2002 Winners

2002 TSA International Tanka Contest Winners

Pamela Miller Ness and Linda Jeannette Ward, Judges

It was both a tremendous honor and pleasure but also a daunting challenge to select the winners of this year’s TSA contest. In early May, we each received a batch of 335 cards from Pamela A. Babusci, the contest coordinator. Each of us read these tanka many times, reading poems aloud, rereading, sorting, culling. We then shared our lists of approximately 20 poems with one another, noted the overlaps, and then went back to the drawing board, carefully reading and considering those selected by the other judge. Although each of us appreciates a wide range of traditional and free-form tanka, we did agree on certain general criteria: we believe that tanka are short lyrical poems; we have a preference for a juxtaposition of nature with human nature; and we find a caesura to be effective. We asked each other questions, shared interpretations, and slowly winnowed down the list. This process of reading, talking, rereading continued until we reached a consensus on the following three winners and three honorable mentions (which are not ranked). We would like to thank all who entered the contest for sharing their work with us; each poem is a tiny universe that opens a poet’s heart to the reader.

First Place ($100)

Her sharp knife quick

to peel, core, slice the red apple

we talk of childhood fears

how I blocked my ears

against the fairy tale

Carol Purington

Colrain, Massachusetts

In this tanka, we were drawn to the juxtaposition of a very specific and quite violent action in the present that seems to bring up a discussion of childhood fears and the remembrance of a scary fairy tale. This poem’s power is perhaps an example of how one poet’s image can have archetypal connotations with its universal resonance. Aside from these emotional elements, there is also a pleasing rhythm accented by a subtle rhyme.

Second Place ($50)

Returning at dusk

to watch the sea swallow

the west sun,

sunburn pushing through

my damp cotton shirt

Art Stein

Greenfield, Massachusetts

There is a subtle emotional resonance to this tanka: perhaps the poet is returning alone to a place s/he has shared with a loved one, and the sunburn and the dampness of the shirt reflect a lingering passion. There is a feeling of regret and longing as though a holiday and love affair were coming to an end, a feeling that is reinforced by a reference to dusk and the disappearance of the sun into the sea.

Third Place ($25)

A dream blows away

in a blaze of copper leaves

my fingers grown cold

as I gather color

for a vase of winter-blue

Carol Purington

Colrain, Massachusetts

We were drawn to the other-worldliness of this poem, evoking a sense of reverie disrupted by the reality of fingers numbed by cold. We loved the juxtaposition of colors, the feeling of season without explicit reference, and the feeling of loneliness or abandonment. It seems to reflect the poet’s need to garner the last colors of autumn before the advent of winter, perhaps a metaphor reflecting the desire to cling to mid-life before signs of old age begin to appear. The poet has also given this tanka a pleasing musical quality with a slight use of alliteration between the first four lines.

Honorable Mentions (listed alphabetically)

No pears on the tree

two few apples for cider

only autumn leaves

will my heart one day agree

that color is enough?

Carol Purington

Colrain, Massachusetts

The basket she made

heart-shaped on a white door

another letter

I found no words for answering

until too late

Carol Purington

Colrain, Massachusetts

Still feeling the warmth

of our farewell handclasp

in this chilly place.

Blue spiral of a feather

as it slowly drifts to earth

Emily Romano