Five English tanka

I’ve written comparatively few tanka over the years – probably no more than fifty. Those which have any merit are fewer still. Writing worthy tanka is a difficult art, let alone doing so in English without the cultural allusions which infuse Japanese tanka. Those poets – such as John Barlow, Claire Everett and Alison Williams – who consistently manage to do so are therefore rare.

My five tanka below are presented not because I think they are especially good, but because they remind me of the great outdoors, specifically the richly different environments of England, which seem like distant memories during this Lockdown time.

The second and fifth of them were published in the Australian tanka journal, Eucalypt, founded and originally edited by Beverley George. The fourth was published in an online anthology edited by Rodney Williams and published by M. Kei.

The fifth was subject to a generous appraisal by the Anglo-Australian poet Yvonne Hales, with whom I subsequently corresponded and wrote several rengay, a renku form invented by the American haiku poet Garry Gay. Yvonne’s analysis spookily captures the precise mood I was seeking to convey.

I wonder when it will be safe enough to visit these places again.


leaving Burscough,

the sprightly two-car train
of the West Lancs. Line

improvises a slicker rhythm,

springs lapwing from the fields

black geese
stream across the estuary
to Blue House Farm
my threadbare thoughts
strewn to the wind

over sea-grass beds
the water possesses
a deeper turquoise . . .
how pebbles coalesce
to make Elberry Cove

the sunlit chalkstream
slaps around the arches
of the old stone bridge—
all afternoon I watch
goosanders at their work

climbing Bredon
to an iron-age camp
towards dusk
fallow deer skedaddle
over terracotta fields

4 thoughts on “Five English tanka

  1. Your phrase ‘my threadbare thoughts’ is one I can particularly relate to at the moment!

    A beautiful clutch – snapshots of the things we’re missing. I’m lucky in that I’ve mostly only ever written about what comes to me, rather than roaming to find my inspiration, but I imagine the poetic output of many will be rather skewed this year.

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