EIF Tanka Challenge: The Results

The tanka form proved both enticing and challenging, no less for me (for examples, take a look at my Twitter Poetry from Week 3) than for those who took part. As a short form it may appear deceptively simple. Bearing this in mind, I was impressed with the high standard of entries. I now hand over to judge Jane Dougherty to her to deliver the results of the EIF Tanka Challenge:

This was a hard one to judge! Tanka poetry is subtle and therefore difficult to write well, and whenever I have tried it, I’ve never been absolutely certain that I’m not way off target. You’ve probably guessed that I am far from being an expert on Japanese poetry forms.  

However, enough of the excuses. There were a lot of lovely poems among the entries Ingrid asked me to judge, but I’ve tried to judge them strictly as tanka, which is not quite the same thing. I’ve looked at the language used, the skill with metaphor and that tricky volta in the middle that changes the mood of the poem. I haven’t counted syllables as English isn’t Japanese, and even the Japanese don’t stick to a rigid number of sounds in modern poetry. 

So, to my personal favourites, the poems that I think come closest to the spirit of tanka.

First Place: Nick Reeves

with no map we plot
by heart and star this voyage
another mile:
but all the salt in the world
will not preserve our ebbing

Judge’s comments: There was no doubt for me as to the winner, this was the best tanka and most satisfying poem. I loved the unworldly dimension of the first lines, romantic and dreamlike, and the swooping back to earth into the cold reality of the tide metaphor and the very unromantic salting that knocks the wind out of the readers’ sails, yet isn’t incongruous. Time and tides are after all a metaphor in themselves. 

Joint Second Place: Jaya Avendel & Ivor Steven

Brushstrokes – Jaya Avendel

Water frozen in
a pail made of sky fire
Cracked hearts evident.
I see these lives in paintings
Behind the glaring colors.

A Window Stain – Ivor Steven

Evening tears ebb through
the window of last year’s stain
Fear closes the door
Tonight, the moon is brighter
Today the pane is clearer

Judge’s comments: I had a tie for second place, both lovely tanka, and I really couldn’t pick one over the other. I enjoyed the mystery of Jaya’s poem, the everyday image of ice on a bucket of water that sailed off into broken hearts, the two halves of the poem linked by the bright colours in both metaphors.  

The mood of Ivor’s poem swings from sadness, loss and an ending by the closing of a door, letting in a more hopeful light through the window cleared of tears and lets us see beyond the ‘stain’ to the moon light.  

Third Place: Danielle

winter halo’s glow
falls upon the midnight sky
crowning of the moon
I stare in awestruck wonder
graceful keeper of the stars

Judge’s comments:  I also enjoyed this tanka very much. The language is beautiful, the volta is there and the turn inward to the personal. This is a tanka I felt would have been happier liberated from the tyranny of the syllable count.    


To all of our winners, especially Nick Reeves who takes a well-deserved first place for a record third time! If he is happy to do so once again, I invite him to judge next week’s challenge.

Congratulations also to our runners up, who made unique and wonderful contributions to this challenge, as did everyone who took part.

Finally a big thank you to our judge, Jane Dougherty who did an excellent job judging a difficult challenge.

Stay tuned for next week’s challenge!

24 thoughts on “EIF Tanka Challenge: The Results

Add yours

  1. Thank you for asking me to judge, Ingrid. It made me ask myself a lot of questions about poetry and what makes the difference between the competent and the spark of excellence. Maybe we should have pointed out that the entries were judged blind. No names.

    1. Indeed, I try to keep it as anonymous as possible but unless I receive entries by email I cannot keep contestants’ identities secret. I will point this out for the next competition, I think.

  2. Loving the winning tankas and am honored that ‘Brushstrokes’ is among them! It is so interesting how stars and moons inspire words in different contexts. 🙂
    Thank you for hosting, Ingrid, and to you, Jane, for judging! I look forward to the next challenge. 😉

  3. Thank you Ingrid, and what a lovely surprise, especially after reading the other Tanka’s, I’m feeling quite honoured to be among such a wondrous collection…. Since I have ended up equal 2nd, I suppose my Tanka should get an airing on my blog site… maybe tomorrow, … I been very busy writing, and I seem to have poems pouring out out of my dirty paws… 😀

  4. Congratulations to the winners! I was particuarly impressed with how they were able to include the volta, not an easy thing to do. I’m also interested in Jane’s comments about not holding to the syllable count.

    1. Yes, there’s no ‘syllables’ in Japanese, as such. Japanese forms in English must be wildly different from the originals, but they can also be quite beautiful, as this challenge shows!

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