2008 TSA International Tanka Contest Winners

Michael McClintock and Johnye Strickland, Judges

 

Simple, straightforward, contemporary—yet how complex and many-layered are the thoughts and feelings these tanka set in motion, embodying collective recognition and cultural expression through images, narrative, forms and rhythms. We are sure that each is worthy of an essay. Here, we have space only to offer a few clues about how or why each of these poems impressed us.

 

 

First Place ($100)

 

old memories

like tangled fish hooks

impossible

to pick up only one

without all the others

 

      an’ya

      La Pine, Oregon

 

Aphoristic, to be sure, but appropriately so and a wonderfully apt choice of image and metaphor, an’ya’s poem caught and kept our attention. The poem’s imaginative leap from “old memories” to “tangled fish hooks” carries remarkable force; it may not be a pretty image but it is, without doubt, a psychologically valid one, conveying both the character of fish hooks and the mixture of pleasure and pain that is human memory. There is nothing fancy here; the tone is matter-of-fact. It is a classic poem of the singular, durable image.

 

 

Second Place ($50)

 

here on a knoll

in the fields of spring

I’ll lay it down . . .

and for a while be rid

of a mind that never rests

 

      Kirsty Karkow

      Waldoboro, Maine

 

Actually or figuratively, we’ve all been to this “knoll” Kirsty Karkow writes about; from nature we all have sought that same promise of brief respite from the Monkey Mind that seems never to cease its chattering. The sensitivity and modesty of this poem justify the sympathy we may bring to it. The poem turns a rather common spring scene into something lyrically meaningful, an adult’s sensibility of the moment, of the peace offered by that little knoll . . .

 

 

Third Place ($25)

 

late night storm . . .

I lock the door and hope

the children are safe

in the unruly boroughs

of their dreams

 

      Collin Barber

      Marion, Arizona

 

All the lines in Collin Barber’s poem lean into, as well as support, the magnificent phrasing and meaning of those mysterious but instantly recognized “unruly boroughs” of the fourth line. Admittedly, there is some mystery here: that “late night storm”—was it the weather or something else? And what, exactly, are “unruly boroughs”? As judges, we still cannot answer those questions adequately. Though hardly a riddle, the poem has the elements of one: and that was the clincher for us, for its subject, finally, is human love.

 

 

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

These tanka are characterized by a sense of the contemporary, drawing into their lyrical reflections events and objects that have little or no tradition of poetic use. In fresh and original ways, the central image of each poem is made to yield vivid, startling meaning.

 

blowing across

the plowed field

a sheet of newspaper

with who knows what

kind of news

 

      Tom Clausen

      Ithaca, New York

 

Tom Clausen’s combination of urban with rural imagery draws together two kinds of world. The poem seems to ask the question: What matters most? We found in this poem a wonderful resonance between the old news adrift in the newspaper, passive and empty, and the latent, intentional future symbolized by that plowed field.

 

 

a week after

my coworker’s suicide,

the sculpture on her desk

collapses—magnetic paper clips

that held nothing together

 

      Michael Dylan Welch

      Sammamish, Washington

 

Michael Dylan Welch’s sculpture of paper clips—something we have all seen, and may even have on our own desk tops—is turned into a powerful metaphor about the fragility of life, and of individual purpose, in our time.

 

 

give me

a short cliché

to wear

on this battered sleeve

along some commonplace street

 

      Sanford Goldstein

      Shibata-shi, Japan

 

Sanford Goldstein’s short cliché on a battered sleeve struck us both as an unusual poem of insight and courage, homing-in with remarkable precision on the human need for the familiar and ordinary, however used-up, tired, weak, or inadequate it might be: the poem turns the whole issue of cliché on its head, as only the best art can.

 

 

last night

dark birds pecked the edges

of my dreams

all day I keep looking

at the unplugged phone

 

      Michael Evans

      Port Orchard, Washington

 

Finally, black birds have been used frequently as signs of both good and ill in the Western literary tradition; and in dreams, they often are interpreted to mean problems in relationships—in both poetry and in dream interpretation venues. In Michael Evans’ tanka, which offers the startling combination of black birds with an unplugged phone—symbol of disconnection, willful or circumstantial—we have allusive connections with the everyday, as well as with the Jungian collective unconscious. Isn’t that what poetry in any form is all about?

 

 

The Tanka Society of America 2008 International Tanka Contest received 339 entries. We are especially grateful for the special care taken by Carole MacRury in coordinating such a large field, and for always being there to help us with the logistics. Congratulations to the winners, and many thanks to all the poets whose work we were privileged to read.

 

Contest Coordinator: Carole MacRury