Wednesday, December 8, 2021

To the Lighthouse: How Much (A)Politics Is Too Much for Tanka Poets?

A sequel to To the Lighthouse: "Haiku Is Not Just the Art of 'Singing about Flowers and Birds'" (Note: The post title refers to the famous declaration made by Takahama Kyoshi (1874 --1959), a student of Masaoka Shiki and the editor of the most influential haiku magazine, Hototogisu, during WWII, that "haiku was essentially the art of "singing about flowers and birds ..."

       Tanka can act as a witness in, to, and most importantly, through troubled times.  
        -- Chen-ou Liu

In the areas of topics and poetic "sentiment or sensibility,"  English language tanka is highly influenced by the translations of traditional Japanese tanka. It has little relationship, thematic, emotional, or visual, to socio-political consciousness.  

Tanka, as currently written in English today, rarely addresses ‘large topics’ like war and the various ills of society. The ills of individuals—cancer, broken hearts, and the loss of a beloved home—are amply covered, but tanka’s focus on the personal seems to exclude the communal. -- excerpted from the introduction to Atlas Poetica's Special Feature: Social Realism, edited by M. Kei who published most of my sociopolitically conscious tanka that were rejected by other editors

We love to read, even recite, the following tanka by the most famous Buddhist monk-poet Saigyo’s (1118–1190 AD):

even someone
free of passion as myself
feels sorrow:
snipe rising from a marsh
at evening in autumn

The transience of the world, represented by the Japanese term aware, the pity of things that pass away, is an integral part of Japanese aesthetics as incorporated into Anglophone tanka. -- excerpted from To the Lighthouse: "The Problem of Tanka : Definition and Differentiation" by M. Kei

Most tanka poets don't know, or even don't want to know, that the same monk-poet wrote the following thematically significant and sociopolitically charged anti-war tanka with the longest joshi (prefatory note):

In the world of men it came to be a time of warfare. Throughout the country -- west, east, north, and south -- there was no place where the war was not being fought. The count of those dying because of it climbed continually and reached an enormous number. It was beyond belief! And for what on earth was this struggle taking place? A most tragic state of affairs 

There's no gap or break
In the rank of those marching
Under the hill:
An endless line of dying men,
Moving on and on and on ...

This lengthy and sociopolitically conscious prefatory note establishes the thematic and emotive context of the poem while the tanka visually enhances the tone and mood. Saigyo's use of repetition in the last line adds extra emotional weight and psychological depth to the poem... (For detailed comments, see "To the Lighthouse: Joshi (Prefatory Note) as a Poetic Device" and "Poetic Musings: Dying Men Tanka by Saigyo Hoshi."

Living in times of crisis, threat and uncertainty, I think we should and can write something new and relevant to the world we live in.  

What poetry can, must, and will always do for us: it complicates us, it doesn't "soothe."-- Jorie Graham


Strive to change the world in such a way that there’s no further need to be a dissident. Read between the lives, and write between the lines. Be committed to something outside yourself. -- Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "Poetry as Insurgent Art."

Here are five of my new tanka:

a winter fog
smothers the winding road
to her mother's house
the bruises on her face
say everything & nothing

bits of gravel
embedded in blood
on his knuckles
my teenage son says nothing
and I'll do ... nothing

a wind
rattling the dry leaves
on eucalypti --
an ink-dark trace
of koalas

from my childhood beliefs
I'm a passing
thought in the mind of God
who forsook his Son on the Cross


-- a slightly revised excerpt from "Interview with Chen-ou Liu" by Dimitar Anakiev, the editor of the upcoming bilingual tanka handbook, whose best known haiku was broadcast on BBC in August 2000:

Spring evening.
The wheel of a troop carrier
crushes a lizard.  

For detailed comments, see the comment section of Butterfly Dream: Troop Carrier Haiku by Dimitar Anakiev

At last, I would like to conclude today's post with a call for sociopolitical haiku and tanka submissions. 

And look forward to reading your haiku and tanka that are new and relevant to the world we live in.

Happy Reading and Writing


Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Butterfly Dream: Tin Can Phone Haiku by Lucy Whitehead

English Original

windswept beach
my father's voice at the end
of a tin can phone

Presence, 64, July 2019

Lucy Whitehead

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)

Bio Sketch

Lucy Whitehead's haiku have been published in AcornAutumn Moon Haikubones, Frogpond, hedgerowModern HaikuOtataPresencePrune JuiceThe Heron's Nest, and tinywords among other journals and in various anthologies including a hole in the light: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2018. Twitter @blueirispoetry.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Butterfly Dream: Dimly-Lit Street Haiku by Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri

English Original

dimly-lit street
the weight of our past
turns to silence

Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri is a Norwegian-Canadian writer and translator. Primarily a prose writer, she uses haiku, senryu and tanka as daily practice to write distilled moments and listen to the sound of words. For more of her writing, see

Sunday, December 5, 2021

One Man's Maple Moon: Prairie Voles Tanka by Debbie Strange

English Original

the pair bonds
of prairie voles ...
she asks
if he used to be
her husband
Third Place, 2017 UHTS Fleeting Words Tanka Contest

Debbie Strange

Chinese Translation (Traditional)

的終生配對關係 ...

Chinese Translation (Simplified)

的终生配对关系 ...

Bio Sketch

Debbie Strange is an award-winning Canadian short form poet, haiga artist, and photographer. Keibooks released her second full-length poetry collection, Three-Part Harmony: Tanka Verses in 2018, and Folded Word published her haiku chapbook, A Year Unfolding in 2017. An archive of publications may be accessed at http://debbiemstrange.blogspotcom/

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Butterfly Dream: Twilight Chill Haiku by H. Gene Murtha

English Original

a V takes shape
flapping from the pond
twilight chill

H. Gene Murtha 

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

H. Gene Murtha, a naturalist and poet, sponsored and judged the first haiku contest for the inner city children of Camden, NJ., for the Virgilio Group, of which he was a lifetime member. He was widely published for his work in haikai literature from the USA to Japan. 

Friday, December 3, 2021

A Room of My Own: Omicron and the Cross Haiku

Two Hundred and Ninety-Second Entry, Coronavirus Poetry Diary
J   e   s   u   s 

Added: Two Hundred and Ninety-Third Entry

my friend claims
omicron, just a scariant
made by Big Pharma ...
between our hearts and minds
this maze of distance

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Butterfly Dream: Galleon and Pelicans Haiku by Keitha Keyes

English Original

Spanish galleon --
a squadron of pelicans
on the lake

Windfall, 8, 2020

Keitha Keyes 

Chinese Translation (Traditional)

西班牙大帆船 --

Chinese Translation (Simplified)

西班牙大帆船 --

Bio Sketch

Keitha Keyes lives in Sydney, surrounded by antique irons and ship models. She enjoys writing tanka, haiku, senryu, cherita and related genres. Her work is published in many journals and anthologies in Australia and overseas.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

One Man's Maple Moon: Lemon Tree Tanka by Sheila Sondik

English Original

fruitful lemon tree
graces the front yard
I sing
yet another oldie
to my granddaughter

Gusts, 29, Spring/Summer 2019

Sheila Sondik 

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

Sheila Sondik is a poet and printmaker in the Pacific Northwest. A long-time lover of haiku (and practitioner of several other Japanese and Chinese art forms), she began writing haiku and tanka in 2010. Her work has been widely published.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Butterfly Dream: Beach Memorial Haiku by Suresh Babu

English Original

beach memorial ...
the war veteran sunbathes
without his prosthesis

Honourable Mention, 2021 John Bird Dreaming Award for Haiku 

Suresh Babu 

Chinese Translation (Traditional)

海灘追悼式 ...

Chinese Translation (Simplified)

海滩追悼式 ...

Bio Sketch

Suresh Babu is an English teacher in a residential school in India. His haiku, senryu and free-verse poetry have been published in numerous journals and anthologies. He also does minimalist drawings which accompany his poems. He was awarded the first prize in the International Haiku Contest organized by the Haiku Society of Constanta in the year 2020.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Cool Announcement: A Freebie, I Am by Vandana Parashar​

My Dear Readers:

NeverEnding Story contributor, Vandana Parashar​, published a collection of haiku as a salute to the spirt of womanhood, titled I Am (Title IX Press, 2019), and she shared her fine work as a free download available at Title IX Press website.

Selected Haiku:

ultrasound probe
my mother’s longing
hangs in the air

family picnic
an uncle shows me
his hidden snake

a splash of red
between the doll's legs

arranged marriage
an aunt hands me
fairness cream

the sky finally clears
of last night’s storm

first day of school
I cry louder
than my daughter

soldier’s home
days on the calendar crossed
with crayons

cousin’s wedding
mother frowns
at my backless gown

Happy Reading


Sunday, November 28, 2021

One Man's Maple Moon: Grassland Tanka by Shuji Terayama

English Original

for a small bird
to come back
after it's shot
there is a grassland
in my head

Kaleidoscope, 2007 

Shuji Terayama

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)

Bio Sketch

The avant-garde stage and film director, poet, critic, author and founder of the experimental theater group Tenjo Sajiki, Shuji Terayama was born in 1935 in Aomori, Japan. He started writing tanka in his late teens and received the Tanka Kenkyu Award for Emerging Poets. He published several tanka collections before he stopped writing at the age of 30. Many of his tanka read more like scenes from a movie scene or short story. He died in 1983. The first English language collection of his tanka, Kaleidoscope, was published by The Hokuseido Press in 2008 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of  his death.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

A Room of My Own: New Variant Tanka

Two Hundred and Ninetieth Entry, Coronavirus Poetry Diary
written in  response to CNBC's breaking news, Nov. 26: WHO calls special meeting to discuss new Covid variant found in South Africa with "a large number of mutations."

new variant
the worst we've seen so far ...
muting the TV
a shelter cook starts chopping
as early nightfall turns to snow

Added: Two Hundred and Ninety-First Entry

watching my toddler
watching a fly climb the wall ...
prolonged lockdown

Friday, November 26, 2021

One Man's Maple Moon: Moonlit Street Tanka by Joyce Budenberg

English Original

immobile for weeks 
I dream of my mother
playing her bagpipes
in the moonlit street ...
how we danced wild and free

Joyce Budenberg

Chinese Translation (Traditional)

吹呀吹着風笛 ...

Chinese Translation (Simplified)

吹呀吹着风笛 ...

Bio Sketch

Born in Scotland, now living in New Zealand, Joyce Budenberg works as a counsellor/therapist and has a love of reading and writing haiku.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Butterfly Dream: Empty Beer Can Haiku by Martha Magenta

English Original

night breeze
an empty beer can
fills the silence

Haiku Dialogue, May 17 2019

Martha Magenta 

Chinese Translation (Traditional)


Chinese Translation (Simplified)


Bio Sketch

Martha Magenta lived in England, UK. Her haiku and tanka had appeared in a number of journals, and anthologies. She was awarded Honourable Mentions for her haiku in The Fifth Annual Peggy Willis Lyles Haiku  Awards, 2017, and in the 71st Basho Memorial English Haiku Contest, 2017, and for her tanka in UHTS  “Fleeting Words” Tanka Contest 2017.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

A Room Of My Own: Pandemic Pets and Happiest Thanksgiving Ever Tanka

Two Hundred and Eighty-Ninth Entry, Coronavirus Poetry Diary

one pandemic pet
comes to me after another ...
we are all
inthistogether on the couch
to watch day's end in silence 

Added: This Brave New World, XXXV

Happiest Thanksgiving Ever

Trump awarded
highest taekwondo rank ...
one Bruce Lee kick
after another in the head
of Trump's life-size cardboard cutout

a gang of crows
descending on a dumpster 
in dim street light
thanksgiving leftovers mixed
with mud-stained copies of Trump

FYI: Trump: Think Big and Kick Ass, Trump: How to Get Rich, Trump: The Art of the Deal, Trump: Think Like A Billionaire, Trump: Think Like a Champion, Trump: The America We Deserve,Trump: The Art of the Comeback, ... authored by LoserInChief, Donald Trump