Tuesday, August 11, 2020

First Place, Sanford Goldstein International Tanka Contest


plague-year parsnips 

browned in butter—

the flavor

of my mother’s victory garden

in another sort of war

First Place, Sanford Goldstein International Tanka Contest 2020

The Judges' Comments:

In five concise lines, this tanka addresses the harshness of this plague year while resisting the temptation to be maudlin. The result is a poem that conveys the everydayness of the struggle to survive Covid-19 in a powerfully understated way. Comparing a contemporary pandemic garden to a World War II victory garden underscores the historical similarities and differences between both times, while sensory details summarized by “parsnips/browned in butter” and the use of alliteration point to a simple act of survival that, despite everything, imbues the poem with an underlying sense of hopefulness. —Margaret Dornaus

The use of the expression “plague-year” crystallizes the horror of this unprecedented crisis, juxtaposed with a seemingly everyday and homely experience. When the poet’s mother planted her victory garden, there would have been just as much uncertainty as we feel now—yet still there was hope—the stuff that binds us together. The parsnip’s extensive root system, which holds it in the sustaining earth, makes this an even stronger image. The fact that the “Forces Sweetheart” Vera Lynn died during the Covid-19 pandemic makes this tanka all the more bittersweet. —Claire Everett

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Tanka in Under the Basho

I'm pleased to announce that I will be editing the new Tanka Section of the journal Under the Basho.
Submissions for the 2020 issue are open until Nov. 15. You can read the submission guidelines here. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Climate Change: The Burning Issue

redbud blossoms
on a broken branch—
the creek
that drains the clearcut
runs also in my veins

Judge's comments by David Terelinck: Deforestation is having an enormous impact upon our planet and ecosystems. Trees produce oxygen, capture CO2, provide wildlife habitats, and prevent soil erosion. And there is the mental health benefit of time out beneath shading foliage. Yet their value is often treated as insignificant against corporate greed and the commerce of widespread clearing. But there is beauty and hope to be found in this tanka with the broken branch having redbud blossoms on it. 
This is a tanka of connection and relationship with the land. The narrator has a bond with their environment. And it is an environment man has helped to create, but not in a positive way. The creek, potentially caused by erosion, echoes through the poet’s veins. Do they feel broken in some way themselves by what is happening? There is an understated ache in this tanka that can be felt in the sensitive narration.  
This tanka has a classical s/l/s/l/l/ construction that works well with the subject matter. The contrasting metaphor is strong and fresh, and all emotion is inferred rather than stated. It is highly lyrical on the ear when read aloud due to the strong ‘b’, ‘d’, ‘r’, and ‘c’ consonants. 
The poem builds line by line and has a powerful and satisfying close with the narrator being at one with the damaged land. A well-deserved first place tanka. 

El Rosario
Monarch Preserve—
the final
flutter of wings
above a coffin

Judge's comments by David Terelinck: This tanka intrigued me with the monarch preserve (with which I was not familiar) and wings fluttering above a coffin. It led me to Google and reading about the recent murders of two butterfly conservationists associated with the Mexican sanctuary. The two men, aged 44 and 50, were staunch advocates for ecotourism over widespread tree felling. Between 2005 and 2006, 461 hectares in the region were lost to illegal logging. The destruction threatened the world’s largest butterfly migration. 
An extremely sad tanka that highlights the devaluing of human life and nature next to commercial logging. There is an inferred echo of the short lives of butterflies next to the early deaths of the two activists. It is a sensitively rendered tanka that made me want to learn more about the subject.  

an oily sheen
on the pool’s dark surface
draws them in—
migrating birds to water
humans to black gold

Judge's comments by David Terelinck: Another quality tanka that speaks of the dichotomy between man and nature. How we can be drawn to the same things, but for vastly disparate reasons. This is a tanka that makes us pause and look at nature in different ways. What is life-sustaining for one can be a commercial and advantageous situation for another. 

Further comments from Contest Judge David Terelinck:  "You submitted 12 tanka to this competition.  9 of your tanka - 75% - made the long list of 33 poems selected.  A magnificent effort.  From the 9, 3 of those made the short list of 10 poems, and one each placed in the First Place, Highly Commended, and Commended positions. That is a testament to a quality writer. There were no names or identifying criteria on the tanka. I judged on quality alone, without even thinking of the style of individual poets. And the fact you ended up with multiple poems on the shortlist says much about your ability.

This contest was in aid of Wildlife and Koala Rescue efforts at Port Macquarie Hospital, New South Wales, Australia. Through entry fees and the generosity of donors, a total amount of $1365 AUD ($880.97 USD) was raised. 

Monday, July 8, 2019


butterflies flutter 
from the artist’s brush
in memoriam
a river of monarchs
once flowed across the sky

slow spirals
up the summer sky—
cleansing my mind
of its dark residue

I follow a path
of spindrift oak leaves
to a clearing
where no cabin ever stood—
its hidden hearth my home 

the day
closes its circle
around me
silver voices 
re-enchant the dusk

to keep at bay
the wolfish dreams,
I sleep
with gentle sorrow
cradled in my arms

~red lights 15:2, June, 2019

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

limb from limb

morning light
gilding the treetops
as they fall
splinters lodge
in my paperbark heart

the sound
of limbs being broken
as if on a wheel—
bloodless the fallen hollies,
the heart of pine laid bare

the blunt thrust
of a bulldozer,
the shudder 
of tissues torn apart—
who cries for the earth me too

a box turtle
crushed by the skidder’s tread
at the edge
of the leftover woods
this barricade of spiders’ silk

plumes of smoke
rise from the clearcut
silvery as ghosts
the sound of wind chimes
before the hurricane

may the words
that tumble from my tongue
be turned to moss—
creep over the wounded land,
bury the cities of men

~Ribbons 15:1, winter 2019

Monday, December 3, 2018

Original Sin

I try to grab it just behind the head, but it’s  too quick for me; as my fingers close on the slender body, it whips around and grazes my hand with needle-sharp fangs. I drop the young black snake onto the laundry-room floor and gather a container and some stout cardboard. Eluding my clumsy efforts at capture, the snake vanishes beneath a cupboard. I crouch down just in time to see the tip of its tail disappearing through a narrow gap in the baseboard—back into the crawlspace whence it came, no doubt seeking a dry haven from the waterlogged yard. 

That evening, I watch the news: as Typhoon Mangkhut batters the Philippines, Hurricane Florence continues to dump Biblical rains across my already flooded state.  The coastal city of Wilmington, with virtually every tree and power line down, is completely cut off by rising water.  

A torrential downpour drums on the sheet-metal roof, drowning out the newscaster’s voice. As I reach for the remote, I notice a curious strip of glossy, black-and-silver metal lying along the wrought-iron trim of the gas fireplace. I take a closer look—and meet the unblinking eyes of a small snake just as it slips behind the fireplace facing. 

a drop of blood
seals an ancient covenant . . .
our debt
to fellow travelers
on a planetary ark

~Haibun Today 12:4, Dec. 2018

Saturday, November 10, 2018

A Thousand Oaks and the Tree of Life

thoughts & prayers
for Parkland . . . and so many more

seventeen more
black arm bands
on a nation’s soul—
yet the guns stand erect
as the coffins go down

blazoned across his back—
I look
for the blood
on his hands

on foolscap,
I write letters
to my Senator—
thirty pieces of silver
jingle in his pocket

~Atlas Poetica 32, spring 2018 

whistling in the dark

a meeting
of the Flat Earth Society
in my state capital—
looney birds roosting
in the Land of Trump

from the throne
of a naked emperor
torrents of words 
like day-blind bats
twitter across the sky

on the radio
the usual blather
about causes
of gun violence—
a wren burbles in the frost

kneel in a river 
of blood,
lifting clasped hands
to the god of guns

bereft of words
I kneel and listen:
in falling snow 
the silent sparrows

the discarded bottle
in my hand
sings at every step
the wind’s low note

deer entrails
at the meadow’s edge—
I divine
the will of the gods
in a chickadee’s whistle

~Atlas Poetica 32, spring 2018