2001 TSA International Tanka Contest Winners
Cherie Hunter Day and Paul O. Williams, Judges
It was not an easy task to select the winning tanka from this year’s 216 entries. There is so much to admire in these tanka winners and the nonwinners alike. We wish to thank all the poets who shared their work with us. In each encounter we are changed.
field after field
so splashed with poppies and lupine
to describe this feeling
back home my friend is worse
After painting such a vivid scene in the first two lines, the poet is at a loss for words about his or her own feelings. We are suspended in midair for the next two lines. The condition of the friend is very present in the poet’s mind and heart. In the final line, though not much is stated, so much is intimated. The juxtaposition of the profusion of field flowers, the feelings of being overwhelmed, and concern for a friend all come into focus as if something spinning is stopped for a moment, and in that instant the heart and mind are clear.
the pine sap
that would not wash from my hands
darkens . . .
night after night
dream creatures speak your last words
Linda Jeanette Ward
Coinjock, North Carolina
Again this tanka presents a clear image that the reader can identify with. How many of us have unknowingly gotten pine pitch on our hands, and the more we tried to rub it off, the stickier and dirtier our hands became? Because the first part of this tanka is so accurately portrayed, we trust what the poet tells us in the second half of the poem. There is an intuitive leap from the smearyness of the pine sap to a quality of that dark night. Someone’s last words even travel into the real of dreams and come back to haunt us.
Father’s stroke-free hand
reaches for mine . . .
a tiny spider, green, green
and translucent as sea glass
descends from the bedside lamp
Linda Jeannette Ward
Coinjock, North Carolina
We can certainly identify emotionally with the intensity of this scene. The poet conveys this very well with the tiny, seemingly fragile spider. The choice of the color green is particularly interesting and telling. Usually green spiders inhabit plants. They use their color as camouflage so they can live their spider-lives incognito. This little spider is out of place on the bedside lamp. So, too, how out of place we feel at the bedside of a dying parent. The reader isn’t told the circumstances how the spider arrived, nor are we told if the relationship is tenuous between father and child. The movement in this particular moment is unwavering and direct. It pierces us.
A dead limb
disturbs the river
where it pools—
an old black stone
practices my sermon
This tanka contrasts the slight disturbance of the dead limb with a feeling of contentment and satisfaction, which the stone, assumedly in the stream and making it murmur, brings. The stone’s sermon recalls the statement of Jacques in Shakespeare’s As you Like It, in which he expresses satisfaction with his country life, with its “books in running brooks, sermons in stories and good in everything.” The speaker of the poem quietly and indirectly expresses his sense of being soothed by the calmness of the scene.
counts cats in the living room
new year’s day
a man and a woman
compare corners of their lives
With fresh eyes, the poet sees this scene and presents it with cool detachment. It is this understatement that suggests the awkwardness of the moment. The pivot line, “new year’s day,” links the two halves of the tanka together. This hinge invites the reader into the poem. Typically, New Year’s Day is a day of reflection and new beginning. But we can only start from where we are, and it takes courage to see where each of us truly is. Poetry and beauty exist here in the most ordinary and quirky circumstances. We join with the poet and we ponder our lives a little longer.
Contest coordinator: Job Conger