Barlow

      Liverpool, United Kingdom


This is a fine tanka in the interrogatory style. The wonderful central image is spun out in a delicious final couplet with a marvelously open-ended sense. One loves to hear beautiful diction like this in tanka; it is even more precious in such brevity.



the long, long climb

to the mountain’s summit

just to see

how glorious

the valley below


      Zane Parks

      Livermore, California


Here is a lovely wisdom tanka that has unified imagery and makes its turn in the realization of the significance of perspective. The paucity of details allows the reader dreaming room, to make this about his or her own ideal valley.



Having decided

to be cremated

someday somewhere

I watch applewood logs

give themselves to flame


      Carol Purington

      Colrain, Massachusetts


There is a sense of mystery in this tanka: there is another dimension to this to which we have not been invited. The reader is free to speculate; free to gaze into the blaze and see his or her own vision in the flames.




when no one is around,

my heart changes

into a heron

and flies


      M. Kei

      Perryville, Maryland


The surreality of this tanka carries the emotional freight of the poem. That ineffable feeling of bursting with beauty that one gets from time to time is approachable only in these dream terms.



turned twenty last month

sixty the week after―

in the curtain’s sheer lining

just a single flash

of firefly


      Linda Jeannette Ward

      Coinjock, North Carolina


A most ingenious dichotomy in this tanka! Going from hyperbole in the opening lines and into minimalist understatement in the closing lines―separated only by a filmy curtain lining. The last line is very short, yet very powerful. The whole mystery of evanescence appears a firefly’s flash. This is a classic epiphanic tanka with an amazing shift in tone.



Contest Coordinator: Kirsty Karkow