This was the second time in the twelve years of the Tanka Splendor Awards that the entries have been judged by the persons entering the contest and not by an outside, single judge. Conducting the contest on-line (for the most part - entries sent by post were added in) meant that entries could be confirmed and that the poems could be presented to all for judging without names, as well as a chance to let the judges see the results of the voting for all the poems. Several persons noted in comments with their votes, what a learning process it is to judge the tanka. And it is true that one reads over the collection very differently, with a great deal more discernment, when trying to decide which one is ‘better’ than the other tanka.
Judges were asked to pick 6 individual tanka and two sequences and to rank each of their choices in a row of A, B, C, D, or E. Thus, each poem voted for was given either 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1 points. The range of points given was from 55 points for Amelia Fielden’s tanka "from Europe" to 9 (which was a tie among five persons - giving us two 'extra' winners to the thirty-one). This year, instead of listing the winning poems according to the alphabet of the winner’s names, they are shown by descending order of points received.
Here are some statistics on this year's contest. There were 147 single entries (up from 113 last year) from 64 contestants (up from 49 last year). Of these, 30 were female and 34 were male so the gender mix is again fairly even. Sixteen women had winning entries and eleven men were winners. There were 22 female judges and 21 male judges plus two names of which I am not sure, to make 45 judges. Those sending their entries by post were unable to participate in the judging. There were three email addresses which were invalid and undeliverable.
Only three individual tanka entries per person were accepted and this year there were two winners who had all three entries picked as winners – Michael Ketchek and Margaret Chula, who has consistently been a winner in this contest. (By the way, she has a new book, Always Filling, Always Full, available for those of you who wish to study more of her tanka. You can get the details in Lynx XVI-3 Book Reviews.) Eight persons, however, had two of their entries in the winning circle. They are: Claudia R. Coutu, Amelia Fielden, Michael Ketchek, Angela Leuck, Laura Maffei, Thelma Mariano, Carol Purington, and Grant Savage. In last year’s contest, Thelma Mariano and Carol Purington were also multiple winners. So you can see we have a mix of experienced writers winning and new-comers also doing outstanding work. In evaluating the selection of tanka, I was glad to see less of the very short tanka, meaning those containing only one or two concrete images which read like elongated haiku. A few persons are still counting syllables and one voter regretted that a few of his favorites "lacked a syllable" and therefore lost his points.
Last year 22 out of 113 (or roughly 1/5) of the single tanka and 2 tanka sequences received no votes, and this year 48 out of 147 (almost 1/3) of the individual tanka appealed to no one. So the comment that more of the tanka were seen as "weaker" by some judges is confirmed. All of the sequences this year received votes but two of them only garnered one vote. There was definitely a ‘clumping’ of points around the two winners.
A participant could only submit either three tanka or one tanka sequence and this year we had only ten sequence entries. Two of the sequences had such a majority of the points (34 and 31) and the third entry had only 17 points so only these two sequences are in Tanka Splendor 2001. Again the combo of Cherie Hunter-Day and David Rice was represented with a collaborative work, "Kindle of Green", and this year it was given the most points to win by three points over Marianne Bluger's "Savage Spring".
Several persons, in returning their votes made comments about the quality of the sequences. Thelma Mariano wrote: " For the sequences, I did not feel any of them were true tanka, but on the basis of poetry, I would choose . . .". One person only voted for one sequence because she found the others "were quite weak". She continued to comment, "The one I did vote for I felt was outstanding." One person refused to vote at all for sequences consciously as protest against their quality as tanka.
I feel there is something to be studied here. Why we can so easily find outstanding individual tanka (several judges wished they could have cited more choices) and why sequences are so difficult? I think (in my never humble opinion) one of problems for a tanka sequence is the effort of getting a ‘leap’ between stanzas as well as a leap within the individual tanka. I suspect the reason "Kindle of Green" was so appreciated was the almost automatic leaps created by two individuals writing on one poem. This pair – Cherie Hunter Day and David Rice have written enough together that their work is coming ever closer together (i.e. the leaps are not as wide and evident as they might be). I think we must appreciate and exercise the ability for leaping within tanka (in general) and especially in sequences. There is also the question of how to relate the leaps in combined stanzas.
Both Day & Rice and Marianne Bluger worked with the title-down method in which all the stanza are linked to the title or theme of the grouping. Both had outstanding titles which added greatly to the strength of the poems. I would hope in the future that we can see tanka sequences linked with the multiple possibilities we have learned from renga writing in addition to this method borrowed from Western literature. It is far too easy, when writing a tanka sequence to treat it like a ‘normal’ free verse poem in which various aspects of one subject are portrayed or to make a narrative or chronological sequence. Though we can surely write in this manner, and these three authors proved this perfectly, it seems to me that the voters found these methods less than exciting for tanka. Tanka is a special form and it seems there is a hope that our sequences will reflect this more in the future.
By doing the judging this way, the contest was not only the awarding of excellence for the poets, it was also a lesson in deciding what was admired (or not) by their peers in judging as well as in tanka writing. There is as much to be learned in judging a contest as in being an entrant/writer and it seems this system aids both positions. I hope those of you who judged (it seems to me the contest is worth entering for this experience and for the opportunity of evaluating one’s own taste) will look at your choices to compare them to the final winners to see where you agreed and did not. This is why the judges receive the list showing how many votes each of the entries received. The exercise can be enlightening to see how you relate to the majority of other tanka writers and can, at an inner level, change your goals for your own writing.
So, again the poems in Tanka Splendor show the best of what is being written in the tanka genre at this time. They show where hearts are, where the poetry is coming from, what techniques are being used and the varied shapes of the poems. And again, the results of the contest show what the participants think of each other's work in a truly democratic process. It seems this is the best ever view of what is being written and admired as tanka and tanka sequences.
For those of you who didn't win, I sincerely hope you will study the winners
to try to understand why their work was picked over yours. This is the way a
poetry form evolves. Painful yes, but each of these winners have had to go
through the same process in past years and look where they are now! Take heart
from this work and continue finding your own way. If you didn't enter this
contest, do consider letting these new methods of determining excellence
encourage you to share your poems and your expertise next year. My personal
thanks to each person who shares their poems with the project, for those who
voted and to you the reader of these results. As a group we are making a circle
around a form of poetry, giving it shape and dimension, color and the sound of
our singing together. This is a very special process and it has been a joy to
work with each of you. Thank you! each and every one and Blessed Be!