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TANKA TAKE HOME - 19th October 2022 | poets of the month - the 4 editors!

Updated: Oct 19, 2022

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

Introducing a new perspective to our Wednesday Feature!

poet of the month: the FOUR EDITORS of Tanka Take Home

12th October -

Suraja Menon Roychowdhury will be our featured poet this week. Suraja has cultivated a distinct voice and is not afraid to show it. Her tanka has touches of the classical waka, and she surprises you with a contemporary tanka which is equally effective. Enjoy!

night owl

the silent swoosh

of a turned page

as I scribble the shapes

of another unfinished poem

Third Prize - 2022 Sanford Goldstein International Tanka Contest


Black Blooms

There are flowers everywhere I look. The cherry trees are past their prime now, as are the dogwoods, the plum blossom, and the crape myrtles. And then of course—the perennials: phlox, azaleas, viburnum, and the roses . . . yes, I can stop now and smell the roses. My garden is ablaze with color and fragrance. Strangers walking on the road ask if they can stop by to inhale. Sure I say, mumbling mentally to myself, “just don’t exhale around me.” The few times someone hasn’t been able to smell the fragrance, doubt leaps into my eyes. A lack of trust, amidst all this beauty. A squirrel runs up to me. A black one. There are a couple of them around this year; I’ve never seen them before. A fox crossed my path casually the other day, in a well-populated neighborhood. I can tell you that this brown woman quickly jumped over a few fallen petals to beat a hasty retreat—no lazy dog in sight!

so gradual

this lightening of the night sky

flower moon

how well your brightness

hides my darkness

Drifting Sands: 7/2021


Now the last poem:

I cannot but quote this tanka and the Editors' Choice Commentary I wrote for it in haikuKATHA - Issue 3, January 2022. Repeated readings have not diminished my admiration for this poem.

when the wind blows

through holes in a bamboo

does it know

my heart too was pierced

with notes of our song

— Suraja Menon Roychowdhury

This richly layered tanka caught my attention on my very first reading and my enjoyment of the poem has only been increasing with each reading. Waka (as the present-day tanka was once called) was traditionally known as a love song. I find strong traces of waka in this tanka – both in the lyricism and intuitive construction and in the lightness and suppleness of the lines. I’m also reminded of Akiko Yosano’s tanka.

Leaving something to the imagination: each time I reread this tanka, I realized anew how it is possible to convey more when you do not show everything at once.

when the wind blows

through holes in a bamboo

Simple and clear enough; and being an Indian, I’ve often listened to ragas

played on the bansuri (Indian bamboo flute).

The next line, in italics, stopped me in my tracks. Line 3 captured my attention:

does it know

In Hindu philosophy, and more so in our cultural memory, the concept known as advaita — non-duality, oneness of consciousness — is deeply entrenched. Yes, that blade of grass, that mountain, you and I, and the wind blowing through the bamboo — all are one pulsating consciousness.

Next, we come to the lower verse – the poignant lines 4 & 5:

my heart too was pierced

with notes of our song

These lines express the Japanese concept of yugen. Yugen is defined as a profound awareness of the universe that triggers a deep emotional response. Here it opens out to layers of interpretation. Is there a lover intended here? Or is the poet talking about the oneness in nature? Or does the disappointment of unrequited love lurk between the lines?

"Between what is said and not meant, and what is meant and not said, most of

love is lost."

― Khalil Gibran

Tanka, the pundits say, convey only the “middle” of a story, the rest happens in the reader's mind. How well this has been handled here. This tanka can be a metaphor for life too, suggesting that nothing is irrevocably broken and that our lives remain entwined somehow; the residue of each person we meet is left behind and from time to time we are reminded of them.

― Kala Ramesh

*** Suraja Roychowdhury is originally from India but migrated to the United States for graduate studies in the 1980s. She now lives in Lexington, Massachusetts. She obtained her PhD in Pharmacology and worked for several years as a clinical drug development researcher. She then changed careers and is now a Chinese Medicine practitioner.

Somewhat concurrently with the career change, she became acquainted and fell in love with haiku and other Japanese poetic forms such as tanka and haibun. She has had a few haiku, tanka and haibun published (and even more rejected!) and a few have been contest winners. She currently teaches Advanced Haiku on, a wonderful site with a very active Oriental poetry-writing community.

She is married and has two children. Besides writing, she loves reading, Indian classical music and travel.


Challenge for this week: Give us a tanka that conveys only the “middle” of a story, and allows the rest to happen in the reader's mind. Which means leaving things unsaid. A technique that's not easy to follow. Why? In wanting to leave things unsaid - we create huge gaps in our narrative and ultimately we have a poem which doesn't come together because your reader is puzzled over how to jump the chasms you've created. Can you explore and find the fine line of this technique?


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

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 PLEASE NOTE 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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