2012 Winners

2012 TSA International Tanka Contest Winners

Peggy Heinrich and J. Zimmerman, Judges

The selection of the three prize winners from 193 submitted tanka was a challenge and an honor for us both. We received the tanka identified by number, not the poet’s name. We looked for tanka whose spirit, sense, and sound supported each other to create an integrated poem. We worked independently initially, each creating a long list of about 30 poems whose emotional power and technical skill merited further intense scrutiny. We then narrowed down our lists to about a dozen tanka. When we met to discuss our potential award winners, we focused on poems on our long and short lists. While we had several of the final seven tanka on both our short lists, there were poems only one of us had chosen yet could (in particular cases) justify its merit for an award to the co-judge. The quality of the work led us to award an honorable mention to four additional excellent poems. Congratulations to everyone who participated in this contest and particularly to the following poets.

First Place ($100)

chipped sugar bowl

he’s learning to forget

who did it

she’s learning

not to see the blemish

Dorothy McLaughlin

Somerset, New Jersey

These few words open up a whole story in time and a mystery at the end—who actually caused the chipped sugar bowl and how?—as well as the different natures so common in any couple. That the object damaged holds sugar suggests the relationship that holds the sweetness between these people has also been damaged. Yet the poem implies hope for them; they are each doing some work by “learning.” Also, the hard opening perception of a “chipped” object has become softer at the end, being merely “blemished”—as most of us are. Consonants further support this poem. The liquid “l” repeats in significant words “bowl” and “learning” and “blemish”) while the leading “b” links “bowl” and “blemish.”

Second Place ($50)

a mountain

wrapped in purple haze

if only

I could go back

and misspend my youth

Kenneth Slaughter

Again, time is an element in this tanka. The mountain can be thought of as the past “wrapped” in the purple haze that may have engulfed the writer in youth. We might expect the last lines to be “I could go back/to my misspent youth,” but the poem offers instead the wish to go back and relive his yout’h quite differently (to a Hendrix soundtrack). A serious subject wrapped in delightful humor.

Third Place ($25)

the mail

that keeps coming

after her death . . .

surprised now, by how much

we had in common

Michele L. Harvey

These last two lines surprise us by how much they reveal about the relationship between the deceased and the survivor. They show the sadness of realizing commonality when it’s too late—a situation that many of us might identify with. The interwoven “m” sounds (in “mail” and “coming” and “much” and “common”) and the slant rhyme of “coming” and “common” enhance the unity of this poem.

First Honorable Mention

pinking shears

and euphemisms

my tidy mother

always able to neaten

the frayed edges of life

Julie Thorndyke

Fresh metaphors, both positive and negative, yield a strong portrait of the poet’s mother.

Second Honorable Mention

the moon’s

thin smile as I begin

to write

grows wider

when I mention you

Lesley Swanson

And our smile, figurative or real, grows as we easily visualize this loving scene, especially with the nice element of surprise in the last line.

Third Honorable Mention

blank squares

in the crossword puzzle

my brother left

at the cancer clinic . . .

answers we never find

Kenneth Slaughter

Very fresh; the metaphor of the unfinished crossword puzzle with its empty spaces leads the poet and family to unanswered questions.

Fourth Honorable Mention


her sister’s hair

after the rape

so many

long dark strands

Jenny Angyal

These few words, say so much, capturing a terrible event and a sister’s caring gesture in its aftermath, soothing and arranging the long hair, if not the dark memories she knows her sister will live with.

Contest Coordinator: Celia Stuart-Powles