An International Tanka Contest & Fundraiser for Australian Wildlife Rescue


Contest and Fundraiser organized by tanka poets Amanda Dcosta, David Terelinck, and Christine Villa

It gives us great pleasure to announce the winners of our contest CLIMATE CHANGE: THE BURNING ISSUE, in aid of Koala and  Wildlife rescue in Australia.  Fires ravaged vast areas of land across Australia during the last few months of 2019, and well into the start of 2020. The three of us felt that, as tanka poets, we could create awareness of what is happening around us through tanka.  Numerous poets around the world joined in and supported our cause.  You, our dear poets,  are the voice, the message, and the heart of what we send out.  Your tanka poems and donations help to make a difference. During the months of February and March 2020, we raised a total amount of $1365 AUD ($880.97 USD).  Thank you for your wonderful and wholehearted support.  This amount has been donated to Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, in New South Wales, Australia. 

Our special thanks go out to all those who have helped advertise and share our contest with various tanka communities via social media, and the tanka society websites from various locations.  Special mention has to be made for those tanka poets who initially sent their tanka in Japanese and then took the trouble of getting them translated into English just for this.  We do appreciate your effort, and this goes a long way in building up the tanka spirit. 

The Prizes 

The First, Second, and Third Place winners will each receive an Australian Photography book. 

The Results, and  Judging Report by David Terelinck

Thank you to everyone who rose to the challenge to enter this fundraiser for the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital in New South Wales, Australia. Through entry fees and the generosity of donors, a total amount of $1365 AUD ($880.97 USD) was raised. The entire amount has now been donated to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital to help in the rehabilitation of fire-affected koalas after the devastating 2019/20 summer bushfires in Australia. 

There was a total of 182 entries that were submitted blind to the judge. Every poem was read multiple times, often aloud. From this, I whittled to a long-list of 33 tanka. This then narrowed to a short-list of 10 poems from which first, second and third places were chosen, as well as 3 highly commended. It is important to note that any of the poems on this short-list may have been placed differently by an alternate judge. Each poem has a quality and appeal that ensured it made the cut, and each may indeed have been a winner under the expert eye of another judge. 

When judging this competition, I looked for tanka that spoke to the heart of what is happening on our beautiful planet, and how it affects us. Poems that had something to say; that were meaningful and fresh, and engaged me as a reader. I searched for the unexpected; poems that were refreshingly different and not cliched in imagery and thought. The most appealing tanka were those with multiple layers, inferred emotion, and meaning. Poems of concrete imagery, but with dreaming room for the reader. All of the tanka on the short-list pulled me back for many subsequent readings. Each of them had a unique appeal in the way they addressed the multiple themes of this competition. I listened for the poetry within the poem, and gravitated to those poems that moved me and touched me as a reader. Each was lyrical and satisfying in its construction.  



 redbud blossoms

on a broken branch—

the creek

that drains the clear cut

runs also in my veins


(Jenny Ward Angyal, USA)


Deforestation is having an enormous impact upon our planet and ecosystems. Trees produce oxygen, capture CO2, provide wildlife habitats, and prevent soil erosion. And there is the mental health benefit of time out beneath shading foliage. Yet their value is often treated as insignificant against corporate greed and the commerce of widespread clearing. But there is beauty and hope to be found in this tanka with the broken branch having redbud blossoms on it. 

This is a tanka of connection and relationship with the land. The narrator has a bond with their environment. And it is an environment man has helped to create, but not in a positive way. The creek, potentially caused by erosion, echoes through the poet’s veins. Do they feel broken in some way themselves by what is happening? There is an understated ache in this tanka that can be felt in the sensitive narration.  

This tanka has a classical s/l/s/l/l/ construction that works well with the subject matter. The contrasting metaphor is strong and fresh, and all emotion is inferred rather than stated. It is highly lyrical on the ear when read aloud due to the strong ‘b’, ‘d’, ‘r’, and ‘c’ consonants. 

The poem builds line by line and has a powerful and satisfying close with the narrator being at one with the damaged land. A well-deserved first place tanka. 




on wings

without feathers

fender struck

and gut-punched

your love poem, dear earth


(Marilyn Ashbaugh, USA)


The second-place poem is compelling in its unusual metaphor. I expect many people today, with all that is happening in our world, are feeling a degree of being ‘fender struck’ and ‘gut-punched’. We have been hit head-on with natural disasters, extreme climate and weather events, pollution and pillage of the planet, war and political unrest, humanitarian and refugee crises, and now the global impact of the coronavirus epidemic. 

It seems mother earth is writing us a love poem, and it is one of tough love. It is a poem we cannot ignore. And how appropriate now are the opening lines ‘on wings / without feathers’ given our wings at the moment have been clipped. International travel has stopped, and even movements outside our immediate neighbourhood are restricted. We cannot enfold our wings around some of our precious loved ones at the moment. We are, in essence, grounded ‘on wings without feathers.’ 

This is very much a poem of our times, and one that is lyrical and with an abundance of dreaming room.




otters restored

to the Río Grande

I follow their tracks,

falling into the rhythm

of canyon time


(Dru Philippou, USA)


Whilst third place is a tanka of hope, it also has an inherent sadness to the theme. That any animal has to be ‘restored’ to their native habitat says much about the human impact upon these ecosystems. The tanka reminds me of the outcome of wolves being restored to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Their reintroduction revived many parts of a flagging ecosystem as other species returned and flourished. It showed us there is hope when the balance is restored. 

The lesson within this well-crafted tanka is that we should look to nature to teach us about the rhythm of living in harmonious equilibrium with our natural environment. That man does not always have to lead; there is wisdom in following. The tanka makes solid use of the longer and softer sounds in the last two lines. This slows the reader down, so we actually fall in step with the slower pace of 'canyon time’ as we read this. An understated tanka that infers so much and is a worthy place-getter. 



(in no particular order)


El Rosario

Monarch Preserve—

the final

flutter of wings

above a coffin


(Jenny Ward Angyal, USA)


This tanka intrigued me with the monarch preserve (with which I was not familiar) and wings fluttering above a coffin. It led me to Google and reading about the recent murders of two butterfly conservationists associated with the Mexican sanctuary. The two men, aged 44 and 50, were staunch advocates for ecotourism over widespread tree felling. Between 2005 and 2006, 461 hectares in the region were lost to illegal logging. The destruction threatened the world’s largest butterfly migration. 

An extremely sad tanka that highlights the devaluing of human life and nature next to commercial logging. There is an inferred echo of the short lives of butterflies next to the early deaths of the two activists. It is a sensitively rendered tanka that made me want to learn more about the subject.  




a fleet

of trumpeter swans

at anchor

on the smoke-veiled lake

every bird, a beacon


(Debbie Strange, Canada)


A visually rich tanka that contrasts the snow-white plumage of the trumpeter swan against the darkness of a smoke-filled landscape. A majestic bird, and the largest swan in the world. It is vulnerable to illegal shooting and collision with power lines, and they can succumb to lead poisoning by ingesting lead shot and fishing sinkers during feeding. In the early 1900s, it was almost hunted to extinction for its skin, feathers, meat, and eggs. 

This is an appealing poem in its sustained use of boating terminology: fleet, anchor, and beacon. And the closing line is powerfully layered. It is times like now that humans need a beacon because in many instances we have lost our way in terms of living harmoniously with nature. Perhaps it is time we looked to nature to be our guide in these troubled times? 

The traditional s/l/s/l/l/ structure supports this tanka very well, and it has a highly effective pivot anchored in line 3. 





brushfires . . .

if only poems

held their stories

could we sing

the Phoenix songs? 


(Marilyn Ashbaugh, USA)


A lyrical and poignant tanka with ample dreaming room that invited many readings. This poem spoke to me personally of the Australian people in terms of the recent fire disasters. Each time bushfire ravages this wide brown land, those who have lost everything, except hope, rise from the ashes and rebuild. This Phoenix song is held strongly within the heart of the Australian people. It is demonstrated in their repeated stories of perseverance and charity towards each other in times of need; of neighbour helping neighbour defend property and life, and helping communities rebuild in the face of devastating loss. 

This competition is indeed one where each of the tanka submitted is its own Phoenix song. Where a collective of poets have told the stories that are impacting our lives and our planet. And this particular tanka captures the very essence of that. 


COMMENDED (in no particular order) 



an oily sheen

on the pool’s dark surface

draws them in –

migrating birds to water

humans to black gold 


(Jenny Ward Angyal, USA)


Another quality tanka that speaks of the dichotomy between man and nature. How we can be drawn to the same things, but for vastly disparate reasons. This is a tanka that makes us pause and look at nature in different ways. What is life-sustaining for one can be a commercial and advantageous situation for another. 



as if I were

this ash-filled burl,

black veins

of decay winding through

my body like a river 


(Debbie Strange, Canada)


An extremely lyrical tanka of loss and grief that speaks of the aftermath of a bushfire. The narrator is very in tune with their new landscape. They associate with a fire-blackened outlook that may well mirror their own prospects. There is something hypnotically alluring in the choice “ash-filled burl, / black veins / of decay winding”.  



my easel stands

neglected in the corner

still flecked

with bright colours of a world

I no longer recognize 


(Debbie Strange, Canada)


The easel in this poem could easily be the life of anyone on the planet today. Coronavirus has curtailed our view of the word. Because of limited movements, both internationally and locally, our palette is limited. Our life has been put on hold; yet it is still sparked with colours and people we have not forgotten. The world, and how we relate to it, will likely be very different after the pandemic is over. But right now, we don’t recognize it for what it meant to us before all of this unfolded. The beauty in this tanka is that you can also apply this easel to any natural disaster that strips the vibrancy from our lives and relegates us to pastel shades until we learn to paint in brightness again. 




low temperatures

in Florida

iguanas fall from trees

like otherworldly rain


(Debbie Strange, Canada)


Two keywords in this tanka add to its strength. So much of what has happened to every one of late is “unexpected”, be it extreme natural weather events or a virus of global proportions. One day our life is trundling along without incident, the next we are facing life and death situations and decisions. The low temperatures are weather-related, but could be seen as a metaphor for almost anything that rocks our complacency; indeed any “otherworldly” event. One could read the iguanas as a metaphor for man as he falls foul of his own constructs. Again, a tanka with an effective L3 pivot. 


Thank you to Amanda Dcosta and Christine Villa for inviting me to be a part of this initiative and asking me to judge the competition. And for Amanda - for hosting and promoting the competition on her website, coordinating the entries, and managing the donation.  I thank all the poets who submitted their work and ultimately trusted me to judge it. 

~ David Terelinck

Congratulations to all the winners of this contest.  Your tanka will be part of the upcoming anthology attached to this fundraiser. 

And, thank you, to all of you for your support and love.  This fundraiser happened because of you. 


Amanda Dcosta

David Terelinck

Christine Villa