25 Tanka About Arthropods

Edited by Grunge
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Arthropod Special Feature here at Atlas Poetica!

There has been a long history of arthropod poetry, and our relationship with the small things that fly, swim, and scuttle our planet is as varied as the bugs themselves.

For example, spiders have quite a contrasting reputation. Arachnids are a common phobia that has been portrayed famously to numerous western schoolchildren through the nursery rhyme Little Miss Muffet. Others view them in a positive light, both because they act as natural pest control in our homes and due to the ingenious beauty of their homes, two qualities displayed in the titular character of Charlotte’s Web.

Issa, a priest and one of the most famous poets to write about invertebrates, assures his eight-legged guests,

Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house

Beetles are the most numerous taxonomic order, with over 350,000 different species currently described. Japan associates stag beetles with samurai and war, and children there have collected Coleoptera in the summer months for centuries. Ancient Egypt viewed the lowly dung beetle as an earthly representation of the god Ra, who had the duty of shepherding the sun across the sky each day, prompting even pharaohs to be entombed with scarab carvings over their hearts.

Egypt isn’t known for revering every type of bug, though, and in the Judeo-Christian story of the Exodus, the land was plagued by locusts as a show of divine wrath, rather than duty. Their cousins, the crickets, tend to be viewed more innocently and were prized in Asia for their song. Recently, thanks to the Disney adaption of Pinocchio, these insects have become associated with the human conscience in the form of Jiminy Cricket.

Buzzing above the hoppers, mosquitos are another type of creature associated with misery, yet they aren’t all parasites. Instead, the females require blood as part of their reproduction process, while the males survive on nectar. Despite this, they’re reviled worldwide for both the annoyance they cause and the diseases that they spread. Even Issa remarks on an exception to his pacifism,

All the time I pray to Buddha
I keep on
killing mosquitoes.

Because of these broad yet intertwined relationships between men and invertebrates, I knew I had to pick a likewise broad range of tanka which would not only cover the many types of arthropods but also express humanity’s differing views toward them. I hope that I have succeeded and that this special feature encourages others to take a closer look at the small, savagely beautiful world that exists alongside our own.

With great thanks to my contributors and readers, enjoy!

1) Joy McCall, Norwich, England

walking on water
and on the pond
the water striders

2) Marilyn Humbert, Sydney, Australia

from the stars
giant ships landed
full of roaches
their ancestors
annexing the suburbs

3) Lorne Henry, Australia

drawn to my black jacket
without a sound
or is it Beethoven
playing too loud

4) Ken Slaughter, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA

a bug
crushed under my foot
. . .yesterday
I released one
into the garden

5) Pravat Kumar Padhy, Bhubaneswar, India

ancestor’s home
visiting after a long spell of time
in stillness
the spiders and the prey
rewind the time of past and present

6) Lavana Kray, Iasi, Romania

fresh ink
on my drawing sheet;
criss-crossing cockroaches
traced a new pattern

7) Anna Cates, Wilmington, Ohio, USA

inching forward
in his wheelchair
a one-legged vet
exploring the bike trail
yellow butterflies

8) Amelia Fielden, Australia

its web behind the sensor
a house-spider
sets off the alarm — 
all power to nature

9) Gerry Jacobson, Canberra, Australia

brown and lumpy . . .
this long haired
disguises herself
as kangaroo droppings

10) Tamara K. Walker, Colorado, USA

imagine if Charlotte
the spinning silvery savior
were a black widow
her hourglass mark
running out of love and time

11) John Tehan, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA

along the baseboard
to the shadows
now I see it, now I don’t

12) Martha Magenta, Bristol, UK

erotic magnolia
her secret folds
just for the kiss
of a butterfly

13) Joanne Morcom, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

taste with their feet . . .
this coming summer
I will abandon
my shoes and socks

14) Kath Abela Wilson, Pasadena, California, USA

emergency room screams
in my little boy’s eyelid
a tick
digs deeper inspired
by a hot match

15) Carol Raisfeld, New York, USA

stand still, willows sag
in the heat
ants in a row carry crumbs
from the gravediggers lunch

16) Johnnie Johnson Hafernik, San Francisco, California, USA

Issa’s walking path
so many mosquitoes
I smile
knowing he accepts
them and me

17) Barbara A. Taylor, Mountain Top, NSW, Australia

wriggling, slimy
critters working wonders
in the compost bin . . .
together we share
a healthy diet

18) M. Kei, Maryland, USA

a street rat
from the rough side—
beneath the tattoos,
a gentle heart that mourns
the death of a cockroach

19) Debbie Strange, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

a hammock
of tent caterpillars
sags with dew . . .
our differing opinions
on the nature of beauty

20) Tish Davis, Concord, Ohio

while training me
on the meat slicer
the deli worker stops
and gently guides a spider
to the edge of a paper bag

21) David J. Kelly, Dublin, Ireland

Mexican wave
in a stadium of tens
of thousands
this millipede manages

22) Seren Fargo, Bellingham, Washington, USA

deep into the sand
the ant lion disappears
like the years
since I was able
to catch one

23) Jari Thymian, Gacurabwenge, Rwanda

no interview
question about this—
fleas leap from one
Peace Corps trainee
to the next, next, next, me

24) Vasile Moldovan, Bucharest, Romania

swing of death. . .
two flies in love
jump together
in the unseen web
of a black spider

25) Jessica Malone Latham

my luck
a fly
lands on my new
chakra crystals


Amelia Fielden is an Australian poet. She is a professional translator of Japanese literature, with 17 volumes in print, the most recent being For Instance, Sweetheart (2017). Amelia is also an enthusiastic writer of tanka in English. Seven of her collections have been published to date; These Purple Years is forthcoming in 2018. She has collaborated with fellow Australian poets, Kathy Kituai and Saeko Ogi, to compose four books of responsive tanka, too. As an editor Amelia has been involved in the production of five themed tanka anthologies.

Anna Cates lives in Ohio with her two beautiful kitties and teaches English and education online to the graduate level. Her first full-length collection of haiku and other poems, The Meaning of Life, is available at Cyberwit.net and Amazon: http://www.cyberwit.net/authors/anna-cates

Barbara Taylor says, “Each day demands that I write and that my fingers touch and feel the earth.” Free verse poems, renku, haiga, haibun, haiku, tanka, and other Japanese short form poems appear in many international journals and anthologies online and in print, including Eucalypt, Atlas Poetica, Wisteria, Skylark, Kokako, Modern English Tanka, Red Lights, TinyWords, and others. Barbara lives in the Rainbow Region, Northern NSW, Australia. Diverse poems with audio are at http://batsword.tripod.com and more recently, at http://batsword.webs.com.

Carol Raisfeld lives in Atlantic Beach, New York, USA. Her poetry, art and photography appear worldwide in print, online journals and anthologies. Website: www.Haikubuds.com, Twitter: @carol_red.

David J. Kelly works as an ecologist in Dublin, Ireland. Despite a scientific training, he has a fascination with words and the music of language. He enjoys writing Japanese short form poetry and has been published widely. His first collection, Hammerscale from the Thrush’s Anvil, was published in November 2016.

Debbie Strange (Winnipeg, Canada) is a short form poet, photographer, and haiga artist. She is a member of the Writers’ Collective of Manitoba and is also affiliated with several haiku and tanka organizations. Her first collection, Warp and Weft: Tanka Threads, was released by Keibooks in 2015. You are invited to visit her on Twitter @Debbie_Strange and at debbiemstrange.blogspot.ca.

Gerry Jacobson lives in Canberra, Australia where spring brings the migration of the Bogong Moth, celebrated by locals for 20,000 years. He walks in the local hills and in more distant ranges.

Grunge is a gay Indo-American, who specializes in urban tanka. He currently lives in South Florida with a collection of pet arthropods, an ancient cat, and a pudgy leopard gecko.

Jari Thymian and her husband are volunteers in state and national parks, monuments, historic sites, hatcheries, and forests. She has a mailing address in Sioux Falls, SD, USA, and occasionally visits there. Her poetry has appeared in various publications.

Jessica Malone Latham is the author of cricket song: Haiku and Short Poems from a Mother’s Heart (Red Moon Press), the chapbook clouds of light (wooden nickel press), and all this bowing (buddha baby press). She lives in Northern California with her husband and two young sons. Website: www.jessicalatham.com, blog: rowdyprisoners.com.

Joanne Morcom is a social worker and poet living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She’s the author of four poetry collections (haiku, senryu, tanka, scifaiku). Contact her at for purchasing information.

After living for many years in New York City, John Tehan recently moved to a small village on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where he reads some, writes some and ponders this and that. His poetry has appeared in Atlas Poetica, Ribbons, Neon Graffiti, Bright Stars, and Prime Time Cape Cod, as well as in several ATPO Special Features. In his spare time, John enjoys nurturing his eternity plant, Zamioculcas zamiifolia, which is happily proving true to its name.

Johnnie Johnson Hafernik grew up in Central Texas and now lives in San Francisco, California. Her tanka have been published in journals such as Bright Stars, cattails, red lights, and Ribbons.

After decades of living in the States and Canada, Joy McCall came back to her birthplace, Norwich, England—a city with a dark ancient history. Her life is a seesaw of joy and pain, loss and learning, darkness and great light.

Kath Abela Wilson was a very young mother of two, educated by her own children. She quickly grew up to be the grandmother of three. Thus, she knows a lot about anthropods. Harboring traumatic memories and bold awakenings, she publishes her tanka, kyoka and other Asian short forms in journals worldwide. Her chapbooks Driftwood Monster and The Owl Still Asking were recently published as Locofo Chaps, a branch of Moria Press in Chicago.

In 2011 Ken Slaughter came to the realization that most of his poems tend to be brief. He began searching for a short poetry form and discovered tanka. Ken’s tanka have been published in many online and print journals, including Ribbons, Atlas Poetica, Red Lights, Cattails, and Moongarlic. In 2015 he won first prize in the Tanka Society of America annual contest. Ken currently serves as vice president of the Tanka Society of America.

Lavana Kray is from Iași, Romania. She is passionate about writing and photography. She has won several awards, including WHA Master Haiga Artist 2015. Her work has been published in many print and online journals, including Haiku Canada Review, Haiku Masters, The Mainichi, Ginyu, Daily Haiga, Haiga Online, Ribbons, Atlas Poetica, etc. She was chosen for Haiku Euro Top 100, 2016. This is her blog: http://photohaikuforyou.blogspot.ro.

Lorne Henry has been writing tanka since 2007 and lives in countryside NSW, Australia.

M. Kei is a tall ship sailor and award-winning poet who lives on Maryland’s Eastern shore. He is the editor of Atlas Poetica : A Journal of World Tanka and the anthology, Neon Graffiti : Tanka Poetry of Urban Life. His most recent collection of poetry is January, A Tanka Diary. He is also the author of the award-winning gay Age of Sail adventure novel, Pirates of the Narrow Seas. He can be followed on Twitter @kujakupoet, or visit AtlasPoetica.org.

Marilyn Humbert lives in the Northern suburbs of Sydney NSW surrounded by bush. Her pastimes include writing free verse, tanka, and haiku. Her tanka and haiku appear in International and Australian Journals, Anthologies and Online. Some of her free verse poems have been awarded prizes in competitions and some have been published.

Martha Magenta lives in Bristol, England, UK. Her poetry, haiku, senryu and tanka have appeared in a number of journals and magazines. She collects her published work on a blog: https://marthamagenta.com/.

Pravat Kumar Padhy hails from Odisha, India. He holds a Master in Science and a Ph.D from IIT-Dhanbad. His short form of Japanese poems have appeared in The World Haiku Review, Lynx,The Notes from the Gean, Atlas Poetica, Simply Haiku, Red lights, Ribbons, Haigaonline, World Haiku Association, TanshiArt, The Heron’s Nest, Atlas Poetica, Skylark, Shamrock, A Hundred Gourds, Bottle Rockets, Frogpond, hedgerow, Acorn, Kokako, Presence, Issa’s Untidy Hut, The Bamboo Hut, Modern Haiku, tinywords, Otata, Poetry Corner: Colorado Boulevard, etc. Recently his tanka have been anthologized in Fire Pearls 2 and Bright Stars, edited by M Kei. His haiku won the Editor’s Choice Award at the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival, Canada UNESCO International Year of Water Co-operation and The Kloštar Ivanić International Haiku Contest, Creatrix Haiku Commendation Award.

Seren Fargo has been writing Japanese short-form poetry since 2009. She founded and is currently co-coordinator of the Bellingham Haiku Group in Washington state. Her poems have been published in many haiku and tanka journals and have won awards internationally.

Tamara K. Walker resides in Colorado and writes short fiction, often of a surreal, irreal, magical realist, experimental or otherwise unusual flavor, and poetry, often in originally East Asian forms. Her tanka have appeared or are forthcoming in A Hundred Gourds, Eucalypt, LYNX: A Journal for Linking Poets, and Ribbons: Tanka Society of America Journal. Her fiction has appeared in The Café Irreal, A Cappella Zoo, The Conium Review, and others.

Tish Davis lives in Concord, Ohio, USA. Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Modern Haibun and Tanka Prose, Atlas Poetica, Haibun Today, red lights, Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Presence, bottle rockets, Contemporary Haibun Online, and Simply Haiku.

Vasile Moldovan lives and works as a journalist in Bucharest, Romania.

© 2018