2023 Winners

2023 Sanford Goldstein International Tanka Contest Winners

an’ya and Debbie Strange, Judges


This year’s contest was entered by 191 people from 27 countries or regions: Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Poland, Romania, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States, for a total of 678 tanka. Thank you to the judges an’ya and Debbie Strange for taking the time to sort through all these entries to find this year’s winners. Please enjoy their selections and wonderful commentary.

—Susan Burch, TSA Contest Coordinator

Judges’ Commentary

We extend our gratitude to TSA vice president Susan Burch for coordinating this contest and for her invitation to adjudicate nearly 700 tanka entries, an especially humbling and meaningful way to serve and celebrate Sanford Goldstein’s legacy in this year of his passing. Thanks also to every entrant for entrusting us with their traditional and contemporary “short songs,” and for their commitment to the cultivation, evolution, and longevity of this powerful form. By bearing witness to every facet of the human condition and by your deep appreciation of the natural world, you have demonstrated your understanding of our place in the universe. Judging contests is a subjective exercise, and though your work may not have placed, this does not indicate it was without merit. Our love and respect for tanka binds us to one another and enriches our existence beyond measure, so please continue to keep the flame alive!

     The awarded selections remained on our individual lists throughout multiple readings of all submissions over the course of several weeks. We enjoyed discussing our interpretations of these worthy contenders, the similar attributes they possess, and the ways they augmented the judging experience.

—an’ya and Debbie Strange


First Place ($100)


far beneath

Appalachian skies

soused with stars

a snowmelt stream

distils the moonshine


David Terelinck

Queensland, Australia


This exemplary tanka immediately struck us with its stunning imagery. Readers are first invited to lose themselves in the wide-angled expanse of sky before zooming in to focus on the stream below. “Appalachian” establishes an engaging specificity, conjuring an evocative vision of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The poet has constructed an effective pivot line with a wonderfully unique turn of phrase, elegantly reminding us of the fascinating and colorful history of moonshining in this region. The considered choice of descriptive words such as “soused,” “distils,” and “moonshine” reinforces the allusive character of this work. Alliteration is used to great effect, enhancing the flow, and developing an immersive aural experience. Careful attention to detail is evident in the deliberate decision to avoid overusing articles, prepositions, and pronouns. This author has mastered brevity, one of the most difficult yet essential techniques of writing successful tanka, painting a richly rewarding backdrop in a mere thirteen words. Congratulations to the winning writer for penning this exquisite poem, remarkable for its vividness and creative wordplay.


Second Place ($50)


shutters closed

against the heat of noon

the Roman street

where I used to live

still keeping its secrets


Ruth Holzer

Herndon, Virginia


There is a languid ambience in this classically structured tanka that bids readers to open the shutters and discover the mysteries inside its dreaming room. The “heat of noon” can be taken both literally and figuratively in this work. Perhaps the author is recalling a clandestine or forbidden lover’s tryst, or are they possibly alluding to events that may have taken place along the Appian Way? Rome is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, imbued with history, and echoing with the footfalls of all those who have gone before. This tanka entices us to speculate on the nature of its secrets, and the writer offers ample space for wondering. Using the poetic tool of sibilance to emphasize the “shushing” feature of keeping silent is subtly compelling. We commend this poet on their restrained use of grammatical breaks, and we admire the ambiguity and atmospheric essence in this finely executed poem.


Third Place ($25)


I watch the milk

upon the stovetop

rise and rise

all white froth and spirit—

oh, to live so lightly


Anne Benjamin

Toongabbie, Australia


The first thing that caught our attention in this symbolic tanka lineated in a short/long/short/long/long pattern is the poet’s authentic and relevant voice. The poem’s universal appeal and emotional impact will resonate with readers. We can all relate to how the external pressures of life in this modern world often foster internal feelings of inadequacy and a longing for change. This writer has deftly employed juxtaposition and punctuation to strengthen their message. A pause at the end of line four slows the pace of the work after the “rise and rise” sense of anticipation. The tanka builds effortlessly to an engaging, original, and rather whimsical conclusion. We applaud the author for sharing this life experience so eloquently, and for their recognition of what it means to be vulnerable in an increasingly overwhelming environment.


Honorable Mentions (not ranked)


she drifted away

when dementia deepened

as if memories

were the ones

weighing her down


Firdaus Parvez

Aligarh, India


Though this topical poem is infused with pathos, the poet has expertly abstained from overt sentiment. We were impressed with the double meaning in line one succinctly reminding readers that Alzheimer’s patients wander in more ways than one. The living death of dementia has affected countless lives, and the adroit application of consonance seems to hammer the words home, much like nails in a coffin. Some memories are indeed heavy, and this woman’s spirit might be lighter without them. We compliment the writer on this beautifully crafted and poignant tanka, with its contemplative contrast between lines one and five.

I nursed you

in spring’s morning green

now the leaves

in autumn’s slant light

catch and spin in my heart


Kate MacQueen

Chapel Hill, North Carolina


We appreciate the way this author has instantly created an enigmatic prefatory statement in the first line. Some readers will be prompted to think of nursing a baby, while others will envision nursing a gravely ill loved one. The shifting of seasons emphasizes the metaphorical components of this tanka, adeptly taking us on a life journey from birth to death. There is an almost palpable impression of inferred loss and the writer has, maybe intuitively, used the hourglass shape to reflect the passage of time. We were profoundly touched by this poem and the poet’s skilled portrayal of transience.


summer bay

two seagulls float

in the gentle swell

not too close together

not too far apart


Jan O’Loughlin

Croydon, Australia


The accomplished writer of this tanka displays a sublime proficiency with the technique of euphony. The soft cadence of the words emulates the slow rise and fall of waves and breath, generating a sense of peace and introspection in readers. Though this work does not explicitly include a human component, the poet has nevertheless managed to indirectly convey such an aspect. The final two lines bring to mind the lovely prose poem “On Marriage” from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. We were particularly delighted by the author’s artful use of parallelism and the serene musicality of this piece.


the busker sings it

better than the Beatles

I still miss

all our yesterdays

your ashes in my backpack


Tracy Davidson

Warwickshire, United Kingdom


Music has the potent ability to inform our memories, and this poet has expressively harnessed that capacity in a meaningful way. The repetitive use of b-words mimics the rhythmic beat of this poem. Most readers will be familiar with the lyrics of “Yesterday,” one of the most beloved and covered songs in history. The author draws on nostalgia and melancholia to enhance the setting of this tanka, and the last line is surprising and heart-wrenching. We salute this writer for their facility in superbly illustrating how challenging it can be to accept mortality and to let go.


Special Commendation for Embodying Sanford-Style



by a storm

the oak

that ate

the dragon kite


Rebecca Drouilhet

Picayune, Mississippi


We chose this poem for its minimalistic composition and for the way in which it “spills” from line to line, much like the following tanka:


a wind

that wanted


this hat, this bundle,

this shopping bag


Sanford Goldstein

This Short Life: Minimalist Tanka, Keibooks, 2014

See the 2023 submission guidelines and bios for the 2023 judges.