Selected Tanka from Woodnotes

From 1989 to 1997, in various capacities, I edited or helped to edit Woodnotes, the quarterly journal of the Haiku Poets of Northern California (HPNC). It ran for 31 issues and became an independent journal in 1996, starting with issue #27. The following are my selections of favourite tanka from each issue that published tanka, for a total of 75 selections. I include only one of my own tanka, a memorial poem for Pat Shelley, who served as Woodnotes tanka editor for its last four issues (for all of my other poems from Woodnotes, please see “My Poems in Woodnotes and “My Tanka in Woodnotes). I selected the following poems from a total of 257 tanka published in 1,116 pages over the journal’s eight-year history (see complete “Tanka Statistics” for Woodnotes below).

The first two tanka to appear were by Brent Partridge and Catalina Cariaga in 1990, in issue #7. No more tanka appeared until issue #12 in 1992, but each issue after that included at least a few tanka, with generally increasing numbers. A minimum of 11 tanka appeared in each issue from #20 in 1994 to #31 in 1997, reaching a high of 28 tanka in three issues (#24 and #27 in 1995 and #31 in 1997). The first (and only) tanka prose composition in Woodnotes, an untitled piece by Patricia Neubauer, appeared in issue #22 in 1994 (included in the selections here). HPNC also included tanka in its annual contests, and the results of its first tanka contest appeared in Woodnotes #15 in 1992. No tanka contest was held in 1993, but it resumed in 1994 and continued in subsequent years, with results appearing in issue #23 in 1994 and in issue #27 in 1995. These three contests were judged by Francine Porad, Dave Sutter, and Pat Shelley, respectively. Results for 1996 and later HPNC tanka contests were published separately from Woodnotes.

Three other notable tanka events in California in the 1990s were the annual “Tanka Splendor” contests run by Jane Reichhold (which ran for about 20 years—starting, I believe, in 1990), my publication in 1994 of the Footsteps in the Fog anthology of San Francisco–area tanka poets, and Jane Reichhold’s Wind Five Folded tanka anthology publication, later in 1994. These events, plus HPNC’s tanka contest, and especially the steady appearance of tanka in Woodnotes, helped to inspire my founding of the Tanka Society of America, an idea I had entertained for most of the 1990s but finally made happen in 2000. The publication of tanka (along with haibun and rengay) was a key part of the significant influence of Woodnotes on North American poets writing Japanese forms in the 1990s. See also “Selected Haiku and Senryu from Woodnotes.”

#7, Autumn 1990


an underground note

regarding the earthquake last year:

i don’t want to tell you

my recollections—

or even the truth!

Brent Partridge


Winter dreaming

of pruning the branches

picking the fruit


how blossoms fall.

Catalina Cariaga


#12, Spring 1992


The news of her death

came like the sound

of a screen door

on a broken hinge

banging in the wind

Dave Sutter


#13, Summer 1992


In the gray warehouse

by a jumble of boxes

a pot of daisies—

can you see them making

their small meadow in the sun?

Paul O. Williams


#14, Autumn 1992


our children’s laughter

until we reach grandma’s old house

in dappled shade

rooms filled with mouse scat

and dust

Jean Jorgensen


#15, Winter 1992


a moment

of plain talk

and suddenly

I hear the birds

so clearly

Ellie Friedland

[Tanka Award (first place) winner in 1992 HPNC International Tanka Contest; Francine Porad, judge]


the old trunk—

my mother’s silk wedding dress

coming apart

photograph of my parents

when they were in love

Yvonne Hardenbrook

[Second Honorable Mention in 1992 HPNC International Tanka Contest; Francine Porad, judge]


#16, Spring 1993


I have come upon

love poems in a strange hand

to my dead mother;

long disdainful of closeness

she was adored by someone

Yvonne Hardenbrook


#17, Summer 1993

[This issue marked the first time Woodnotes had a section labeled “Tanka,” with four poems]


the wind-blown clouds

lighten and darken

lighten and darken

the room

in which we argue

Brian Tasker


The rain dripping

from leaf to leaf

finds its way . . .

why do I think

the heavens are unclear?

Dave Sutter


#18, Autumn 1993


for years we sat

together on this love seat

where sea gulls now perch . . .

so broad a view of the ocean

from this hillside dump

Christopher Herold


#19, Winter 1993


In the morning light

before he awakens—

my kiss

leaves a dewdrop

on his lips.

June Moreau


spring walk

with the rocky gurgle

of a mountain stream—

when it went underground

I missed you

David Rice


#20, Spring 1994


We can tell

from the bank of low clouds

over the hills

the westerlies will blow away

all the cherry blossoms

Pat Shelley

[her first tanka appearance in Woodnotes]


her slow cane

taps a rhythm

on the sidewalk . . .

at hopscotch marks

she hesitates

Mark Arvid White


like some modern


risen from turbulent seas,

this Japanese along the beach

combing her long black hair

Sanford Goldstein

[his first tanka appearance in Woodnotes]


art opening—

at the back of the gallery

our long handshake

as our friends take their time

introducing us

Cherie Hunter Day


#21, Summer 1994


A single strand

of the spider’s web

sets heaven and earth apart—

what need is there

for more poetry?

Dave Sutter


cookie crumbs

on the front of your sweater—

I missed the conversation,

wondering who will

brush them away

Cherie Hunter Day


small spider

in its morning web

patiently still

      the way you held me

      during the quake

Helen J. Sherry


my daughter

picks us up at the airport

loans us her car—

all the trees along the road

are leafing out

David Rice


#22, Autumn 1994

[the first “tanka prose” to appear in Woodnotes, untitled]

One evening of late summer I sat on the lawn watching the firefly hunters in the adjacent meadow. As twilight faded, a full moon silvered the willows by the pond. Here and there, the flicker of fireflies, the flutter of small figures in light clothing. Now and then, children’s voices rising out of moonmist.

The experience of the moment became the subject for a painting, but summer was long over before I completed it. While painting, the world of the painting became my reality—I wandered among patches of blue moonlight, fireflies lighted my way through crimson shadows. And when, at last, I looked up from my work, the leaves had fallen, the meadow grown brown. The children had gone back to school, and the fireflies had vanished.


Through the studio window

grey light of late autumn—

on my palette

rich blues and greens to finish

a summer landscape

Patricia Neubauer


the fierce din

of pots and pans banging

in the kitchen

. . . I was unfaithful

in her dream

Zane Parks


alone tonight

only the sound

of waves

and the distant beam

of the lighthouse

Ce Rosenow


back from the beach—

delicate sea shells

collected with care

lying in shards

on the car’s carpet

Zane Parks


#23, Winter 1994


No one comes now

to the autumn rose garden—

in the pavilion

where the brides of summer posed

an old woman sits knitting

Patricia Neubauer


Do you have

a sweetheart?

ask his mother

with Alzheimer’s

in front of his wife.

Alexis K. Rotella


when I entered

my mother’s room

on my last visit home,

I had to repeat my name,

I had to tell her I was her son

Sanford Goldstein


it is woven

into the tapestry

of the meadow

with blue threads of rain—

the wild iris

June Moreau

[First Place winner in 1994 HPNC International Tanka Contest; Dave Sutter, judge]


Dear brother,

we have so much

to say to one another

but it will have to wait

until one of us is dying.

Alexis K. Rotella

[Second Place winner in 1994 HPNC International Tanka Contest; Dave Sutter, judge]


Soiled and creased

in the shape of his hand

his garden glove

left on the workbench

in the potting shed

Pat Shelley

[Third Place winner in 1994 HPNC International Tanka Contest; Dave Sutter, judge]


#24, Spring 1995


young couple


in sign language . . .

cloud shadows

cross the distant ridge

Mark Rutter


hand in hand

we dash into a birch grove,

each leaf trembles

at the slightest touch

of the spring rain

Cherie Hunter Day


in the morning

I wonder how to tell her

I’m married

when she turns to me saying—

I have something to tell you

Zane Parks


who is this old man

boldly staring back at me

from placid water

I reach to touch his face

he disappears in wrinkles

Hank Dunlap


my father’s hands

so much kinder

than my mother’s

I kiss this girl

with the deep voice

Chuck Easter


hairbrush idling

I admire

this small mark—

homage your mouth paid

to my throat

Nasira Alma


#25, Summer 1995


just like that

the hummingbird

comes into view—

then it disappears

like a star at daybreak

June Moreau


Friday night—

urged along

by the wind at my back

like the hand

of a lover

Nasira Alma


torrential downpour

at my high school reunion


after all these years

my middle name

Carlos ? Colón


When they lived

I was too busy to visit

and enjoy them

Tonight, if only for moments,

I wish for family

Kay F. Anderson


#26, Autumn 1995


I saw you

in a hat the other day

I’d never seen you

in a hat before

dear you—in a hat

Pat Shelley


a shuffle

of days

like cards

in a pack

waiting for kings, for queens

Sanford Goldstein


all these people

romping in the sun

at the powwow

       bringing home feathers

       for the sick girl

         Charles H. Easter


end of summer

staying home

to savor

the last ripe plum

and a new poem

June Moreau


on a warmer day

in a happier winter

I saw this willow

yellowing toward spring, but now

what is there to thaw my heart?

Elizabeth Searle Lamb

[Second Honorable Mention in 1995 HPNC International Tanka Contest; Pat Shelley, judge]


#27, Winter 1995


still waiting for you

in our small breakfast café

      when the waitress comes

      I almost order

      two coffees



beyond himself

they never go,

my tanka critic says,

and I lean all my weight

against a fractured 31

Sanford Goldstein



reaching for a toy on the floor

drops the one in her hand

reaching for that, she drops both

—how like myself these days

Pat Shelley


after you left

even the cold autumn rain

could not dampen

the blaze

of those golden maples

Evelyn Lang


crossing the marsh

our conversation

falls silent—

sun and moon together

in the evening sky

Cherie Hunter Day



on my evening walk

is so pretty

I’ll even pet

her smelly dog

John Sheirer


It was a long time ago

we pricked our fingers

wrote our names in blood

on each other’s wrists

—a long time ago

Pat Shelley


#28, Spring 1996


brushing the snow

out of her hair

she stares

at a mannequin

in the bridal shop window

Alexey V. Andreyev


the house quiet

and cold

this early morning alone—

saddened to know how much

I desired just this

Tom Clausen


all her things

put into bags and boxes—

face down

on the elevator floor

a tiny photo

Leatrice Lifshitz


far down the valley

she waves and calls to me

I love her more

in the time it takes

for her voice to arrive

John Sheirer


#29, Summer 1996


You ask me about marriage.

Does the winter snow

ask the mountain

how long it will cling

before it falls?

Peter Bormuth


Just when I thought

you were out

of my mind

two robins on the hedge

start mating.

Alexis K. Rotella


“Thank you for your gift”

His name in her hand

Photo at a white chapel

From mailbox to

Garbage can.

Fay Aoyagi


waking up

to a gentle touch

on my face

not your soft lips

but a cat’s nose on my cheek

Yu Chang


The days I did not sing

the nights I did not dance

               —their joy

                            spiraling out of the throat

                            of a hermit thrush

Carol Purington


#30, Autumn 1996


how I pity

that porcelain dog

beside my health club treadmill

when someone throws a towel

over its head

Sanford Goldstein


At the opera

listening to a tenor

I never really liked

—when she put out her hand

and he took it, all was changed

Pat Shelley



the blossoms of spring

to swell slowly . . .

             You ask for more

             than I am ready to give

Carol Purington


#31, Autumn 1997


I tell my guardian angel

I’ll happily die

in April

alas, each April comes

and I tell her I’m not ready

Pat Shelley

[On a memorial page for Pat Shelley,

April 10, 1910 to December 28, 1996]


where will all these

poinsettias go

after the holiday

a new year

without you?

Fay Aoyagi (for Pat Shelley)


your heard melodies

were sweet,

and even at this distance

where we never met,

you touched our world with soft songs

Sanford Goldstein (for Pat Shelley)


words do not come

for you

on your passing

till the first warm day

      the blossoming plum

Michael Dylan Welch (for Pat Shelley)


The white wicker chairs

where we held hands—

a wren sings

to the emptiness

that you still fill.

Alexis K. Rotella


I see you,

my tanka muse,

less in splendor than in deep darkness

where coughs are heard and bodies wane

under a soldered mouth

Sanford Goldstein


for fifty years

through all the weathers

of the mind

I have loved the world with my eye

. . . if nothing else, that.

Larry Kimmel



the stag’s gaze

through the dark window—

for this moment

we are in love

Nasira Alma


once again pruning—

the bush has its own purpose,

I have mine, too—

here we argue about it,

I winning for the moment

Paul O. Williams


Looking up

through a giant redwood

to a far, far sky

I am moved from myself

into the mystery

 Pat Shelley


Tanka Statistics

Woodnotes started out slowly with its inclusion of tanka. These poems appeared regularly from 1992 onwards, but numbers became more significant and regular in 1994, with as many as 28 tanka appearing in a single issue three times, in 1995 (twice) and 1997. The numbers here include results of three tanka contests run by HPNC in 1992, 1994, and 1995. Not included in the numbers here are any tanka quoted in book reviews.

Issue Number of Tanka

#7, Autumn 1990                  2

#12, Spring 1992                  1

#13, Summer 1992               1

#14, Autumn 1992                1

#15, Winter 1992                  5 (includes 4 tanka in HPNC tanka contest results)

#16, Spring 1993                  2

#17, Summer 1993               4

#18, Autumn 1993                3

#19, Winter 1993                  6

#20, Spring 1994                  11

#21, Summer 1994               13

#22, Autumn 1994                12 (includes a tanka prose piece)

#23, Winter 1994                  15 (includes 5 tanka in HPNC tanka contest results)

#24, Spring 1995                  28

#25, Summer 1995               23

#26, Autumn 1995                15

#27, Winter 1995                  28 (includes 6 tanka in HPNC tanka contest results)

#28, Spring 1996                  14

#29, Summer 1996               22

#30, Autumn 1996                23

#31, Autumn 1997                28

Total 257