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TANKA TAKE HOME - 14 Sept, 2022 | poet of the month - Autumn Noelle Hall

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

Introducing a new perspective to our Wednesday Feature!

poet of the month: Autumn Noelle Hall

whitewater whirlpools

roil among the boulders

like questions of life and death

each shaping the other

finding its way into my pocket a smoky quartz crystal . . .

little by little I carry the mountain home

(All tanka excerpted (in order of appearance) from Tanka Quartets, a collaborative collection co-authored with David C. Rice, available here)

We had the pleasure of asking Autumn Noelle Hall a few questions, and she graciously took the time to answer them.

Q3: TTH: How do you develop a tanka? Please guide us through the stages of a poem.

Autumn: All of my tanka arise from either an image or an insight or a combination of the two. Often, these come to me while I am doing something else—hiking, gardening, cooking or even washing the dishes or folding laundry. I recently came across a packet of sweet pea seeds my mother had collected for me from the last home we’d lived in together. As twenty-one years have passed since her death, the seeds were more than two decades old and therefore probably no longer viable. I soaked and planted them anyway, just in case. Today, while I was hiking, it occurred to me that while they may never grow, my love for her certainly has. And that is a tanka—the image of twenty-some-year-old sweet pea seeds buried, as is my mother, in the earth, juxtaposed with the idea that my love for her has continued to grow all this time. Just now, as I am writing this, I realize the previous sentence contains the first jottings of the poem. If I were to break it into lines, I might even have a rough tanka: twenty-some-year-old sweet pea seeds/buried/as is my mother/in the earth/my love for her continues to grow. At this point in my process, I’d read the poem through several times, listening for hiccups, considering line breaks, and asking myself what could be eliminated. I’d also mull possible alternative words. An initial edit might yield: twenty-year-old sweet pea seeds/buried/like my mother/in the earth/my love for her grows on. I would then read that tanka approximately a gazillion times top-to-bottom, fixing any hitches as they stopped me. Then I’d read it again. Then I’d sleep on it and come back to it with fresh, rested eyes and ears. One thing I am hearing now is the long e sounds—sweet pea seeds, buried. I like the way they keen together. So, I think I’ll make a final edit to end line five on a near-e sound: my love for her still growing. This has an added bonus for me, in that I am fond of the way the present participles of verbs land me (and readers) mid-action. In this case, it keeps the poem go-ing, even after it ends. So, now my finished tanka would read:

twenty-year-old sweet pea seeds


like my mother

in the earth

my love for her still growing

For anyone decrying the lack of short/long/short/long/long, I would counter that the beginning and end lines extend out beyond my mother’s death (an event central to my life and to this tanka) in much the way that sweet pea vines might twine up a trellis. The visual parallel allows for the possibility of a second reading of those two lines together: twenty-year-old sweet pea seeds/my love for her still growing. Additionally, the three shorter interior lines could be read as a poem all their own. While I could rearrange the lines to force the tanka into a more traditional shape, I would lose the concrete image of growing vines reaching beyond my mother’s death and burial, as well as the jolt between line 1 and lines 2-4. I might try it anyway, just to compare the two:


like my mother

in the earth

twenty-year-old sweet pea seeds

my love for her still growing

After another gazillion readings, I still prefer the first version. It begins with the seeds, just as this tanka did.

More about Autumn:

For over a decade, Colorado writer Autumn Noelle Hall’s short form poetry has appeared internationally in distinguished literary journals and anthologies, garnering her a reputation for self-aware autobiography, unsparing socio-political commentary, and environmental activism. Living and writing in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, she draws on her natural surroundings and daily interactions with the native flora and fauna—columbine, ponderosa pine, black bears, and mountain lions have all found their way into her poems. From 2016-2018, Hall served as the inaugural Tanka Prose Editor for the Tanka Society of America’s print journal, Ribbons. In 2019, Atlas Poetica published her Special Feature, Turn the Other Cheek: Nonviolent Resistance and Peaceful Protest Tanka. In 2020, her tanka observing the global Covid crisis won first place in Japan’s Fujisan Taisho competition. Her collaborative book, Tanka Quartets, co-authored with long-time Ribbons Editor, David C. Rice, debuted in August of 2020. In 2021, she was honored to serve as co-judge with Don Miller for the annual Sanford Goldstein International Tanka Contest. Hall currently serves as editor of Ribbons’ Tanka Studio, a member-only-feature following in the 20-year-long tradition of Michael McClintock’s Tanka Cafe, where she places the highest value on authentic, inventive, empowering work.

Challenge for this week:

What exceptional tanka by Autumn, and what a treat to get a peek into her way of developing a tanka. This week we want you to find the seed for your tanka; it could be a word, a phrase, a thing, or a memory (anything else). Tell us about it if you want; we'd love to know. Then write a tanka about/around it.

And remember – tanka, because of those two extra lines, lends itself most beautifully when revealing a story.

Give these ideas some thought and share your tanka and tanka-prose with us here. Keep your senses open, observe things that happen around you and write. You can post tanka and tanka-prose outside this theme too.

An essay on how to write tanka: Tanka Flights


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 of course if you want to.

3. Share your best-polished pieces.

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

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

6. 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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