2011 TSA International Tanka Contest Winners
Hortensia Anderson and David Bachelor, Judges
The selection of three winners and three honorable mentions from 238 tanka was a challenge as well as a privilege. We searched for tanka with lyrical flow that evoked a sense of awe and amazement through their originality and creative use of sound and image. This made our task rather daunting given the talented pool we had to draw from.
We decided to separately create a list of approximately 25 of our favorites. We then took the overlap, each creating yet another list with 10. From the union of the resulting lists, we decided which tanka would place and which couldn’t quite place, yet struck enough of a chord to deserve recognition.
It was an honor to have all of the poets who participated in the 2011 contest so generously share aspects of their lives with us in five lines.
years from now
I promise to remember
how you looked that night
alone on the verandah
holding moonlight in your hands
In this beautiful tanka, we are moved through time in an unusual way. The poet begins with the future but with the present word “now.” In L2, “I promise” is the present tense yet the line refers to the future. Line 3 begins in the past with “looked” which slides into a timeless image in the final two lines.
This is a tanka with a twist—how can the person be alone if being remembered by someone else? How can a promise be made to remember in the future? Yet without the first line and the word “alone,” the tanka loses its magic. The interior rhymes “now” and “how, “night” and “light” make for a tanka that sounds as dreamy and full of love as the image that “years from now” we shall all remember.
you look alarmed
when I mention my birthday—
I remind you
of the gift I helped you buy
and where you have it hidden
What a wonderful, humorous tanka about relationships. It consists of two sentences. The first two lines set the stage for disaster, which is averted by the final three lines. It is a comedic poem, yet it expresses the love between a couple. The lack of adjectives allows us to imagine the details and the plethora of pronouns tells us that it is the actions of the couple that are important.
my aged mother
has no fear of death . . .
so why do I tremble
when she doesn’t
answer the phone
Cathy Drinkwater Better
This lovely tanka is about the love of an adult child for an aging parent. The ellipses at the end of line two gives a feeling that the “aged mother” not only “has no fear of death” but is at the edge. The mother accepts leaving while the adult child fears her mother’s death and the impending separation. An unanswered telephone is a separation that causes the poet to “tremble.” The deeper inquiry in this tanka is how an aged parent can accept separation while the adult child can’t.
Honorable Mentions (In no particular order)
like pulling clothes
out of the rag bin
to wear again
this rethinking of ideas
I discarded yesterday
A wry comparison of ideas and clothes.
This elegant gift
from a woman who told her son
not to marry me—
in so many ways
her taste impeccable
This tanka creates a scenario whose twist lies in the word “impeccable.” Does it refer to the gift or the judgment, or both?
through the habit of thought
he couldn’t know
that this husk that is left
once held a butterfly
Michele L. Harvey
One partner is blinded by habitual thinking and so does not see the other’s true nature. Sad and true.
Contest Coordinator: Celia Stuart-Powles