Tanka challenge 2008 and 2009
(Originally posted to my LiveJournal and to the Tousando)

I've been hearing about this fuss about NaNoWriMo and finally decided to look it up.

The following lines stick in my mind like acid coated skewers: 

"Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft...."

"....the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output."

"You will be writing a lot of crap."

Now I'm having flashbacks to the semester I was required to read one of Trollope's abominable quota-written novels, Barchester Towers. 

Acid coated skewers of schlock notwithstanding, I know how to force myself to write intensely.

Can you think of anything more antithetical to the concept of writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days than the discipline of coming up with one 31-syllable poetic gem a day?

Here's the concept - because I suspect some of my readers will want to jump on the old ox cart too: 
Write one tanka (waka)* a day.
*Resources on tanka: 

Since I got this idea and posted this very late on November 1, one may opt to do a double entry to bring your total to thirty for the month, or you may skip November 1 with no penalty. This is the only date you get to double dip or skip on. The spirit of this poetic form being the impermanence of this dewdrop life, no other make-ups are permitted. If you miss a day, you miss a day and as in real life, you can never get it back.   (You're on the honor system here....)

No limits on subject matter other than any you chose to impose upon yourself. Hopefully, some moment in your day will inspire you to write about it.

If you write more than one tanka a day, fine. However, you may not carry over tanka to other days except for the November 1 grace tanka.  You have to write a poem on each day.

(If you are inspired to "answer" someone else's poem, great. Personally, if I do so, I am not going to count it toward my daily assignment. The idea is to come up with something myself each day. What you do is up to you.)

Adherence to the 5-7-5-7-7 line/syllable count is required, otherwise it's not a tanka.

It's poetry, not stereo instructions. It should say something and it should make sense.

No rewrites.
[Participants were instructed to post their work in their LiveJournals or to the appropriate thread on the Tousando.]

November, 2008

A thousand raindrops
Dance madly against the roof,
Teasing and taunting.
Within there is no dancing,
Only one with memories. 

Is she in mourning
In sleeves of grey upon grey
Tinged with blue and white?
To the east, the sky's sad hems
Drag themselves across the hills.

Hems worn to tatters
By the storms of existence
She wanders, bereft.
For too long her solitude
Has left her sad and wakeful.

Is this greyness dawn
Or simply the slow advance
Of the autumn fog?
She wakes alone in the dark
To the hiss of autumn winds.

The battle rages,
A struggle for life itself
Outside the window.
Each fierce gust is an onslaught,
Each downed branch a fallen soul.

A taiko tanka
Don don tsu-ku don
Don tsu-ku tsu-ku don don
Don don kara don
Don tsu-ku tsu-ku don don
Don kara kara don don.

Another grey dawn
Slinks across the dark hills
To prod her awake.
Hope is a cruel falsehood
In the face of injustice. 

Inspiration strikes
At unpredictable times
And cannot be forced.
Behold, the dumpster yields up
The makings of a new drum. 

A fool met a fool:
No surprise that they did not
Get the other's point.
If they would just get a boat
And float away together!

Amid dull duties
And mindless chores, her thoughts turn
To the coming weeks.
A much beloved sister
And missed friends are to visit!

Gone, the eastern hills
Have vanished behind a veil
Of white mystery.
On this strange, muted morning
The neighbor's dog is silent.

Flutes and strings
Vie with the sound of laughter
And good conversation.
My friends hold lovely parties,
But where did the morning go?

O fickle season,
Your changing skies and chill winds
Continue to tease.
Yet if I stow summer robes,
You'll taunt me again with warmth!

Against their gravestones
Crimson blooms, a reminder
Of spent blood, lives lost.
We have learned almost nothing
From the war to end all others.

Sea birds cry and whirl
Against a sky the color
Of long cold ashes.
One wonders why they fuss so
On such a desolate day?

Even garden shrubs
Have vanished in the greyness.
The world seems muffled.
Yet no ghost approaches me
In this all consuming mist.

The calm bay mirrors
A sky achingly blue
As pleasure boats bob.
Can it truly be autumn
On such a sun blessed outing?

"Hush," murmur the waves.
"Hush your incessant babble,
You foolish mortals.
Like the tracks of wading birds,
Your lives are impermanent."

The evening fog spreads
Like a shroud across the bay
And into the hills.
Vanished are the city lights
And the house seems too quiet.

An ocean of white
Stretches inexorably
As far as the mind.
Inspiration cannot be
Coaxed from a wavering brush.

A whisper, a growl,
The gallop of a heartbeat
Thunders like the tides.
Hands fly with inspired speed:
At last the drums fall silent.

Even the sky mourns
This latest turn of the wheel
In grey on grey sleeves.
Is there no consolation
For those of us who must remain?

The wind teases and
A river of rustling gold
Floods the garden path.
Does the poor gingko shiver
As her robes are torn away?

Resisting his wiles
As best she can, she huddles
Against the old house,
Despite the wind's advances
The maple keeps some last leaves.

Fog rose at sunset
Swallowing boats and beacons
As night took the city.
We defied the mists with cheer:
Bright lanterns, good food and friends.

Tides roared, thunder crashed,
Yet we were convention-bound
To sit sedately.
Matsuri rhythms should not
Be caged by a concert hall!

Grey on grey, the sky
And cold waves make dull mirrors
Of one another.
One who was her mirror comes
No more to share light and warmth.

A chilly green scent
Hints of pregnant clouds stirred by
Prankish offshore winds.
"Oh, rain already!" I rant,
Unsettled as the dark skies.

At last, a release
From days of teasing rain scents
And murk ridden clouds.
Unleashed from constraint, the sky
Weeps like a new made widow.

Rain on the shingles
Whispers soft secrets to be
Shared beneath a quilt.
Such a night would be cozy
If he was there to share it.

A lone maple leaf
Whirls, golden, past my face to
A cold gutter death.
Once more the sky is gripped by
Unrelieved winter greyness.

Motes of sunlight tease
As they pierce the bamboo blinds.
"Come. Come out," they taunt.
The scrape of rake on gravel
And leaf smoke tell the true tale.

Another chill dawn
Brings mist off the channel
With the fishing boats.
The pale sun battles its grasp,
Allied with an ocean wind.

April, 2009

The weeping cherry
Flaunts a curtain of blossoms
To shield flirting birds.
Too soon for fuji*, still bare vines                   
Twist and cling like new lovers.

A polished mirror
Twins the dawn sky above it,
Glum with sea borne clouds.
A lone boat glides up-channel
To pass beneath a green bridge.

Writing three tanka
Today does not fulfill
The terms of the challenge.
Though scolding you does fulfill
MY requirement for the day.
(4/3/08. Karmic retribution is real: I wrote a poem for the following day - and lost it. )

Alone with her thoughts
And the last of the sake,
She lays out her bed.
A breath to quell each lantern,
A sigh for the chilly quilts.

Visions of stars and
Thoughts of a sake-cup moon
Break in on her day.
If only life were all silk
And bright lanterns in the dark!

Muddy marks sully
Pristine floorboards, carelessness
Shaped like a man's foot.
Who would trespass so crudely
Beneath these once tranquil eaves?

Beneath moody clouds
Low tide silvers rippled sands
And clings to cold feet.
Sea birds bicker and careen
Over the gleaming shallows.







Sea grasses whisper
Eternal secrets too soft
For a straining ear.
Someone once walked beside her
Murmuring other secrets.

Shadows shroud the land
As storm clouds mount the summits
Of the eastern hills.
What do art and work matter
When faced with eternity?

Old stones huddle
As if pondering moves
On a shogi board.                                    
Among dearest friends, a game
Can never last long enough.

They look so young as
They peer at the Muni map
On the shelter wall.
"Where are you going?" I ask.
"Japantown." "Take the 38."
(4/12/09, en route to the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival)

There is nothing like
The company of my books,
Peaceful and knowing.
If I sip or I drink deep,
They are a comfort to me.

The trees hiss as if
In pain, waving fretful arms
In warding gestures.
Shutters rattle warning of
The approach of a spring storm.

Happy is the bee
To have so many flowers
Offer their nectar.
Scent spent, color faded, the
Flower dies, dreaming of bees.

A sprig of cherry
Reminds her of that meeting,
All smiles and poems.
Po Chu I sits on his shelf,
Flirting with Murasaki.
(4/16/09, upon the occasion of Ii Saburou Katsumori's birthday.)

Night falls on the bay
Small boats sway at moorings
Like tired dancers.
Further east, flecks of gold light
Shine from a thousand windows.

Sunset reflected
From windows across the hills
Reach her own window.
Soon the pearl sky will deepen
Through the thousand hues of dusk.

Night lies heavily
On the district. A dog barks,
The trees are silent.
No sleep comes to soothe her;
No breeze wafts in from the bay. 

No stars shine tonight
And the moon hides her pale face
From casual view.
Again the night seems too still
As if waiting for something.

A growl of thunder
Belies the clear twilight sky
And low sailing moon.
Lost in the rhythm, we drum,
United by sweat and joy.

Throwing his head back
A sparrow serenades the
Heedless passersby.
Though perched on rusting barbed wire
His song is all the sweeter.

He lands at my feet,
Orange wings flicker,
Then he flutters off.
Flying, feeding, breeding, are
Far more urgent than my walk.

Dark, gravid clouds birth
A litter of fat raindrops
Above the paddies.
Yet sun shines north and south of
My road, promising rainbows.

Like demons they come,
Each ignoring the others
As they blow their pipes.
Drums beat, feet march
To the whirl of cacophonous colors.
(4/25/09, Scottish Festival at Woodland, pipe band competitions, all day.)




Late afternoon sun
Sparks green from the grassy hills
Bright as a knife blade.
Am I the only pilgrim
Who pauses to drink it in?

The scent of wood smoke
Rises to a starry sky,
Rich with memories.
Fire lit smiles and friendship are
Better than feasts and soft beds.

Exhaustion is the
Enemy of poetry
On such days as this.
Vainly grasping for ideas,
Still the words do not come.
(In other words, why I didn't write one yesterday.)

Spears of sunlight thrust
Through a parapet of cloud.
Sparks shower the bay.
Shorebirds forage busily,
Heedless of the silent fray.

The sky keeps changing,
Now sunny, now roiling with
Wind driven storm clouds.
What is one to make of such
A confusion of portents?

November 2009

"Did you write today?"
Riising moon asks setting sun
O'er the glinting bay.
"Nearly forgot!" she blushes,
Hurrying homeward to write. (11/1/09)

Morning mist rises
From the inlet, ghost-like trees
Stand watch on its banks.
Silently they let me pass
As if I too am a ghost. (11/2/09)

Sun warmed afternoons
Tease the spirit with such
Mendacious weather.
The truth is in angled light
And trees garbed in tattered robes. (11/3/09)

Grey marbled morning
Retreats before the noon sun
Into the high hills.
Ever-fickle autumn plays
Her tricks again and again. (11/4/09)

Ramparts of dark clouds
Advance upon the east hills
With desperate speed.
Is that pounding rain I hear
Or is it all in my head? (11/5/09)

Clouds race and tumble,
Yet for all that, it seems
Such a timid rain.
Mist would be more aggressive
Than this pathetic dripping! (11/6/09)

Three kites, a basket,
A charming tanuki and
Onigiri molds.
A thirty dollar spree nets
Much at the 100 yen store. (11/7/09)

The morning threatens
Escape from my control as
I gaze to the east.
Masts rise from the marina
And trees blaze upon the hills (11/8/09)

Heat rises and soothes
As I gaze down into the
Warmth cupped in my hands.
Though life is fraught with problems
A bowl of tea solves a few. (11/9/09)

Merciless shears clack,
Lopping helpless branches off
In verdant carnage.
Had I such gardeners, it
Would be they who would suffer. (11/10/09)

Milky bay mimics
A sky leached of all color,
Waves a dull shimmer.
The only sounds are the cries
Of sea birds and lapping waves. (11/11/09)

A window rattles
In its frame, complaining of
A door shut downstairs.
Old houses tattle on each
Tenant as we come and go. (11/12/09)

The night is darker
And chill is the wind blowing
Off the endless sea.
Still they live beneath bridges
Waiting with their empty bowls. (11/13/09)

A shadow flutters
Past the window, another,
Maple leaves falling.
What must it be like to die
Dancing upon a cool breeze? (11/14/09)

To know who she is
I would walk her narrow streets
And meet her people.
Like Genji I wish to see
Who lives inside that screened room. (11/15/09)

Once more, dawn intrudes,
Poking bright fingers at each
Night shuttered crack.
A dog barks at some
Early passerby, I sigh and rise. (11/16/09)

(The first impression
Is all dash and elegance
That delights the eye.
But can he write a poem
That reveals his true merit? ;-D

Ah, Gracious Beauty
Had not your attention caught
On dye or bearing
Would you wonder if poem
Could issue forth from one?
- Takeda Sanjuichiro Akimasa

A waving banner
Is no man, yet it catches
The eye by design.
A man either has true worth
Or merely flaps in the breeze. (11/17/09)

Loyalty, friendship,
And a strong moral code
Are hardly vices.
One may do far worse than to
Be born into the Dog's Year.(11/18/09)

Night comes too quickly,
Driving folk homeward as if
In fear of the dark.
Windows bloom on the hillside
Like flowers of golden light.(11/19/09)

Winds buffet the inky clouds
Even as the sun stabs through
Curtains of raindrops.
Venture out at your peril:
On such days, foxes marry.(11/20/09)

A teacup moon floats
Through a reef of clouds of an
Impossible pink.
Twilight remembers herself
And dons a more subtle robe.(11/21/09)

With nightfall it comes,
The loneliness of a still
And silent old house.
Ears strain for unheard footsteps,
Or for a remembered laugh. (11/22/09)

Sometimes it's easy.
An image begets ideas
And it writes itself.
Sometimes, though, I sit and sigh,
Forced to admit I've nothing.(11/23/09)

The little gingko
In the corner garden is
A waif in tatters.
Once lushly garbed, she mirrors
The impermanence of life.(11/24/09)

Blazing pumpkin rinds
Join eggshells and persimmon
Peels in a bucket.
I read the recipe twice
Why is so much filling left? (11/25/09)

The scent of spices
Is not half so pleasing as
Your smiling faces.
As we sit down together,
Nothing can separate us.  (11/26/09)

Mantled in dark clouds
The hills hunch shoulders against
The rain's cold fingers.
I watch from my window and
Wonder when it will rain here. (11/27/09)

Raging like wild beasts,
They throw themselves hungrily
Against the pale sand
Such roaring surf can hardly
Have earned the name "Pacific." (11/28/09)

Softer than a cloud
It billows from my fingers
Like a waterfall.
Cutting silk feels like murder
And destiny all at once. (11/29/09)

One cannot ignore
The death rattle underfoot
At each passing step.
The nights grow colder, longer,
And the passes fill with snow. (11/30/09)

Click here for Tanka challenge 2010

Copyright 2008 and 2009, Lisa A. Joseph.


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