A Tanka Turning Point: The Tanka Society of America “Tanka Day”

First published in the Tanka Society of America Newsletter 4:3, September 2003, pages 1–2. Excerpted from my “President’s Message of that issue.
 
Angelee Deodhar, Brian Tasker, and Michael Dylan Welch at the Tanka Day in New York City

TSA Tanka Day

The Tanka Society of America Tanka Day on Monday, June 30, 2003, at the Collegiate School in New York City was a resounding success. William Higginson wrote to me to agree: “Overall, a great day! I do hope that this New York meeting will be long remembered as the beginning of a major leap forward for tanka in English.” Indeed, I believe the event will be well remembered and marked as a formative and vital turning point in the unfolding of English-language tanka—and perhaps the first ever conference or meeting to focus solely on tanka in English. Though billed as a day of tanka, I believe the event’s influence will seem much larger.

        I’m grateful to everyone who attended the Tanka Day for sharing their poems and adding their individual voices to the discussion, to the speakers who prepared talks or workshops, to Marian Smith Sharpe for coordinating registrations, to Larry Lavenz for processing registration payments, to Paul Ness for kindly arranging the use of school facilities where he works, and to Pamela Miller Ness for many logistical arrangements, not the least of which was the wonderful catering of meals. Elsewhere in this newsletter, you can read a detailed account of the day’s activities by Marian Smith Sharpe, and Peggy Heinrich has written about the previous evening’s tanka banquet.

        Those in attendance at the Tanka Day included Pamela Babusci, Angelee Deodhar, Jeanne Emrich, Efren Estevez, Stanford M. Forrester, Barbara Ann Giannacco, Penny Harter, Peggy Heinrich, William J. Higginson, Larry Lavenz, Dorothy McLaughlin, Lenard D. Moore, Pamela Miller Ness, Nicholaes Roosevelt, Ruth Sabath Rosenthal, Deborah Russell, Dave Russo, Marian S. Sharpe, Christine Shook, John Stevenson, Brian Tasker, Allen Terdiman, and Michael Dylan Welch. The society even gained several new members at the event! My apologies if I’ve neglected to list anyone who was there (and if I have, please do let me know, for the record).

        Many Tanka Day activities will manifest themselves in print in this newsletter, and perhaps elsewhere. In this issue, for example, are a selection of the tan-renga that participants wrote together during our lunch break, as well as poems by tanka writers who had recently passed away, collected by Pamela Miller Ness and read collaboratively by the entire group as a memorial. In addition, some of the presentations from the meeting, starting with William J. Higginson’s, will appear in this and future newsletters. Bill’s presentation, delightfully titled “A Brief Tour Through 1,000 Years of Tanka and How It Got This Way (With Some Reference to Haiku Along the Way),” included numerous translations and a fine pair of handouts overviewing the history and development of waka and tanka in Japan. This talk served as a strong introduction to our full day of talks and presentations. Brian Tasker followed with an intellectually stimulating and emotionally moving paper titled “A Ripening Peach: Tanka as Theatre, Tanka as Ritual” (look for this essay in a future issue of this newsletter). In the afternoon, Pamela Miller Ness gave a convincing presentation titled “To Dot or Not to Dot: The Question of Punctuation in Tanka” regarding her thoughts on how punctuation in tanka differs (or should differ) from how haiku is punctuated. This talk included detailed analysis of different ways tanka have been punctuated in anthologies and by translators. After that, I read a variation of my paper published in the previous newsletter titled “From Chord to Melody: Defining Tanka in English,” and led a group discussion on the topic. The discussion came to less of a definitive conclusion than I might have hoped, but certainly some intriguing thoughts surfaced. For example, a general consensus seemed to be that a haiku tends to start with an experience that produces an emotion in the poet, and then the poet writes about the experience, intending that it will generate the same emotional response in the reader. But with tanka, often the poet starts with an emotion first, and then seeks natural or other symbolism, or personal experience, to represent that emotion, intending that the emotion will be recreated in the reader through the symbols or experience. As a result, perhaps the haiku and tanka poet each approaches emotion from a different direction. This discussion will be useful to the TSA definitions committee as it continues its research (and if you have any comments on defining tanka, please do share them, as Amelia Fielden does elsewhere in this newsletter).

TSA Tanka Banquet

In addition to Tanka Day, the society held a banquet at Sal Anthony’s Restaurant on Irving Place in New York the night before. Those present included most of the people already mentioned as Tanka Day attendees, plus Laura Maffei, editor of American Tanka, who was one of the evening’s featured tanka readers. The other featured readers were Pamela Miller Ness, Brian Tasker visiting from England, and Michael Dylan Welch. We also enjoyed readings and introductions from everyone else present around a giant banquet table in a private room at the restaurant. And a fine choice of accommodating restaurants it was, too!