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TANKA TAKE HOME: 24th January 2024 Kirsten Cliff Elliot - poet of the month

Updated: Feb 5

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

Introducing a new perspective to our Wednesday Feature!

poet of the month: Kirsten Cliff Elliot

January 24, 2024

hoping I'll know

when I've become whole . . .

so much to learn

watching the sunflowers

watching the sun

LYNX XXVIII:2 (June, 2013) from 'Uncharted Depths' tanka sequence with Kat Creighton

sipping coffee

to the sound of dead leaves

sweeping across the path . . .

my definition of success

changing day by day

A Hundred Gourds 3:1 (December, 2013)

Our warmest thanks to Kirsten Cliff Elliot for sharing her very lovely tanka and thoughts with us. Much to reflect on and learn here.


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. 

Kirsten: When I think of people’s tanka that inspires and resonates with me I immediately think of Margaret Dornaus, Debbie Strang, Pamela A. Babusci, Claire Everett and in years past Svetlana Morisova, Hortensia Anderson, Kat Creighton and Andre Surridge (the latter four poets have passed away). As well as tanka, I read all of the genres within haikai and don't stray far unless something particularly catches my eye. Most recently that was What the Water Gave Me: Poems After Frida Kahlo by Pascale Petit. I came across this when creating a poetry book display in the library for National Poetry Day. I’m a huge fan of Frida Kahlo as I can relate to her pain and suffering and this collection didn’t disappoint. I also love novels written in verse (also called ‘verse novels’) and read a lot of these, anything I can get my hands on, mostly young adult fiction. I’m writing one myself, which I started in 2018 and has been on pause for a couple of years; I’m always hoping I’ll get time to go back to it.


TTH: Can you give any advice to someone wanting to write and publish tanka? As an editor what are you looking for in a tanka that makes it most likely to get published? 


Kirsten: My advice to budding tanka poets is to read, and maybe go to a tanka workshop if you can. I learn best by doing and by imitation. I study what others have done that I like then try to replicate that. From this, I can develop a good technique. It’s about learning the basics of how to build a tanka poem and following those guidelines before breaking the rules. Starting out this way means, if you get lost, you'll always be able to find your way back. A book I would come back to if I got stuck, felt unsure or just hadn’t written tanka for a long time, would be Modern Japanese Tanka: An Anthology by Makoto Ueda and the journal Moonbathing: A Journal of Women’s Tanka edited by Pamela A. Babusci. What I am looking for in a tanka is beauty, truth and resonance.

Bio note:

Kirsten Cliff Elliot describes herself as a reader, writer and librarian from New Zealand, now living in England. She also identifies as Queer and chronically ill/disabled. Kirsten has been writing and publishing haikai since 2007 and has taught poetry workshops in schools and online. She was formerly the editor of the haikai section of the New Zealand Poetry Society magazine, a fine line. She also judged the junior section of their International Haiku Competition in 2013. Kirsten published an e-chapbook of haiku and tanka in 2011, thinking of you: twenty poems of love, which she distributed as a free gift for Valentine’s Day. In 2019, her first full-length collection of haiku and tanka came out, Patient Property: a journey through leukaemia (Velvet Dusk Publishing), which was shortlisted in The Haiku Foundation’s Touchstone Distinguished Books Award 2019. Copies are available for purchase HERE. Outside of writing, reading and exploring England with her husband, she is most involved with CILIP: The library and information association (UK) as: Digital Champion for the LGBTQ+ Network; an assessor on the Professional Registration Panel; and was recently named in the CILIP 125, a list of the next generation of professionals who will lead the sector into a new age of information.

Challenge for this week: When one takes the time to observe the little things in nature, its changing moods, its colours and sounds, its varied forms of life, one learns some of the finest and deepest lessons and one changes in subtle ways quite spontaneously: like the poet one may start redefining fluidly what ‘success’ or worldly fulfillment is, or one may hope like the poet (who is ‘watching the sunflowers / watching the sun’ ) to ‘know / when I’ve [one has] become whole’.

Write tanka centered around this theme: something observed in nature changed the way you looked at yourself or your life and aspirations.

Important: Since we're swamped with submissions, and our editors are only human, mistakes can happen. Please, please, remember to put your name, followed by your country, below each poem, even after revisions. It really helps our editors; they won't have to type it in, saving them from potential typos. Thanks a ton!



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 these themes too.

An essay on how to write tanka: Tanka Flights here


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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