2010 Winners

2010 TSA International Tanka Contest Winners

Tom Clausen and Jeanne Emrich, Judges

First Place ($100)

it wasn’t always so

the words and silences

that came between us

now I bring you irises

cut this morning in the rain

James Chessing

In this classic tanka, the poet masterfully brings us through past strains and silences in a relationship to a present redemption, beautifully expressed in the vivid images of the last two lines. The “I’ in this verse has just cut a bouquet of irises as a gift for another, perhaps a spouse or a parent. The act of giving the irises is a token of the renewed love between these two people, as fresh and enchanting as “this morning” in the garden. The rain itself becomes a kind of benediction upon the renewed relationship.

Having come to the end of the poem, we recycle through it again to be reminded that “it wasn’t always so,” and we know that the poet is offering testimony that a relationship can survive the rough spells and come out of them with a love still capable of flourishing. This is the kind of poem that stays with you for a long time, perhaps because the simple act of cutting irises in the rain for a loved one brings an image of grace to the poem as to the relationship it describes.

Second Place ($50)

hush of crickets

from familiar trees

we leave our home

of seventeen years

without fanfare

Margaret Chula

Portland, Oregon

Only the crickets appear to notice the family leaving their home after seventeen years. Part of a life has been spent in this place and all is familiar: the trees, the crickets, the lawn, the house. An era is now over and a leave-taking is in progress—without fanfare. The hush of the crickets is eloquent. But it is also symbolic of a sensate universe—all the life around us, the birds, the animals, the people, and the very air itself feel our comings and goings. This quiet awareness is the fanfare. We have only to hear it.

Third Place ($25)

in twilight

by the beach fire

I shiver

thinking of the last time

you turned to wave goodbye

Susan Constable

Nanoose Bay, British Columbia

The beach fire in this verse could have sent the observer into a deep meditation, as staring at fires can do. But instead of soul-satisfying ruminations, this person’s psyche has been opened to the raw memory of a painful moment, a moment until now probably repressed. The twilight and the beach fire now take on different nuances—twilight being the objective correlative of the end of the relationship and the fire being the passion or pain involved. The “I shiver” is an excellent pivot, and we shiver, too, since the poet has brought us to the very edge of this person’s psyche. We are there, peering in and someone is waving a final goodbye.

Honorable Mentions (In no particular order)


this year’s reunion—

I spend the afternoon

watching baby spiders


Seren Fargo

Bellingham, Washington

This verse is a fine example of imaginative parallelism. Instead of revisiting the past at a school or family reunion to learn what has happened to everyone as they have gone out into the world, the voice/poet chooses to spend an afternoon witnessing a new generation of life dispersing. The past and the present merge in the ever-recurring life cycle, no matter what the species. The vivid image of the baby spiders focuses this verse magnificently and suggests that we too are small and floating away on the wispy strands of time

gone are sail winds

that came in the night

same as you

I knew we would end

on a still day in time


La Pine, Oregon

Here is remorse made eloquent with a nautical simile. The last line is a powerful launch into meditation on this poem and all it suggests. Perhaps all such personal endings are a “still day in time”—where the present moment and life’s hectic activities seem to be suspended while a relationship comes to an end.

the new neighbor

I show him where to find

spring beauties

they don’t transplant well

I almost say

Carol Purington

Colrain, Massachusetts

The wry humor in this verse shows us that not only can we see objective correlatives, we can practically trip over them, unexpectedly embarrassing ourselves and others in a social situation. Is the new neighbor one of those spring beauties that don’t transplant well? Better not even suggest it! This tanka is very much in the tradition of the Japanese omoshiroki tei—“a witty or ingenious treatment of a conventional topic,” as described by Jane Reichhold in her article, “Teika’s Ten Tanka Techniques,” first published in the Tanka Society of America journal, Ribbons, 6:1, Spring, 2010.

1 lb. ground beef

1 cup chopped carrot,

celery, onion

far from home

I follow your recipe

Natalie Perfetti

This tanka speaks of the comfort and wisdom of family culture, a culture found in the kitchen and handed down from generation to generation in recipes and the memories attached to them, sentiment you can eat. What makes this poem real is the details of the recipe— simple ingredients that evoke the daily enjoyments of family life at mealtime. But it is the action of following the recipe that is the true gift, as anyone who has ever inherited a cookbook knows. Each flour-dusted, hands-on step taken draws the cook into a metaphorical, even a ritualistic, recreation of bygone family life. It is your mother speaking to you right there in your kitchen, even when you are far from home.

The Tanka Society of America 2010 International Tanka Contest received 285 entries. We would like to congratulate all the winning poets and thank Carole MacRury for administrating the contest.

Contest Coordinator: Carole MacRury