Sanford M. Goldstein Eulogy

Sanford Marvin Goldstein

December 1, 1925 – May 5, 2023

Sanford Goldstein, for whom the Tanka Society of America renamed its international tanka contest in 2015, has been called the grandfather of tanka in English. He passed away at the age of 97 in May of 2023, in Shibata City, Japan. Fellow tanka poet Joy McCall noted that Sandy died “on the 5th day of the 5th month of the 5th Reiwa year in Japan, so right for the man who lived his whole life in five lines.” See also “Spilling Tanka: An Interview with Sanford Goldstein,” conducted by Patricia Prime in 2004.

from my hospital window

I see across a bare field

in the morning rain

a yellow silk umbrella

on its solitary way

First Place, 2003 Tanka Society of America International Tanka Contest 

Sanford M. Goldstein Eulogy


by Dave Goldstein


Sanford Marvin Goldstein was born on December 1, 1925 to Herman and Rose Goldstein. Sanford, or Sandy as he was called, was the youngest of 3 siblings. Harvey was his elder brother and Sydelle, his older sister. Sanford grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and although his family was initially well-off, they fell on difficult times during the depression, a time when Sandy ended up having to leave his home and be placed with relatives for over a year in order for the family to make ends meet.

Sanford attended high school in Cleveland and graduated from Case Western Reserve University. He was focused on becoming a teacher, and first selected math. However, the equations and formulas were always a struggle for him, at times causing him to throw his book against the wall in frustration. Sanford eventually settled on English, where he found what he later called the “beauty of a sentence,” even at an early age. Based on his capabilities, Sanford was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, America’s oldest academic achievement society, in 1949.

Sanford was drafted into World War II, but he did not serve overseas. His ability as a typist was legendary as he could type over 125 words per minute. After being discharged, he pursued further advanced degrees, eventually earning his doctorate.

Sanford met his wife, Bernice Zinderman at summer camp. After a period when he wanted to marry her, but she was reluctant, and then later, she wanted to marry him, but he was reluctant, they ended up marrying in 1952. Sanford applied for a Fulbright scholarship to continue to pursue his academics in the US, but it ended up falling through.

However, just when it looked like nothing of note was on the horizon, Bernice, herself an academic in Sociology/Anthropology, who would later earn a master’s degree, came home and informed him that there indeed was a Fulbright opportunity. When Sanford asked where it was, she said, “Japan”. Sanford replied, “I’m never going to the land of the former enemy.” However, Bernice persuaded Sanford to go, and in 1953 they ended up on a freighter, the Hikawa Maru, for the more than 2-week journey to Japan, where they met a Niigata University representative and were taken to Niigata, where Sanford’s love affair with Japan began. On a small side note, the Hikawa Maru was turned into a museum and is docked at the Minato Mirai Park in Yokohama. We three siblings were able to tour this ship with Dad in the early 2000s, when we were all together in Yokohama for a visit and reminisce about his first trip to Japan.

In Niigata, Sanford met several professors who would play a crucial role in his literary life as a translator and later, as tanka poet. Chief among them were professors Shinoda and Ochiai.

As his love of translation grew, Sanford began to seek additional literary avenues. In the early 1960s, he read Carl Sesar’s Poems to Eat, English translations of the Japanese poet, Takuboku Ishikawa, and he eventually settled on tanka poetry, a form of Japanese poetry much less well known in the West than haiku or senryu. Takuboku’s ability to capture raw, human emotion and isolate it in a moment of time was quite endearing to Sanford. By this time, Sanford was teaching at Purdue University where he was promoted to full professor in 1971, and he began writing tanka poetry, usually 20 to 30 poems a day, often at the Purdue Union.

Sanford’s first book of tanka, This Tanka World, was published by Purdue Poets Cooperative Press in 1977. Many other books of his own tanka poetry have been published after that and his work has grown a whole new interest in tanka poetry around the English-speaking world, leading to the establishment of several tanka societies and publications. The Tanka Society of America was one of those societies and they have long had an international contest for the best English tanka poem of the year. In 2015, that contest was renamed the Sanford Goldstein International Tanka Contest. Currently, there are writers of English tanka poems in many different countries around the world. Many have called him the Father of English tanka, a title which I believe is deservedly bestowed.

As my father’s eldest son, I have grown up knowing about tanka, and have read many of them. Dad said that his tanka poems were spilled, not written, like emotions being poured out or a moment of time that is revealed, it seems to me, in a way that almost makes you feel like you are watching it in slow motion. There is an individual reality about each poem.

Dad has experienced extreme sadness in his life. He was a loner from an early age, and he has spoken about how antisemitism affected him through childhood and even through his army years. He has endured tremendous tragedy, including losing his wife after only 20 years of marriage, the last six of them filled with her illness from an initial cerebral hemorrhage. Both of my sisters, Rachel and Lisa, and I, have experienced much of that pain and suffering with him growing up in the family and seeing him endure through those times.

All three of us are thankful for the way he carried on after Mom’s untimely death in Japan as he supported us through our high school and college years until we were able to be out on our own. And he continued to encourage us throughout the years.

In 1992, Dad retired from Purdue University after 36 years there and moved to Japan to first teach again at his beloved Niigata University and then at Keiwa College, located in Shibata City, in Niigata Prefecture.

Three years after moving to Japan, in 1995, Dad was introduced to Kazuaki Wakui, a local artist. While Dad was at first skeptical of Kazuaki’s ability to learn English, Kazuaki pressed on and eventually demonstrated his mastery of this language. For the last 27 years and 6 months, he was Dad’s constant companion and they eventually lived together, first in Niigata City, and then later in Shibata, where Kazuaki built their home, later named the Atellib House (Dad came up with the name for this. Atel means workshop or studio from the word, “atelier”. Lib stands for library. This encompasses their mutual passions for art and academics. The house was designed to accommodate both of these activities.). They traveled together and visited Europe, the US and much of Japan. Since both Kazuaki and Dad were artists, they had a shared love of music, theater, and museum arts. Kazuaki was Dad’s “mate” and over those final difficult years when dementia set in, he was at his side and took care of him up until the moment when Dad passed. Our family is so grateful for his efforts. Kazuaki plans to carry on the legacy of this great English tanka poet and looks forward to establishing a place where aspiring tanka poets can come and visit and perhaps seek the inspiration for their own poetry that Dad found through the classical tanka masters, Takuboku Ishikawa, Mokichi Saito and Akiko Yosano.

Over his years in Japan, we three kids had discussions with him of moving back to the US. While he did consider doing that, the answer always ended up being the same; he wanted to stay in his beloved Japan, where he felt the most comfortable and the most at home.

Dad was loved and respected by many and has given us a legacy of English tanka poetry that can be passed on to many generations.

Thank you, Dad, and may you eternally rest in peace. Your loving family and friends.