Monday, October 30, 2006

Some Recent Published Tanka

I have had a fair amount of tanka accepted for publication recently. Here are a few:

His burlap skin
washed by the
diamond waters,
and everywhere,
jellyfish in bloom.

--from Modern English Tanka, 1:2

rattlesnake love--
you gave me warning,
but I, entranced
by your desert heart,
wouldn't heed it

--from Fire Pearls: Short Masterpieces of the Human Heart

tracing the face
of the man in the moon
my own face
looks back
at me

--from Modern English Tanka, 1:1

At the end of
a bad oyster season,
we spend Christmas
stripping the oyster boards
and swabbing the decks.

--from Sketchbook, 1:1

if only the leaves
were not so green,
this lover's heart
might enjoy
a little emptiness

--from Tanka Splendor 2006

The skyline's
not much to look at,
just a green line
drawn along the bottom
of the clouds.

--from Red Lights, 3:1 (forthcoming)

a dozen contrails
stretch across the sky,
all pointing
to the west
beyond my dreams

--from Gusts #4

my boss gives me
a bag of melted chocolates . . .
I think this means
I'm in her good graces
at last

--from Kokako #5

If you like what you read, I hope you will seek and support these find journals and anthologies by buying them. Without financial support, our publishers, all of whom are small presses who do this as a labor of love, would not be able to continue publishing. Without them, there would be very few places to publish tanka.

Bibliography of Books Containing Tanka in English

I was going to leave the bibliography to Denis, but since he was in the accident, I decided I might as well take all the data I had and turn it into a word document. The resulting bibliography contains approximately 325 entries. About 100 overlap with Ce Rosenow's Tanka Bibliography, but hers has not been updated since 2000. In addition, I tried hard to find old and obscure works, and put a tremendous effort into research.

I queried poets, viewed existing bibliographies, searched web sites, book reviews in journals, poets biographies, the Library of Congress card catalog, the catalogs of several colleges in the US and Canada, queried my colleagues, etc. Nonetheless, I have about 50 or more titles about which I do not have enough information to make a guess as to whether they contain tanka, and there are many more poets and editors yet to query. It's a neverending project, so I decided to post what I had so that people could start using it and hopefully send me additions and corrections. It is now posted at

I also made some corrections as requested by Denis Garrison, and my 'A History of Tanka Book Publishing in English' is now posted to the Winter issue of Modern English Tanka. Essentially it's a narrative of information in the bibliography and contextual information and commentary, tracing the history of publishing tanka in English. It can be viewed at, Winter, 2006.

I regard both as being preliminaries works. There is so little scholarship on tanka in English that it's important to do this kind of fundamental groundwork to get started and open the subject for discussion and further research.

It's good to see it come to fruition because I've put a tremendous amount of work into this research. There is more to be done, but I don't plan on pushing as hard in it as I have been. I think my next step is to complete my acquistion of tanka anthologies and write about anthology publishing.

The anthologies containing tanka that I own or have on order are:

Japan: Theme and Variations
Sounds from the Unknown
Poets Behind Barbed Wire
Tanka in English
Tanka Splendor 1990
Tanka Splendor 1991
Tanka Splendor 1994
Tanka Splendor 1995
Tanka Splendor 1996
Tanka Splendor 1997
Tanka Splendor 1998
Tanka Splendor 1999
Tanka Splendor 2000
Tanka Splendor 2001
Tanka Splendor 2002
Tanka Splendor 2003
Tanka Splendor 2004
Tanka Splendor 2005
Tanka Splendor 2006
The Wind Five Folded
Footsteps in the Fog
Outcry from the Inferno
Heiwa: Peace Poetry
Quiet Fire
Book of Tanka
New Moon
Tangerine Anthology
Castles in the Sand
The Tanka Anthology
Unrolling the Awning
Searching for Echoes
Only the Bulbs
English Tanka Poems
To Find the Moon
Fire Pearls
Something Like a Sigh
A Thin Green Horizon

Books I want to acquire (if you are very nice, you will send them to me!):

Ishokurin (Transplanted Forest)
Tanka Splendor 1992
Tanka Splendor 1993
The Art of Haiku
My Neighbor's Life
Countless Leaves
Full Moon Tide
Moondust/Poussiere de la Lune
How to Haiku
Tulip Haiku
Rose Haiku for Flower Lovers and Gardeners
Tanka Calendar 2005
Tanka Calendar 2006
Invisible Tea and Haiku


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Maritime News

In other news, I am keeping busy, too busy! Last night I was elected to the Board of Directors of the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum, in Havre de Grace, Maryland. "Where Bay Life Begins" is the new slogan which will be implemented throughout the course of the upcoming capital campaign. The capital campaign will complete the pavilion on the grounds, creating exhibit, storage, and rental space, enabling the Chesapeake Wooden Boat School to move downstairs in the main building and the first floor be expanded entirely into exhibits and additional features, such as a library/resource room, offices, handicap elevator, etc.

So far the museum is a cute little museum, very inexpensive whose dominant features is the wooden boat school that restores and builds wooden boats. The wooden boat program is widely recognized for its excellence. Other notable features are the sustainable landscaping and its nearness to other nautical features, including the Concord Point Lighthouse and Lighthousekeeper's house, the Decoy Museum, and Havre de Grace Promenade. Plans will include the replacement of the wooden dock that was washed away by Hurricane Isabel.

Since I am in the process of changing careers from what I used to do into museum management, especially development and fundraising, it's quite exciting to be a member of the board during this time period. And since I am also a local with a passion for the history of the Chesapeake Bay, a degree in history, and experience in non-profit, educational development, with a passion for wooden boats... It was a natural fit.

If you have any interest in maritime history, Maryland, or the Chesapeake Bay, or just to win brownie points with me, please visit the website of the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum and become a member or donor! We will love you for it.

Up until this point in my blog I have concentrated principally on poetry and will continue to do so, but I believe very much in poetry of place and now that I've covered the history and development of tanka/waka/kyoka (see archives, especially the earliest ones), look for more poetry of place and maritime information to be interspersed among the modern tanka posts.


Fire Pearls *****

At last! Fire Pearls: Short Masterpieces of the Human Heart is complete and ready for sale. I'm well pleased with the way it turned out, although I cannot say that I am happy with the global distribution system. Errors on their part caused delays and frustration and expense on my part. Still, it is done at last, and the book is out and selling. So far reviews left on the site are excellent with an average five star rating (*****). Even my daughter, the teenage skeptic, says it's pretty cool.



BOOK NOTE: Please forward to all interested parties.

October 19, 2006


M. Kei, Editor

Edited by M. Kei, trade paperback, 160 pages, $14.95 USD. Available from or major booksellers.

A handsome new anthology of nearly four hundred tanka, kyoka, cinquains, and free verse by more than fifty poets from around the world. Includes both well known and emerging voices, arranged into five seasons that explore the human heart through its many manifestations of love and passion.

“Fire Pearls will be quite a surprise for those who are frequent readers of tanka, the five-line poem with a 1300 year history. For newcomers to tanka, the poems should be a challenge and a delight. The last section, entitled 'Fifth Season,' is a tour de force. To journey through this anthology is to experience key moments of our lives.“ — Sanford Goldstein, co-translator of Tangled Hair: Selected Tanka from Midaregami

“What a magnificent anthology . . . it weakens, heartens, humbles, enlarges, and delivers so many poetic truths that I just am so glad to see this come to fruition.” — Tom Clausen, author of Growing Late

Excerpts from Fire Pearls:

between sun and shade
a butterfly pauses
like none I've seen—
who ever falls in love
with someone they know?

Michael McClintock

the tilt
of her head to undo
an earring—
fortresses crumble into
winter moonlight

Larry Kimmel

rain-furled hibiscus—
in the slow refolding
of our secret places
we draw even closer
than at passion's zenith

Beverley George

White birch
with black-streaked trunk,
How many Russian girls
have hugged you, crying for their long
lost loves?

Zhanna P. Rader

His heart
is a skeleton key
that unlocks doors
that should never
be opened.

M. Kei

mourners assemble
after Joe’s funeral—
they come
to pick widow Green’s apples
and press out the amber juice

John Daleiden

and still
there may be encounters
in this penny world,
and still the electric surge
of a look, a stare, a nod

Sanford Goldstein

To purchase, or for more information, contact:

M. Kei, Editor
P O Box 1118
Elkton, MD, 21922-1118


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Counting Syllables

Recently some one on a tanka workshop email list pleaded to be told the 'correct' number of syllables to be used in writing English-language tanka. I posted the following response:

There is no correct syllable count for English-language tanka, because tanka are not built on syllables. They are built on 'on' which is translated as 'syllable,' but this is an error. The correct translation is 'mora,' which is a unit of sound. For example, the English word 'stretch' is only one syllable, but three mora. str-e-tch. In Japanese, it would be four or five morae.

Since English prosody is built on the syllable, not the mora, it is impossible to make any direct correlation between Japanese 'on' and English syllables. In short, it is linguistically impossible to count syllables correctly in English for the simple reason that syllables are not what the Japanese count.

Japanese and English are extremely different languages. An English verse contains approximately 35% more information than a verse of equal syllable count in Japanese. Therefore, your syllable count in English should rarely exceed 31. Usually English-language tanka fall into the range of 21 - 27 syllables, but there are no hard and fast rules about this.

Some people adopt various alternative schema to mimic the Japanese form, such as the rubric of 'short-long-short-long-long', the adoption of metered feet of 2-3-2-3-3, and various other forms. Most people writing in English settle for the pattern of five phrases on five lines.

Yet even this has problems; Japanese tanka are written in one, two, or three lines, or whatever lineation happens to suit either the style of the calligraphy or the space available. Since Japanese is structurally different than English, the precise arrangement of lines and words on the page does not have the same impact that the choice of line breaks does in English; the calligrapher is free to place line breaks in Japanese where he pleases, but the same is not true in English.

A small number of English-language poets regard the 'on' or mora as not being the most important unit of the tanka; some poets regard the division of the poem into two parts to be the defining feature. Two- part structure is certainly common in tanka, but not universal; tanka have been written with one, two, three, four, and five part structures.

If two part structure is used, English-language tanka frequently places the break at the end of L3, probably due to the influence of haiku, but it could just as viably occur at the end of L1, 2, 3, or 4 and often does in Japanese. Three part structures are not rare in tanka, four and five parts are fairly uncommon, but unitary tanka (no breaks), also referred to as a 'rush of five lines down,' are well enough known to have inspired the name of the first tanka-only journal in English, Five Lines Down, edited by Sanford Goldstein (one of the most prominent translators of modern Japanese tanka) and Kenneth Tamemura.

In short, the translation of a Japanese poetic form to English is not easy, and no one can make it simple for you. In fact, given the profound differences between English and Japanese, I would argue that 5-7-5-7-7 syllables is about the only wrong way to write a tanka. Poems of this length are far too wordy. The Japanese originals are lithe, supple poems.

My advice is: Aim for the greatest possible meaning in the fewest necessary words, pleasingly arranged on five lines.



Nakagawa, Atsuo. Tanka in English: In Pursuit of World Tanka. Tokyo: New Currents Internataionl, 1990 [1987].

Gilbert, Richard. 'Stalking the Wild Onji: The Search for Current Linguistic Terms Used in Japanese Poetry Circles.' AHA Books Online. Previously published in Language Issues: Journal of the Foreign Language Education Center.(1999, Vol. 5, No. 1). Prefectural University of Kumamoto, Kumamoto, Japan.