2000 Winners

2000 TSA International Tanka Contest Winners

Naomi Y. Brown and David Rice, Judges

It was an honor for us to be asked to judge the premier Tanka Society of America International Tanka Contest. We each received a package of 309 tanka in mid-December 2000. To read and reread so many tanka is an emotional experience. Tanka, as we all know, allows the essence of the poet to shine through the five lines. We would like to thank all the poets who submitted tanka to the contest and for sharing their lives in this wonderful form.

After we each had read all the tanka, we selected the 20 that we especially liked. We exchanged lists of these tanka and then we each selected the six to ten that we liked best. We spoke on the phone for about an hour and discussed the ten tanka that we both had picked as most outstanding. From those ten, we selected the first, second, and third prize winners and four honorable mentions.

We both selected some poems for special consideration that the other person did not select at all. We placed an emphasis on tanka that gave us a strong feeling as we read. Perhaps this is why all judging is idiosyncratic at some level. One poem may emotionally move one person, while another person might like the poem but not be especially moved by it. In selecting the tanka we liked the best from our final group of 10, we also looked for poems that had a strong rhythm and flow, that sounded good when read aloud. If two other people had been the judges, the final selection of winning poems would undoubtedly have been somewhat different. However, we were in considerable agreement about which of these 309 poems were our favorites, and we agreed on the final order of the selections.

A group of 309 tanka can easily be sorted into “lighter”/no natural imagery tanka and “deeper”/natural imagery tanka, analogous to the distinction between haiku and senryu. It is sometimes difficult to compare poems that are so different in content and aim. The TSA might consider discussing the general issue of whether tanka poets actually write two kinds of poems, just as haiku poets write both haiku and senryu.

We would also like to say that although we agree that there are not absolute rules about what makes a poem a tanka (e.g., there is not debate on the issue of season words, as there is in haiku), we looked for poems that contained some sort of shift. Without a shift, we believe it is more difficult for the poet to explain why the poem is a tanka.

First Place ($100)

traveling the path

through rustling cornfields

to the cow pasture

I see father waving his cap

just before I wake up

Edward J. Reilly

We liked the flow of this poem. We liked the strong, happy feeling the poem gave us. And we also liked how the feeling expanded, like ripples in a pond after a pebble disappears: the poet’s father is no longer alive. The happiness remains but gains depth and perspective as we sit with the feeling.

Second Place ($50)

Halving fruit,

my second husband’s

way of love—

hard to change habits

so late in life

Amelia Fielden

Although we think that tanka usually do not need commas and periods because the structure of the lines can serve to inform the reader of pauses and endings, we liked this poem so much that we overlooked our opinions about punctuation. We liked how the taste of this poem remained in our mouths for a long time. It is a simple poem that grows more complicated in a satisfying way: her second husband genuinely loves her and she knows that and yet . . . it doesn’t quite feel like real love and yet . . . she accepts his love, too.

Third Place ($25)


clearing out his desk

I find him

in bits and pieces

the man I never knew

Doris Kasson

We liked how we felt, along with the poet, surprise and sadness, surprise that someone so close could have such secrets and sadness that those secrets were not shared.

Honorable Mentions


the old woman turns in bed

waiting for the sun

to reach the tulip tree

already yellow

Leatrice Lifshitz

one block away

from E-business conference

a man with

a shopping cart

talking to the sky

Fay Aoyagi

San Francisco, California

in the flower bed

a rabbit naps

rump in the air

like my son when he wore

footed pajamas

Joann Klontz

I’d have called him at dusk

to wish him a happy birthday

but this year

I study the slow spiral

of a solitary leaf

Joann Klontz

Contest coordinator: Job Conger