2018 Winners

2018 Sanford Goldstein International Tanka Contest Winners

Jessica Malone Latham and Neal Whitman, Judges

Thank you to Jessica Malone Latham and Neal Whitman for their hard work in judging this year’s contest. Also, thank you to Kenneth Slaughter for shuffling the poems and creating a master list for the judges to work with without any names attached. And a big thank you to everyone who entered for your dedication in making this contest a success. We had 81 participants from nine countries: Australia, Canada, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and the United States, for a total of 476 entries. Please enjoy the judges’ report and the winning selections.

—Susan Burch, TSA Contest Coordinator

Judges’ Report

Both of us love reading, writing, and examining tanka, so, though a daunting task, judging this tanka contest was a labor of love. From the start, we found common ground in our shared commitment to read, reread, and rereread, and to recite tanka out loud . . . each of us at home behind closed doors, eager hearts, and open windows. We agreed that seeing each tanka on the page and hearing its sound was important to both of us. Two sets of eyes. Two sets of ears. While we admired and noted structure, syntax, and lyricism, we also allowed the poem to speak to us deeply and individually, to really listen to the story within each word. That is why it is said that no two people read the same poem!

We started by independently choosing thirty tanka and found it remarkable that there was an overlap of five tanka on our two lists. Our aim for the next round was to create one list of thirty tanka, but, since the overlap was an odd number, we each chose thirteen poems from the other judge’s list, thus making a list of thirty-one tanka.

Again, we were committed to read, hear, see, feel, and recite. Keeping the original selection of five tanka, the next round was for each judge to choose two tanka from the list of thirteen tanka that the other judge had selected from each other’s list. With this set of nine tanka, we talked on the telephone to share our personal experiences and collaborative interpretation of each poem before the last stage of voting.

Then, via email, we each assigned nine points to our “top” choice down to one point for “bottom” choice. What a challenge! All nine tanka felt like winners. To all those who submitted tanka we acknowledge and believe that every one of you submitted a “winning” tanka, in that you sent what you believed was worthy of a prize. Both judges know the feeling of not receiving a placement this time around. Still, the two of us join hands with every one of you that we, the tanka poets of the world, are continuing to increase our awareness, expand our compassion, heal our wounds, and express ourselves. With that said, the winners, the honorable mentions, and each poet who submitted touched a place in our hearts and in the poetry community. With sincerest gratitude, we thank you for allowing us to read, appreciate, interpret, and judge your art. Heartfelt congratulations to the winners, and to all!

—Jessica Malone Latham and Neal Whitman

First Place ($100)

the ocean

was in a rage last night

but today,

these peace offerings

of blue mussels and kelp

Debbie Strange

Winnipeg, Manitoba

The word “rage” has a long, storied history in literature. It is a universal emotion and, for sure, people have long experienced the rage of the ocean. How excellent we thought was its use in line two, rather than using a word such as “storm.” We admired the use of a simple comma at the end of line three to give the reader a short pause to allow a moment to ponder, “What’s next?” Ah, there is a resolution to the last night. Today? A peace offering to which we felt an “aah” moment. How welcome is the bounty. The ocean offers an infinity of treasures. We found the blue mussels and kelp to be a delightful choice made by this poet. We have already mentioned reciting tanka aloud to take in their sound. You might not choose to read out loud all nine of the awarded tanka, but this one, in particular, lends itself to deeper appreciation with its pivot at the end of line three. You might experience tranquility with lines four and five. We did.

Second Place ($50)

a gift

within a gift


holding the silence

in the shape of petals

Kathy Kituai

Canberra, Australia

We allowed ourselves to really imagine the openness of poppies, their petals spilling into sky for sunshine or rain to fill them. Poppies hold silence and, in the shape of petals, so do our hands, so do our hearts. To us, this poet brought out the magic in the ordinary, the hallelujah moment, reverence, and gratitude all said in the silence of poppies—were they left alone in a field to carry out their beauty, or plucked and placed into a vase as an apology or token of sympathy? We were left with enough answers, enough questions, and enough room to interpret what we felt the poet’s message was. In our opinion, that is the simple magic of this poem.

Third Place ($25)

no resolutions

this New Year’s Day

I will make

changes to my life

in the early days of spring

Alison Williams

Southampton, United Kingdom

What initially stood out in this poem was the risk this poet took by selecting the holiday, New Year’s Day. This dark day in January, when the world is cold and resting [in the Northern hemisphere], has birthed into a time when we are told to make our intentions and changes, hopes and dreams. Instead, this poet, intuitive and trusting, settles into the dark like her fellow crocus beneath the snow. This poet tucks in deep as the bear whose heart slowly beats, and waits, rests, surrenders . . . survives. This poet then states “I will make / changes to my life / in the early days of spring,” revealing a sense of trust and humility in the slow and steady pace of life. It is in those days when sunlight returns, when things begin to stir, when the wishes and dreams that were given the chance to simmer, can now shoot forth as thousands of blossoms. In our eyes, this poem carries a delicate balance of dark and light, and ultimately, a sense of hope.

Honorable Mentions (not ranked)

in and out

of waves, a gentle motion


how far do I drop

to feel sand?

Louis Osofsky

Sacramento, California

As humans on earth, we experience the rise and fall of life, the gentle sway of waves, and subtle secrets that come and go, as do all creatures. This poem brought to mind the humility and strength, tenderness and mercy we experience in life. With waves, we lift and lower, letting water carry us. When we try instead, fighting against the flow, we taste the bitterness of a losing battle. If the intention of this poem is merely a surfer wondering when a wave will bring him or her to shore, it is beautifully written, but we believe this poet has a larger message for us all. In a few lines, the poet has successfully portrayed the universality of waves within each of us, and ultimately, no matter how far we drop, we can trust that we will eventually be caught by sand.


the apple on my jeans

I know

my mother-in-law

still has something to say

Christine L. Villa

North Highlands, California

As sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, and each of us who navigate the road of family, this poem is filled with perfect imagery—the fallen apple. The apple is an archetypal image for fairy tales such as Snow White and told in religion tales like the apple of Adam and Eve. The apple carries a plethora of childhood memories: apple pies, bobbing for apples, worms hidden deep, star seeds, health, sweetness, bitterness, and so on. Even more, the poet mentions polishing off the dirt to make the apple shine, and the absence of mother-in-law’s words. What more would she say? What is she saying in the unsaid? We were struck by the ease of how the poem read and the depth of its story. This made our minds swirl with perspective and intrigue, something well done by this poet.

if only

I’d read the novel

my mother

wanted to share with me

the bitter taste of rue

Sheila Sondik

Bellingham, Washington

We’ve all had one of those “if only” moments, yes? As a verb, “rue” means to regret what had been done by commission or omission, but, as a noun, it is an evergreen with bitter, strongly scented leaves. This tanka poet spoke from the heart to the hearts of both judges. The feeling of remorse is conveyed by the one specific example in a family history that prompts the reader to wonder how much more there is to it. All this in a well-constructed tanka that teaches us the power of a single, well-chosen word to make all the difference. With this tanka, we were also reminded that, while you might find the words “The End” at the end of a novel, a poem welcomes the reader to continue the story. We found this tanka a demonstration of that principle.

I sit for hours

legs dangling over the dock

wondering who I am

the lake reflects

ten thousand moons

Michael Lester

Los Angeles, California

While each line in this poem carried images that resonated strongly with us, we were particularly drawn to examining the last three lines. How many moons wax and wane in our lifetimes? And how many nights has this moon filled this lake with its light? How many of our ancestors have come to water to pray, kneel, bow, or dangle one’s legs, bodies pouring over to the mysteries of our expansive universe? We are led to believe the subject in this poem is young, perhaps at summer camp asking “who am I.” But whether we are young or old, with beginner’s mind or set in our ways, we all sense the universal message that we are left at some point with limp limbs, rippled waters, and the changing moonlight, eager to receive answers from something bigger than us.

on this night

of our awareness,

the aurora

brushes an ensō

across lake and sky

Debbie Strange

Winnipeg, Manitoba

This tanka offered a wonder visual image of sky artistry in the shape of a the Zen form of the brush-stroked circle known as an ensō. The circle, of course, has been a time-immemorial symbol of life with no beginning and no end. Reading this tanka did, in fact, provide both judges a moment of awareness. The poet asks us to imagine a transition from night to the first light of dawn when anything is possible. There is magic in the transcendence gifted by this tanka.

wheat fields

tousled by fingers

of wind

I tuck a strand of hair

behind your ear

Debbie Strange

Winnipeg, Manitoba

This tanka brought out the romance of life expressed in gentle moments, and oh how gently we are brought into this scene. In this poem, love is in wind and wheat, love is expressed by tucking hair with hands. While we sat in the presence of this poem, it enabled each of us to feel this sacred moment of love, and to reflect on our symbols of affection and tenderness. For us, we ultimately fell into a moment of appreciation and quietude.

Jessica Malone Latham, M.A., is the author of Cricket Song: Haiku and Short Poems from a Mother’s Heart (Red Moon Press) and the chapbooks Clouds of Light (wooden nickel press) and All this Bowing (Buddha Baby Press). Her tanka, haiku, and related forms have appeared in dozens of journals and anthologies, and she has received several awards. As a mother of two boys, Jessica teaches local seminars to new mothers about the importance of writing their way through motherhood. In addition to writing poetry of all forms, her prose has been featured on NPR’s local station, in Brain, Child, Literary Mama, Mamalode, Mothering, SpeakMom, and was featured in Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges (HarperOne). Most recently, Jessica’s poetry has been featured in the “Seasons of Haiku” path at Holden Arboretum in Ohio, and on Mann Library’s Daily Haiku website. To see more of Jessica’s work, to purchase her collections, or consider taking one of her poetry courses, visit her website at www.jessicalatham.com.

Neal Whitman, in transition into retirement, took up the writing of general poetry in 2005, haiku in 2008, and tanka in 2011. In contests sponsored by Diogen Pro Kultura Magazin in Bosnia-Herzegovina, his tanka won the summer 2013 1st prize and spring 2014 2nd prize, as well as the 2013 Autumn Best Tanka Pentaptych. In addition, his tanka won the United Haiku and Tanka Society’s 2014 “Pen the Painting” award and 2015 1st honorable mention in the Fleeting Words Tanka Competition. Neal is now vice president of the UHTS. He is haiku editor for Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine and on the editorial board of Revisita: Magazine of Romanian-Japanese Relationship. In 2015, he cojudged the Haiku Society of America’s Kanterman Merit Book Awards.

See the 2018 submission guidelines.