2004 Winners

2004 TSA International Tanka Contest Winners

Jeanne Emrich and Michael McClintock, Judges

It was both an honor and a pleasure to read all 306 of this year’s submitted tanka and to select the winning entries from such a rich field. Upon receiving the cards from the contest coordinator, Linda Jeannette Ward, we were immediately struck by the variety of subject matter, styles, and techniques in the entries—a testimony to the versatility of the form and its emergence as a contemporary vehicle for poetic and personal expression. To judge a poem is to read deeply and intuitively enough to assess the poet’s artistry in the use of language to both touch our hearts and inform our lives—to represent a truth incommunicable by any other means. The six tanka presented here, with their themes of life transitions, memory, love, and loss, all merit this consideration and we commend them for their fresh images and sensitivity to life’s telling moments, however fleeting or incidental.

First Place ($100)

Summer solstice.

For the young couple

who buy

my childhood home

there are no ghosts

Pamela Miller Ness

New York, New York

Through the fundamental, controlling image of the summer solstice, delivered with force in an unusual first line that ends in a period, the poet establishes the tanka’s theme of transition and provides a remarkable, almost metaphysical frame for our understanding of this poem’s haunting reflection on endings and beginnings. A time of the year when the sun has no apparent northward or southward motion and is at its zenith over the Tropic of Cancer around June 22, the summer solstice finds the sun in a neutral position, just as is the house about to be bought by the young couple. For them, the house contains neither the ghosts of the previous owners nor yet their own hopes and dreams. The poet expertly completes the frame begun in the first line with the 5th line’s eloquent and surprising insight, “there are no ghosts.” Within this frame, which speaks to both our minds and our emotions with such force, we also find our own childhood homes and the memories now housed only in our hearts.

Second Place ($50)

Pussy willows

in a vase without water

so they’ll last

the story my grandmother

told only once



We always hear about stories grandmother and grandfather have told a thousand times, but there are other stories, stories so personal or painful or delicate that they get told only once. The poet, who has been present at the telling of one such story, here subtly presages her concern for preserving the story for all who might need to hear it with the image of the pussy willows in the vase without water so they’ll last. The use of indentation for the fourth and fifth lines structurally reinforces the reader’s sense of the impact this story-once-told has had on the poet’s memory by literally offsetting it in a space of its own, adjacent to the vase.

Third Place ($25)

with melting flakes

still spangling his parka

he lies down

by my side on the hospital bed

and I’m home

Marianne Bluger

Ottawa, Ontario

The melting flakes still spangling the beloved’s parka is an image whose impact and meaning gathers depth and richness with every rereading. Here is a loved one who has wasted no time coming directly through the snow to the hospital bed to lie beside and embrace his love in the comfort of his arms. We are in admiration of how the poet has fused the images in meaningful and poignant relationship, culminating in the heartfelt realization that when in his arms, the poet is home. What raises this love tanka to excellence is its powerful, simply rendered love story and its sweeping affirmations of love and home in a single gesture. Death may also hover near this bed; we don’t know. But clearly, love and home are immortal in these two on the hospital bed.

Highly Commended Poems

This year’s Highly Commended poems also demonstrate the vigor and authority of English language tanka as a real and compelling presence in the short poem universe: each is an achievement and measure of tanka’s best strengths. Congratulations to all.

This year

I manage the awning

by myself

halfway open

on bright days

Peggy Heinrich

Bridgeport, Connecticut


she thought she knew me

the girl wearing

a camellia

like my mother wore

Doreen King

Hornchurch, England

smoky sunbeams

through tattered trees

now are the days

once given

no thought

Larry Kimmel

Colrain, Mssachusetts

About the Judges

Jeanne Emrich is a poet and artist living in Edina, Minnesota. The founder and first web manager of “Haiga Online: A Journal of Painting and Poetry” (1998–2002), Jeanne now edits the annual serial book, Reeds Contemporary Haiga. Her published writings include The Haiku Habit (1996), The Haiku Habit Workshop Manual (1998), and Barely Dawn (1999), all from Lone Egret Press. She has taught haiku, tanka, and haiga at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota and is a frequent guest lecturer on these topics in the United States.

Michael McClintock lives in South Pasadena and Los Angeles, California where he edits “The New American Imagist” series of contemporary poetry for Hermitage West, and is a frequent contributor of poetry, essays, and reviews to tanka, haiku, and other literary journals worldwide. His most recent project was completion of The Tanka Anthology (Red Moon Press, 2003), which he edited with Pamela Miller Ness and Jim Kacian.

Contest Coordinator: Linda Jeannette Ward