Every two years, starting in 2013, the Tanka Society of America has held a “Tanka Sunday” event after Haiku North America conferences. For 2019 we decided to have Sunday evening readings and our first “Tanka Monday” gathering, designed to give us more time to focus on our tanka art than previous meetings. This year these events took place at the Hawthorne Inn and Conference Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on Sunday, August 11, and on Monday, August 12. We had at least 32 people who registered, perhaps more in attendance, and took group pictures each day.
We began on Sunday afternoon, August 11, with an urban tanka walk to the Old Salem historic district, despite the 88-degree temperature and muggy humidity. Our goal was to write tanka about our experiences in visiting the area’s historic buildings, but we had too much fun talking and exploring to write very much. Our visit included the visitor center, where we saw a short movie about the area’s history, then a walk over a covered bridge to visit many of the historic buildings, many 200 or more years old. After dinner, Susan Burch served as our registrar, checking everyone in. After a welcome by Michael Dylan Welch, we enjoyed a round of introductions and sharing of tanka, taking turns around a large circle of chairs. Michael also shared greetings and tanka from three TSA officers who were not able to be present: David Rice, Kathabela Wilson, and James Won. We then enjoyed a reading of poems from Gusts, led by Kozue Uzawa, and then three readings representing India, the United States, and Canada: Kala Ramesh, Alexis Rotella (from her new tanka book, Dancing the Tarentella), and Kozue Uzawa (this time reading her own tanka). Lori A Minor then gave a PowerPoint presentation demonstrating her process in making digital tanka art, combining her poems with photographs and other imagery. Randy Brooks then led us in reading his selection of tanka by Sanford Goldstein, well known as a translator of many Japanese tanka texts, and among the first poets known to have published a book of tanka in English. Sandy is now 94 and living in Niigata, Japan. Randy gave everyone an extensive handout of Sanford’s poems, explaining how he had studied with Sanford at Purdue University—probably the only one at the gathering who had ever met Sandy in person. This was a lovely tribute to the godfather of American tanka, for whom the society’s annual tanka contest is named. To close the evening, Michael Dylan Welch and Jennifer Hambrick then announced the winners of the 2019 Goldstein International Tanka Contest. First prize went to Dorothy McLaughlin, second prize to Michael H. Lester, and third prize to David Terelinck, with honorable mentions to Pris Campbell, Michael H. Lester, Louis Osofsky, Sara Ellison, Kathy Lippard Cobb, and Marion Clarke. Commentary by judges Michelle Brock and Hazel Hall was also read for the top three poems, and all the poems and commentary were also shared with everyone in a handout. After this, an impromptu anonymous workshop lasted late into the night. Somewhere in the middle of the evening, we also took a group photo, because we knew that some people present that evening would not be able to attend the next day.
The next morning, August 12, we began with another welcome and round of introductions and tanka sharing at 9:00 a.m., followed by a “common ground” icebreaker, led by Michael, where someone shared a personal characteristic or interest of theirs, such as having been to Japan or enjoying camping. Anyone else who shared that “common ground” had to swap chairs with others. We had one chair less than the number of people, so one person was left standing each time, and that person then got to announce something that they hoped they shared as common ground with others. We were quickly standing up and sitting down as we raced to find vacant chairs. This was a fun way to get everyone moving and to learn a little bit more about each other. After catching our breath, Randy Brooks then gave the morning’s featured presentation, “My Tanka Journey: The Art of Walking the Fence,” reading from his new tanka book, Walking the Fence, sharing occasional anecdotes or contexts for the poems. After a short break, we then discussed places to publish tanka, making a list on a flipchart, and outlining the pros and cons of various journals. We made two lists, the fist being journals focused solely on tanka, others being open to tanka amid other short poems. Some journals sought only science-fiction tanka, or had other restrictions or preferences, which were good details to share, hopefully inspiring everyone present to try new journals where they might submit their tanka. We took our second group photo right after this, and then dispersed to nearby restaurants for lunch.
We convened again after lunch with a short writing prompt by Marcyn Del Clements, titled “WildlifeWow!” After a minute of explanation, we wrote for five minutes, and then shared the tanka we came up with for a few minutes after that. Next was an anonymous tanka workshop, with poems on index cards handed in without names. Poems were drawn at random, written on the flipchart, and discussed at length. We enjoyed rich considerations of what made each poem work, celebrating what we liked about the poem, and then shared ideas for how each poem might have been improved. If the author wanted to say if the poem was theirs, we then got to hear from the poet about how he or she felt about the suggestions, and in some cases we learned details about the poem that completely changed our feelings and reactions. This session went longer than anticipated, but everyone present seemed to feel that it was worthwhile to extend the discussion even if it meant going to dinner late. Julie Bloss Kelsey then led us in another short writing exercise, this time focusing on science fiction tanka, with a short period of writing and then sharing. These exercises made it possible for everyone to write new tanka, and not just listen to presentations. After this, Michael wrote “Tanka is _____” on the flipchart and then let the audience answer and discuss that question while he stayed completely silent. He filled the flipchart with a summary of comments from everyone in attendance—such a lively discussion. Following this, Michael led everyone in another writing exercise, this time on “News of the Week.” In contrast to the wildlife (nature) focus of Marcyn’s writing session, and the fictional imaginings of Julie’s session, Michael’s session shifted to a more human and present-day (and sometimes political) emphasis. We closed the evening with another round of open readings, and a wrap-up of book sales and silent auction bidding. We also made sure, if we hadn’t already scoured the freebie table during breaks, to pick up trifolds and other handouts (or snacks) that many attendees had brought.
After dinner at another nearby restaurant or two, many of us reconvened in our meeting room for more anonymous tanka workshopping—all unscheduled, but resulting in detailed conversations on the art of tanka, and the art of improving each of our specific poems.
In attendance were Jenny Angyal, Randy Brooks, Shirley Brooks, Val Bullock, Susan Burch, Erin Castaldi, Marcyn Del Clements, Shinko Fushimi, Garry Gay, Johnnie Johnson Hafernik, Jennifer Hambrick, Julie Kelsey, Cyndi Lloyd, Eric Lohman, Janis Lukstein, Judy Michaels, Lori A. Minor, Lenard D. Moore, Dave Noble, Kala Ramesh, Bryan Rickert, Alexis Rotella, Steve Sharp, Ken Smith, Johnye Strickland, Kozue Uzawa, Claire Vogel-Camargo, Tamara K. Walker, Linwood Watson, Michael Dylan Welch, Christine Wenk-Harrison, and Sharon Yee. Attendees came from as far away as India (Kala Ramesh), Japan (Shinko Fushimi), and British Columbia in Canada (Kozue Uzawa). We also had six people from California, five from North Carolina, three each from Arkansas and Maryland, two each from Illinois, Texas, and Virginia, and one each from Colorado, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio, Utah, and Washington.
Thank you to Kathabela Wilson for serving as our initial registrar, and to Susan Burch for taking over that duty when Kathabela was no longer able to attend. Thank you to the Hawthorne Inn for providing our comfortable and spacious meeting facility, and to Bob Moyer for arranging this space for us. Thanks also to each of our presenters for their preparations and inspiration. And thank you to everyone who attended for traveling great distances and contributing to a memorable event in celebration of tanka poetry.