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TANKA TAKE HOME: 14 June 2023. Sonam Chhoki: Featured Poet of the Month

hosts: Firdaus Parvez, Kala Ramesh, Priti Aisola & Suraja Menon Roychowdhury

Introducing a new perspective to our Wednesday Feature!

It is our pleasure to feature well known haijin and poet Sonam Chokki this month. Welcome Sonam! Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions! We hope you will visit us and share your comments and insights on the poems that will be posted.

3. TTH: How do you develop a tanka? Please guide us through the stages of a poem.

SC: It’s only fair to say that what works for me might not for another poet.

It’s the image that comes first: icicles on a cotoneaster, a crow on the pole of a faded prayer flag, a room in an empty house. This triggers thoughts/feelings and the poem takes shape. On an annual visit to the family home, this poem emerged as I was cleaning the place:

shell of a gecko

in father’s prayer room . . .

all these months

I thought no one visited

the ancestral home

Chrysanthemum 19, April 2016


TTH: Who are your favourite tanka poets? In addition to tanka what other genres of poetry do you write or read? Tell us about some of the books you've enjoyed.

SC: No discussion about tanka would be complete without the mention of Ono no Komachi (825 -900) and Izumi Shikibu (approximately 970 – 1033). These women poets wrote very much in the aesthetics of the Heian court where much of their lives were spent behind screens, both physical and cultural. However, their verses are heart-wrenchingly relatable and memorable.

Of course, later Japanese tanka poets, particularly Yosano Akiko (1878 - 1942) and Machi Tawara (1962 -) write more overtly using explicit imagery of their bodies and sexual longings and reservations.

Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) is another “classical” tanka writer that I have re-read over the years.

We’re fortunate that there are many, inspirational contemporary tanka poets. One of my favourites is Gene Murtha (1955-2015), who was the first tanka editor at A Hundred Gourds launched in 2011and wrote with emotional depth and clarity of imagery:

I sold everything

except my Navajo cross

so precious

this god I hold dear

the same god I gave up

Ribbons 6:1

Other EL contemporary tanka poets whose work never fail to move and inspire are (in no particular order):

Amelia Fielden

Beverley George

Michael McClintock

Claire Everett

Susan Constable

Kathy Kituai

I have also tried my hand at haibun, haiku, haiga, tanbun, ryuka, sedoka, Burmese rhyming verse, the Korean sijo form and some free verse.

Here is a heartfelt tanka prose from Sonam's talented pen.

The Yoke of Love

I open the door of my daughter’s room with a laundry basket in hand. The bed is made as if she might rush up the stairs, fling herself and sink into it. In the “wealth corner” (feng shui is her latest passion) the money plant flutters in the breeze. “She has left the window open,” I note in surprise. All my pleadings to air out her room, which she seemed to shrug off, has not gone unheeded!

One of the earliest rhymes she learned in English:

Nobody likes me

Everybody hates me

I think l’ll eat some worms . . .

morphed as her anthem of protest. “I’m going to eat worms,” she would shout at any attempts to wash her hair or get her to sleep or stop her from beheading my summer blooms of nasturtium, calendula and scented lilies.

Her well-worn hoodie, t-shirt, track bottoms, underwear and socks are in a neat heap by the foot of bed. The mound of hair ties, brush, lip balm, canisters of deodorant, pens, coach/train dockets on the bedside table, are all gone. A barely-used tube of toothpaste lies on the floor. She mentioned convenience stores on the university campus close to the halls of residence. l tell myself that she will easily replenish her supplies.

In the study, her favourite cat mug is on the desk with a bunch of pencils and ballpoints. She has left a couple of books with a note:

“Please give these to cousin K. I forgot when l met him last week.”

how did you learn

to take leave with quiet ease

how will l learn

to accept this new reality

to let go a mother’s clasp

sunrise fog

a deer outside the window

so still and dark

like the unfinished shadow

of years we might still have

Drifting Sands Haibun, Issue 13, 2022

This week's challenge: Look around you. Find an object that has some meaning for you. Write a tanka or a tanka prose about it. Tanka off-prompt are welcome too.

An essay on how to write tanka:


1. Post only one poem at a time, only one per day.

2. Only 2 tanka and two tanka-prose per poet per prompt. Tanka art, too.

3. Share your best-polished pieces. 4. We are not looking at SEQUENCES NOW, of any length.

5. Please do not post something in a hurry or something you have just written. Let it simmer for a while.

6. Post your final edited version on top of your original verse.

7. Don't forget to give feedback on others' poems.

We are delighted to open the comment thread for you to share your unpublished tanka and tanka-prose (within 250 words) to be considered for inclusion in the haikuKATHA monthly magazine.


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