Elliot Nicely’s comb

hospice care
the way she quietly combs
into his hair
with her fingers

Elliot Nicely (USA)
(previously published in Eucalypt #25)

This tanka gives me a real sense of peace and acceptance, specifically in: “she quietly combs sunlight into his hair.” I feel a gentleness in the verb “combs,” which reminds me of slow-rolling ocean waves, or a soft breeze in a field of grass. It also brings me a sentiment that the person lived a fulfilling life, regardless of their age. I first envisioned the man is in hospice and his wife is combing his hair, though I like how the tanka leaves this open for interpretation. It could very well be the woman who is in hospice and she’s combing the hair of her husband, her son, or someone else she’s close to. Hospice relates to a person who is physically ill and has 6 months or less to live. Love and compassion don’t always require words and can be expressed through silence, in gentle, wordless action. I feel this tanka expresses one of those moments. A beautiful poem. 

Jacob Salzer (USA)

The opening line of this tanka takes us to hospice care as an expression of a place that everyone knows. The tanka precisely describes the story of a woman who may be a nurse, a mother, a spouse, or a grandmother. In each case, she is caring and may be missing her motherhood memories in the past. The scene describes a carefree moment where she may be sitting in the sunlight with a child/boy/man and enjoying combing his hair with her fingers. It also shows the personal touch of a person with someone who is close to her and where there are no materialistic things needed to enjoy mundane activities.

This also demonstrates how both persons are pondering about life, maybe reminiscing their past. I can see the furrows in the hair resultant from combing with fingers, which depicts how fruitful life becomes when someone sows the seeds of love, care, and sincerity. I loved the imagery of this tanka, which portrays the story of life in hospice care—full of memories, love, compassion, kindness, and personal touch.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

This is a moment of quiet yet powerful symbolic actions—whether intended or not. The person being cared for is ill or dying, and sunlight, the power of the sun, is being combed into the patient’s hair. In a way, it is giving life to a person on the edge of death. It could also be a sign of someone who has lived their life fully and is now returning to the realm of the natural world.

The sense of sound in this tanka is wonderful as well. The soft “o”s in hospice, combs, and into, and stark “i”s in hospice, quietly, sunlight, into, his, hair, with, and fingers make for a sonorous feel that adds emotion to the poem. The tanka is sparse in words, but each word seems carefully selected and paced. It’s a tanka with depth that can be clearly seen.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

“Endearment” by Asiza.

Robin Anna Smith’s Alchemy

dusk gathers
with the alchemy
of ravens . . .
alone, in a clearing
my heart picked clean

Robin Anna Smith (USA)
UHTS Fleeting Words Tanka Contest 2019, First Place

There are a few short poems that inspire me deeply due to their brevity and brilliance. The beauty and the dimensions of our imagination are endless as one can grasp the attention of anyone through its majestic power and subtlety. This poem is one of them.

I loved the opening line of this wonderful tanka that pauses my thoughts and lets me feel the colours and the hues of dusk that tickle my slumberous senses to fully grasp the overall picture of that dusk.

The second and third lines, ‘with the alchemy/of ravens . . .’, is beautifully embedded in this dynamic poem and this may be the crux of the whole theme of this tanka. The word ‘alchemy’ depicts the magical power of the dark that purifies our thoughts and heart through contemplation and maybe through meditation. Ravens here depict the sign of intellect that pass through the trials of time before getting into proper shape. This is the experience of wholeness where a person walks alone in this journey as it varies from individual to individual. This highest level of personal experience also touches the spiritual boundaries where a person wants peace at heart, which is the ultimate goal of life. This only comes through the self-awareness that is reflecting very clearly in this tanka and brings one’s thoughts and feelings together to enjoy the subtle experience of wholeness.

Looking at the technicalities, the ellipsis placed after the word ‘ravens’ makes it significant to ponder in our day-to-day experiences before we finally get to the path of our ultimate destiny. By uniting the first and the last lines, one can understand the ultimate purpose of life.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

The power behind this tanka lies in its imagery and the connection between its two parts. Also, the poem packs in a lot of substance within five lines, while allowing the reader to imagine and fill in blanks.

I like that Robin embraces the more metaphorical and free approach to tanka that many western poets don’t delve into. Some western adherents of tanka practice it as a longer haiku and don’t utilize its more abstract and imaginative side.

Let’s break this tanka down line by line. “dusk gathers” sets the time and scene. We can feel that this poem will contemplative.

“with the alchemy” is a surprising line and makes the reader excited to see what will happen next in the tanka.

“of ravens . . .” is highly symbolic. In Native American culture, the raven is sacred and in some tribes, was the creator of the world. This could be the connection to alchemy. Also, in many cultures, ravens are seen as mystical creatures that are either seers, magical beings, or harbingers of something to come. The ellipsis makes the clear sign of this part of the tanka ending and shows that this process of alchemy and dusk gathering is gradual.

“alone, in a clearing” is concise but delivers substantial symbolism with the clearing being like the poet’s sense of being alone. The comma puts more emphasis on the word “alone” and allows the reader to feel it more.

With “my heart picked clean”, Robin does not say, but as a reader, I can imagine the ravens picking the poet’s heart clean. Maybe this could be part of the alchemy mentioned earlier. Alchemy is about transformation, and the process of cleaning one’s heart can be said to be a type of metamorphosis.

In terms of the format, this tanka follows the traditional Japanese rhythm faithfully. Looking at its sound, the letter “c” is most prominent. It reminds me of the clicking of beaks. In this case, ravens’ beaks.

A tanka packed with imagery, symbolism, and feeling, it’s clear why this poem won first place in the UHTS Fleeting Words Tanka Contest.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

Raven painting– Painting by Claudelle Girard

Tia Nicole Haynes’ Promises

another pear
rots in our fruit bowl
the promises
we choose
not to keep

Tia Nicole Haynes (USA)
Published in Frameless Sky, 11

The pear could be symbolizing comfort and inner peace which one gets through the sweetness of life. This tanka perhaps revolves around the choices we make to get that inner peace.

So, another pear rotting in the fruit bowl means the circumstances and choices are not appropriate for gaining inner peace and comfort in life. We make certain promises in life to do things that bring happiness and peace in our lives–especially the ones where the focus of control is our inner self. But, due to certain circumstances, we are not able to carry out those promises we make with ourselves. That makes life so uncertain in many ways that we forget to taste the inner peace, as it gets spoiled and rotten by limited choices.

There is a continuous process of striving for inner peace, which is the ultimate goal of our lives and we really wish to keep things in line with our ultimate goal and make promises every year for it. But, life in certain ways puts us through trials and we forget that ultimate goal.

In terms of sound, the letter ‘o’ could indicate the life cycle that makes us deal with different matters of life but also forgetting the ultimate goal.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

This tanka contains a comparison: the promises we choose not to keep are like another pear rotting in our fruit bowl. They are visible, the stench is clear, yet we decide not to abide by our word. This is a part of human nature. Though promises that are left behind stare us in the face, we somehow have the will to let them go sometimes.

The degradation of a pear is an apt symbol: they are sweet but easily bruise and go rotten, just like promises.

Like Hifsa, I enjoyed the “o” sounds in this tanka. I also thought the “r” sounds lend to a serious tone. Additionally in the technical vein, the poet is highly efficient with her words and allows each line to breath in its simplicity and power.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

If you enjoyed this tanka and commentary, please leave a comment.


Painting by Terry Wise

Lori Ann Minor’s Last Orchid

the last orchid
from its pot
I accept
my infertility

Lori Ann Minor (USA)
First Place Winner, 2019 Mandy’s Pages Tanka Time Contest

The crisp pacing of this tanka brings out the starkness of the imagery. Succinctly, Lori zeroes in on a single act and relates that to her state of being. You can say the poet felt the Japanese aesthetic of “aware,” which relates to an object or thing conjuring emotions when perceiving it.

It seems that the poet finds a moment of connection between an orchid and herself, maybe symbolically. This kind of sentiment is expressed in Japanese poetry often and is a highly effective way of conveying a state of being. Instead of elaborating about oneself or others, poets of Japanese forms allow plants and animals to embody who they are.

Maybe the poet looked at the uprooted orchid, in all its beauty and frailty, and spontaneously had a sense of acceptance about her infertility. Or, maybe this acceptance came well after the fact. It does not matter so much about the time frame. What is significant is that readers can instantly feel the power of the words while reading this tanka. The emotion with which the poem was written is effectively conveyed, and that is the most a poet can wish for. A piece of themselves is passed onto the reader and so, the poet lives on in those who read their work.

I enjoy the humbleness of this poem. It gives the feeling that a plant and a person are not so far apart. In a way, the orchid becomes a conduit through which Lori can find acceptance. In this sense, the orchid is a martyr without even knowing it is.

The main sound I hear in the tanka is the repetition of “t.” It might mimic the “tick” or “thud” of an orchid being uprooted. Also prevalent is the use of “o,” which slows down the pace to allow the reader to take in the tanka to a greater extent.

The first line standing as “uprooting” makes the experience of imagining the poem more intense. From there on, the line breaks are more standard but well done.

A poignant tanka that uses excellent pacing, sound, and imagery to deliver a feeling straight from the poet to the reader.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

Did you enjoy this tanka and commentary? If so, please leave a comment.

Pravat Kumar Padhy’s Wave

wave after wave
on an incessant journey
another sunset
when I long to change the taste
of salt, the colour of the wind

Skylark, 2:2 Winter Issue 2014
© Pravat Kumar Padhy (India)

I feel that this tanka is about a hardship that a person is passing through. “Wave after wave” means shifting from one painful event to another, which seem like trials. But, the writer is persistently going through this journey, no matter how much time it takes.

I can also see that the person is fed up with his monotonous life and wants to change his circumstances, and the conditions that surround him.

Spiritually, it describes the endless journey of hardship where one discovers his or her true potential/abilities to change what he or she does not want to see or wish. Both salt and wind are quite significant in spirituality, as both significantly influence the mood and behavior of a person. I can see the person is still not getting on this path, as sunset indicates hopelessness, but also the awakening of hidden powers that can impact our aura. Overall, the writer beautifully disguised both spiritual and social lives in this tanka.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

The feeling I’m overwhelmed with when reading this poem is a sort of breathlessness, with which the author seems to be trying to deal with. Sometimes life runs faster than us, challenging us to cope, to change, to follow the current of it… to me, it’s a poem about a humble human being, absorbed by the pressing and routine of time (incessant journey…. another sunset….) and the wish to feel free from material perception, which can lead to a more spiritual condition… Impermanence here is the red thread that runs through the tanka: of the beauty of nature, of human perceptions. I do feel all the tension to be more than a soul slave of the perceptions of its body, so a wish to go beyond flesh and bones and find peace of mind, an inner thoughtless shining silence.

Lucia Fontana (Italy)

I think the two most important words in this tanka that trigger poetic symbolism and concepts are “journey” and “sunset.” A journey in this context could be one’s life, or a spiritual ascension. “Sunset” could be referencing an end of a period of time in one’s life.

I like the gradual pace of the tanka, and the astonishing, yet simple last line. The pace is reminiscent of the subject at hand. In terms of the last line, I believe the writer is expressing his dissatisfaction with the way things are in his life—even rudimentary things. In a sense, he seems to want to break out of reality.

The format of the tanka is the traditional idea of having the first three lines as short, long, short, and the last two lines being long. The poet uses this format well, and does not make the tanka heavy.

I like the use of “w” sounds in the first and last lines, which mimics the wind. The “s” sounds throughout the tanka can be said to be like the noise of waves. Other than this subjective impression, it makes the poem more musical and magnetizing.

An engaging, efficient, and deeply expressive tanka.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)


– Painting by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

Jacob Salzer’s Cracked Pillars

cracked pillars
no longer stand
between us . . .
admitting all the times
I’ve been wrong

Ribbons, Spring/Summer, 2018

© Jacob Salzer (USA)

This week, we have a treat, as we have the poet himself giving commentary:

I envisioned cracked pillars from ancient Greece. As you know, a lot of the structures are now in ruins, broken down over time. Some of the pillars that once held heavy tops now stand alone, often cracked—but even those often break down, leaving only a slab of marble or perhaps a pile of stones. The pillars are actually metaphors for the sense of “I” which visually resembles a pillar. The vision was remnants of pillars in a row, and two people standing on each side of them. Basically, all that’s left of the pillars in the tanka are small piles of marble. By admitting my faults, my pillar, or sense of “I,” breaks down and I’m able to fully connect with someone else.

If you enjoyed this poem and commentary, please let us know in the comment section.


Art by Charles Lyell

Elliot Nicely’s Small Worries

these small worries . . .
wave upon wave,
the ocean
beneath itself

(Presence, #58, 2017)

© Elliot Nicely (USA)

A very well-crafted tanka that shows a relationship between our feelings and ocean waves. The opening line “small worries” takes us to our daily activities, where we constantly pass through a lot, and which lets our mind and heart oscillate between logic and feelings.

The ocean here symbolizes the deep feelings and thoughts that are sometimes unfathomable, and we can’t deal with them well. Waves upon waves may be our cognitive process that keeps on filtering our thoughts to find out some solutions based on logic. I can also see an element of ego here where a person’s worries can be related to his/her egoistic approach towards life. Waves upon waves in terms of the heart could be saying that feelings are blindfolded, and we can’t see that logic and thought dominates compassion, kindness, etc. In both cases, the worries or problems are not dealt with effectively, which may lead to destructive thoughts, poor relationships, and in the long run, poor mental and physical health.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

Yes, small worries are but waves in our lives—they come and they go. In a moment, there are worries to think about and that give color to our mundane life. And then in the next moment, these are all gone and we’re back to our own silent and secure existence.

Willie Bongcaron (Philippines)

I like that this tanka points to the fact that we often get so wrapped up in the daily grind, that we often forget that our troubles are usually pretty minor. The ocean in the poem is a kind of reminder that each moment is new, and an issue of just the moment before can be washed away.

The word “collapsing” works well not only as an image, but also in its power. We commonly see ourselves as a linear story of a person. But in fact, we are always changing, and in each moment, we can choose to be a new individual.

Let’s talk about the punctuation a bit. The ellipsis reflects the continuous motion of the waves, and the comma allows the reader to pause a bit to imagine the waves. Also, take notice of the economy of language: no line is longer than three words, but each of them is strong and creates a stark image.

Sound is also important in this tanka. In my mind, the “s” and “o” sounds create the most prominent effects. The “s” letters seem to be making the “sss” of incoming waves, and the “o” letters appear to be mimicking the “ooo” of receding waves.

This tanka is written in a convincingly straightforward manner, but the last line surprises and allows us to introspect about how daily strifes are not so essential in the larger picture.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Did you enjoy this tanka and the commentary? Leave us a comment if you did.


© Dawn Hudson

Lori Ann Minor’s Bland Tea

finding myself
as gray
as the sky
sips of bland tea
in the city winter

© Lori Ann Minor (USA)
Prune Juice, Issue 22, 2017

Ennui. I think at one time or another, we have all felt this way. Not depressed, not euphoric, just kind of blah. As we get older, become physically gray, are in a gray sky environment, those feelings do tend to come upon us. Ironically, as I began to respond to this, my wife asked if I would like some tea—she brought some to me, Earl Grey (decaffeinated). I like this tanka—it captures a human, most likely universal experience.

– Dana Grover (USA)

There’s a state called anhedonia that accompanies major depression and is indicative of that condition; sensations are muted and one can’t find pleasure in music, food, sex, or even the little things like a cup of tea. This tanka captures that muted, empty feeling quite well. In climates with long, dark winters, seasonal-affective disorder can be quite common. Here, the gray winter sky is an effective parallel to the ennui the speaker is confessing and the bland tea gives a vivid feeling of those January blues.

– Clayton Beach (USA)

To me, this feels a bit melancholic. “finding myself” plus “city winter” makes me feel that someone used to country life has to spend winter time in the city, perhaps due to an illness. Some people do develop ash-gray skin. Overall, I find this tanka a bit sad, but not overwhelming.

– Laughing Waters (Italy)

The content of this tanka has been sufficiently elaborated on, so I wanted to discuss the sound and pacing of the poem.

The most striking sound in this tanka to me is the use of “y” in “myself,” “gray,” “sky,” and “city.” The employment of “y” seems to point to the severity of the poet’s bland existence. There is also a heavy use of “i,” which slows the pace down, capturing the melancholic mood.

I feel lines 2-4, from the pacing, is the moment of “finding myself.” The last line appears to be an afterthought, as the poet introspects on her connection to her surroundings.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

What do you think or feel about this tanka? Let us know in the comments.

Elliot Nicely’s Sunset

the way
she says goodbye
this time
the sunset refills
her wine glass

Eucalypt #20, 2016

© Elliot Nicely (USA)

The two things I enjoyed the most about this tanka was the pivot from line 3 to line 4, and the ending image.

“this time” can be seen as part of lines 1-2 and part of lines 4-5. This is one of the great tools of tanka that can make reading them diverse and intriguing within only 5 lines. The pivot makes us read a bit slower and to consider what reading we should take.

The ending image is not only startling, but also brings up several references. Firstly, I see it referencing an overall solemn mood and the finality of the relationship. It is also interesting in its aesthetic in that the sunset, which marks the end of something, fills something up. In addition to these observations, I see a more mystical interpretation: wine in many poetic traditions is a reference for spiritual intoxication. In this way, the author could be telling us that his beloved has now left this earthly world, and has once again been reunited with the divine. Another way to look at it is that the poet’s beloved is still alive but has ended her spiritual seeking, and she has now found the truth, her self-realization.

The image of the sunset in the wine glass also has a grounding, earthly tone. It’s as if things have gone back to their original, non-abased self, and marks a return (or refill, if you will) to the naturalness of life.

And overall, as I mentioned before, there is a strong tone of finality to the tanka that lends to sadness, but also to acceptance.

If we look at the sound of the tanka, in the first two lines, most prominent is the “-ay” sound with “way,” “say,” and “goodbye.” Not only does it make it more musical, but it gives a stress to the moment at hand. In the second half of the tanka, the letter “i” features most, which to me as a reader gives a sense of awe.

A tanka with a range of possible interpretations and an engaging tone, all with simple language and no more than three words per line.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Billy Antonio’s Hills

the verdant hills
of his childhood
he scratches
his growing
bald spot
© Billy Antonio (Philippines)
Second Place, Annual Tanka Contest at Mandy’s Pages

Before I provide commentary, let us see what the judge of the contest, Christine L. Villa (Philippines), said about this tanka:

The poet’s perfect choice of metaphor proves that humor can be used effectively in tanka. The verdant hills implies lushness which is in contrast to his growing bald spot. To emphasize the decreasing loss of hair, words are placed in descending order. A hint of annoyance about the poet’s aging is implied with the word “scratch”, but using humor in this tanka shows us his/her acceptance of this human condition. I enjoyed the surprise ending. Brilliant tanka!

[Source: http://www.mandys-pages.com/contests/annual-tanka-contest/192-atc2016-results%5D

To add, I would like to say how relatable this is. Men all over the world must feel this way, but don’t express it. To have poetry that is instantly relatable is always a plus for readers.

Also, note how fresh this tanka sounds compared to the court tanka of old. With the exception of the word “verdant,” the tanka is direct, rather than dependent on flashy lyricism. This makes for a much more communicable tanka and one that connects to the masses easily.

I also enjoy how the two last lines interact. It is expressing a paradox: emptiness is growing. But as we know, there is no space that is completely empty, and maybe he is reflecting that in older age, he has gained something within to compensate for that physical emptiness.

In terms of sound, the letter “l” in the first two lines give a sense of dignity to his childhood, and the letters “t” and “o” make the bald spot stand out more.

Combining humor with reminiscence and optimism, this tanka showcases a feeling that many have, but often do not put into words, helping readers come to terms with their own aging.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)