After much thought and deliberation, tanka poet and judge Hazel Hall has decided on the winners of Where Tanka Prose Grows 2015. Before I proceed with the winning list, Susan Burch and I would like to thank Hazel for willingly and painstakingly involving herself with this event to make it more meaningful to not just the contestants, but also the two of us. With twenty two entries, it is no small feat to read, ponder over and decide on a winner. Hazel has actively involved herself with each and every submission, and I thank all you contestants for trusting in her decision and participating in this contest. I hope you have had fun working on your submissions and I'm sure you will find the winning list worthy of attention.
"Thank you" - to each and every contestant who participated, and our hearty congratulations to those who made it to the winning list. Thank you for being part of the Mandy's Pages endeavor to promote tanka prose.
~ Amanda Dcosta
I was delighted to be invited to judge this competition. Twenty-two tanka prose were submitted this year, probably the highest number of entries yet. Thank you all for keeping the faith. If you did not receive a place this time, please remember that your entry was read with great respect and care. So do not discard your tanka prose; work on it! Although most of the entries showed much potential, some had been submitted in haste without proper checking. These may well shine more brightly after further editing. Syntax was a problem in some entries, with paragraphs and even sentences revealing clashes of tense. In other entries, the tanka did not stand alone or take the narrative to a new place. Some of the tanka prose titles were more imaginative than others. Finally, it's essential that the reader has space to reflect and dream.
It was a difficult but rewarding task forming the short list. Finally I chose the following four compositions.
dementia ward –
left in the corridor
once filled with dreams
He’s wearing odd slippers today and they’re not the same size so he needs
to let them know but the words he once kept on the tip of his tongue are all gone.
His feet feel all wrong – mismatched, out of step, at odds.
He’s wearing odd slippers today. Has he mentioned it yet?
But they don’t even notice in their rush to get him dressed.
He’s wearing odd slippers but what can he do? He wears what they choose.
Today it’s odd slippers and not even his.
There was once a time in his life when slippers were strictly a night time thing.
Something reserved for an intimate world of bedrooms and bathrooms and watching TV.
He’s wearing odd slippers today and they’re on the wrong feet
and he can’t seem to find his life with his wife
and the cupboard where he keeps
his lace-up shoes.
through the louvers
the old man waits
in a slither of light
This piece immediately shines on reading. Its well-chosen title points to the narrative without giving anything away.
The two tanka straddling the prose are both compact stand-alones with plenty of dreaming room. They are perfectly placed, complementing the prose which in turn adds depth to the tanka. To me, the second tanka is the stronger― a beautiful poem filled with wistfulness. Louver windows offer subtle images of both confinement and release.
The prose is musically and sensitively written, focusing on a pair of shoes once worn at a wedding. This theme merges into the odd slippers on an old man's feet. Repetitive phrases are used to suggest memory loss. It's so typical of nursing homes. The discordant footwear jars on a once-rational patient whose failing mind goes over and over the rest home routine, trying to make sense of what is happening as he augments the experience with fragments of the past. The way the last lines of prose slip into the tanka like his lost thoughts adds that touch we would expect from a winning entry.
"At least he's British," said her dad. Mum laughed, "You think God will favour him 'cos he's from London?".
She was right, of course. A Jerry's bullet didn't give a toss which side of the ocean you came from. She wished her mum had kept quiet nonetheless.
That night, the young couple stepped carefully across the rubble. Whose house had it been? Perhaps it had belonged to the old man with the crooked back and a walking stick to match. It didn't matter, it was theirs now.
He took her by the hand. Her heart didn't just skip, it bloody danced and jived at the touch.
Three little words. That was all it took to let him in. Their own version of goodbye.
Afterwards, she flattened her skirt. She had no regrets. 'Carpe Diem', as her dad had always told her, 'Carpe Diem'.
the fragile strands
of her memory...
on a broken web
Experience is clearly stamped on this work. The tanka is skilfully crafted and takes the reader to the present where the main character is reminiscing about a brief affair during the war years. The last lines of this tanka are all 'show-not-tell' in their many images. This poem would publish on its own, but is at its best enhancing and adding depth to the prose. We are left wondering what happened to the 'pale eyed' British lover.
I'm also impressed by the way images from the prose creep into the tanka without becoming repetitive. All these are used in new ways to evoke contrast and a feeling of distance. The weaving of the lovers' bodies and fragments of memory is an effective device. So too is the use of blossoms as a metaphor for both youth and old age. In the end we are left with the old woman. Pale amyloid plaque and tangles inside her mind form a 'web' as she tries to remember one who, if alive, might now be like the mysterious bent old man whose bombed house they borrowed.
The barber is snipping away crisply, steadying the head with his other hand. Locks of hair fall around limply. Some of them swirl away with the moist breeze. A bamboo frame shouldered by his four sons carries away grandpa. Is that still grandpa, now that he is... he is
in your rasping voice—
that finger space
between now & here
Dad's shoulder is rubbed raw from the chafing and his back is all red from the sun. The wood cracks, sizzles, seethes, spits, and singes and the flame surges skyward, skyward.
stuck between toes...
no longer held back
in my cupped hands
Original and beautiful, this composition immediately attracted me. Images of a funeral pyre beside the Ganges come to mind, with powerful messages of 'setting free'. Both tanka are evocative in their own ways, though for me they need a little more work. The final tanka has a wonderful lotus image of a child with two cupped hands in the flowing river.
Tanka and prose interweave contrasting harsh and soft images. As the narrative unfolds, these become metaphors for life and death. Firstly we have the crisp snipping of the dead man's hair moving into images of drifting. Then the rasping voice of the grandfather followed by the chafed shoulder of his son. Finally, the fire enhanced by the musical use of sibilants, merges its smoke with the sky.
rest home residents
sedate in their wheelchairs
… as I walk by,
that age-old feeling
of being the odd one out
When the weather is decent enough, patients (both short-term and long-term), as well as family members, caretakers, and miscellaneous workers on break, line both sides of the covered walkway leading to the main entrance of the facility. We often join them there. Swirls of air from the overhead fan graze our faces.
as often as names
are forgotten …
today my mother
calls me her sister
A magnolia tree, its base wide and its spire reaching well above the rooftop of the adjacent building, usually captures her attention—and mine too. But right now, and for the past week or so, she appears to be particularly fascinated by a certain row of windows on the topmost story. With a voice that more than anything is gentle and hopeful, the one who decades ago carried me into the world advises, "Maybe you'll want to move here, on the third floor."
Within a few seconds, I hear the half-whisper of a woman seated across from me, as if she could read my mind. "It's the view," she offers. I simply nod.
An appealing tanka prose with much going for it, this is a 'fresh' approach to an old theme. Both tanka heighten the prose. The first poem employs word play to soften the grim reality of a rest home, a gentle humour that continues throughout. This tanka stands alone but needs a slight edit to remove unnecessary words. The second tanka is less suggestive.
Beginning with the technique of 'listing' to show us the breezeway clutter and confinement, the writing then opens up as we are introduced to a magnolia tree and fresh air, followed by windows that reflect the sky. This view becomes a metaphor for release in a beautiful contrast between life and death. All is clinched in the interaction between poet and an unknown resident in the final paragraph.
13 October 2015
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