The 2nd Kokako International Tanka Competition


First Place

by a magpie’s
ochre eye
noticing everything
this first day of spring

Carolyn Eldridge-Alfonzetti (Aus)

Runners Up

your horse up
when mine is down
on our carousel –
puppets of a tired tune
we circle without touching

Beverley George (Aus)

pohutukawa filaments
in the folds of our map –
crimson needles
pointing to
the magnetic north

Richard von Sturmer (NZ)


a pukeko
flashing scarlet legs
checks out the swamp
I was once that bird – midnight
blue mini . . . red stockings

Margaret L. Grace (Aus)

Never break your thread
Never quilt on Sundays . . .
So many old tales
About bringing bad luck
Etched in this stitcher’s mind

Barbara A. Taylor (Aus)

they made
Van Gogh want to dream
these stars . . .
he’s there now amongst them
his smile thick with paint

Andre Surridge (NZ)

Mother’s rhododendrons
that bloomed without me
guilt and remorse
sticky on my hands

Margaret Chula (USA)

you gave me
this conch shell . . . polished
to perfection
now you lie on your bed
no longer hearing the sea

Cynthia Rowe (Aus)

Judge’s Report: Tony Beyer

A considerable majority of the 41 poets who entered 111 tanka for the competition had a clear understanding of the conventions and traditions of tanka in English. This is pleasing because it demonstrates the awareness magazines and competitions like this aim to encourage. The finalists and those close to them also combined their understanding with a clear idea of where they wanted to take their individual inspiration and expression as poets.

The tanka form, syllabic or liberal, is a very small arena in which fine details and choices can make the difference between success and failure. My criteria for judgement were that I liked the poem and that it made me see something in a different way. In first place, Carolyn Eldridge-Alfonzetti’s ‘stopped’ includes the crucially accurate term “ochre” for the magpie’s eye and takes the risk of the ambiguous present participle “noticing” to achieve multiple and illuminating vision. A similar awareness of the right word in the right place occurs in Richard von Sturmer’s runner-up ‘pohutukawa filaments’: light as well as shape. Beverley George’s ‘your horse up’ is risk-taking again in its successful reconstruction of a cliché.

Specific elements, often visual or aural, are the focus of beauty in all eight tanka I chose. Margaret L. Grace’s commended ‘a pukeko’ is colourful and fun. Barbara A. Taylor and Andre Surridge introduce wider cultural references into their tanka and use the language (Barbara’s “Etched . . . stitched” and Andre’s “thick”) to delight in them. Margaret Chula and Cynthia Rowe both move from object to emotion with confidence in their control of language.

In a short report it is difficult for me to emphasise the amount of pleasure I received from reading all the submitted tanka. I invite the poets to accept my sincere congratulations and admiration as a fellow practioner.