Angry Tanka

Edited by Susan Burch
Anger is one of many powerful emotions in our lives, and yet people seem to shy away from writing about it. Common topics such as love and sadness fill the pages of many journals, while anger seems to be a small part or entirely missing. Why is this emotion not written about? Why isn’t anger as valued as other emotions in our writing?

In the music world, when Alanis Morisette came along in the 90’s with her CD, Jagged Little Pill, people were blown away by the anger in her songs. Never before had such a comprehensive CD been made. The anger in her music was universal, something everyone could relate to. Shouldn’t tanka seek to embrace this emotion too, for who among us couldn’t relate? Who among us has not been angry at another person?

Consider a tanka by Grunge, from Bright Stars, An Anthology of Organic Tanka, Volume 1:

he’s angry again
i try to escape—
the bitter taste
of hate in my mouth
is a lot like blood

In this poem, the anger is clearly displayed and felt. The subject, if it is Grunge himself, is trying to escape the anger of someone else, and in doing so, finds that he is also angry, and in fact hates the person who is taking his/her anger out on him. The anger is intensified when he describes the taste in his mouth as blood, referring to the bitter taste of blood in general as a nasty taste, or that physically there is blood in his mouth from an escape that was thwarted by a punch to the face. In addition, it could mean that the person hurting him, is related by blood. This adds another dimension to the poem, since family members are supposed to be loving, but instead one has done the opposite, and hurt him – and not just one time, but multiple times, as evidenced in the first line, “he’s angry again…”

Let’s look at an angry tanka by Christina Nguyen, from Bright Stars, An Anthology of Organic Tanka, Volume 1:

the catwalk
and Photoshop
modern fairy tales
that make us hate

This tanka is angry in a different way. It describes how the fashion industry has dictated what makes a woman beautiful, inferring that the super-thin models on the catwalk are the ideal shape and form of today’s woman. Adding Photoshop to the poem shows how far women will go to be this ideal beauty. If they can’t physically become her, they can digitally become her by using Photoshop to edit pictures of themselves, to make themselves thinner, prettier, taller, or sexier. Hence, both are modern fairy tales. Women don’t want to be princesses anymore; they want to look like these models, no matter how unrealistic these expectations are. Instead of recognizing their own beauty, they try to conform to the standards set by the fashion industry. So when women can’t attain this beauty, they end up hating themselves. Shouldn’t they hate the system? That’s where the anger comes into play. We know there’s a problem, but instead of trying to fix it, women internalize it and hate themselves instead.

And finally, an angry tanka by Pamela A. Babusci from her book, A Solitary Woman:

he leaves
this morning
without touching her
between sips of java
a bitter taste

*first published in Modern English Tanka Winter 2007

In this poem the anger is subtle, yet powerful. Pamela sets the scene in the first 3 lines. We don’t know how she feels about his leaving, yet. Then the next 2 lines tell us, without directly saying she’s angry. She uses the coffee to soothe and comfort herself, and yet the “bitter taste” is still there in between sips, as she thinks about how he left, how he didn’t touch her, and how awful this made her feel. The coffee, which could also be bitter, is just not enough comfort to make her feel better. Hence readers are left with a bitter taste in their own mouths, and a clear impression of how angry the woman is.

For every yin there is a yang, for every opposite, an equal opposite. How can we appreciate the beauty of poems filled with love, sadness, and hope, if we do not appreciate poems about anger, resentment, and hatred? To fully value one, we must value the other.

1) Julie Bloss Kelsey, USA

of course
they had to make
pink building blocks—
how could a girl possibly
want any other color?

Julie Bloss Kelsey has published poetry in Modern Haiku, Frogpond, A Hundred Gourds, and Bright Stars, An Organic Tanka Anthology. Culturally, she has been taught to suppress her anger, but sexism and environmental degradation still get her fired up. Visit Julie on Twitter (@MamaJoules) or drop by her poetry blog, Stars in my Sugar Bowl (

2) Jerry Dreesen, USA

bamboo pull-downs
with roman shades—
how easily you replaced me
with another, then another

Jerry Dreesen writes haiku, tanka, haibun and other short form Japanese poetry and has been published in on-line and paper journals. He is a past haiga editor for Simply Haiku. Jerry has self published a haiku chapbook, Forgotten Promises, which is available from the author.

3) Marilyn Humbert, Australia

packing away
tinsel and baubles
with old hurts
until next Christmas
not forgotten, nor forgiven

Marilyn Humbert lives in the Northern suburbs of Sydney NSW surrounded by bush. Her pastimes include writing free verse, tanka, haiku and related genre. Her tanka and haiku appear in International and Australian Journals.

4) Chrissi Villa, USA

you found me
after five failed marriages
why is there a pause
when I ask you
if I am your best wife

Christine L. Villa of California, USA, is a children’s writer, photographer, videographer, jewelry maker among other things. She is currently writing a self-help poetry book about grief tentatively entitled “Catching the Light.” Her haiku, tanka, and haiga have been published in numerous international journals, most of which appear on her blog: With several awards tucked under her belt, she believes she has yet to write the haiku or tanka that she will best be remembered by. For the meantime, her heart is a garden for creative ideas constantly in need for expression.

5) Kath Abela Wilson, USA

all the money I spent
to pacify your anger
you broke everything
in little pieces
for me to clean up

Kath Abela Wilson has kept the poetic fires burning amidst firestorms of other kinds. She was unfamiliar with overt anger in early life, but later became a strong and avid survivor of difficult situations. She has a naturally cheerful disposition and finds when everything goes up in smoke, an open door and a sense of humor make for the best possible resolution.

6) Pamela A. Babusci, USA

i am not jealous
of your new lover
i pity her
& her flawless

Pamela A. Babusci is an internationally award winning haiku, tanka poet and haiga artist.

Some of her awards include: Museum of Haiku Literature Award, International Tanka Splendor Awards, First Place Yellow Moon Tanka Competition (Aust), First Place Kokako Tanka Competition (NZ), and First Place Saigyo Tanka Awards (US).

She is the founder and Editor of Moonbathing: a journal of women’s tanka, the first all women’s tanka journal in the US. She has a deep desire to be creative on a daily basis, which feeds her spirit and soul and gives meaning to her life. Poetry and art have been an integral part of her existence since her early teen age years and will continue to be a driving force until she meets her creator.

A Solitary Woman is her second tanka collection.

7) Devin Harrison, Canada

a spirit house
to contain you—
an off chance
to appease you
and finally get some peace

Devin, a writer of regular poetry, recently became addicted to writing Tanka and Haiku/Senyru, which gives him more time for field study and less time for introspection. He has a degree in Asian Studies from the University of Toronto.

8) Margaret Chula, USA

after his sulking
after his insults
after his tantrums
I accidentally spill bleach
on his favorite shirt

Margaret Chula has published seven collections of poetry, including Always Filling, Always Full (White Pine Press) and Just This (Mountains and Rivers Press). She co-organized the Tanka Sunday event aboard the Queen Mary in 2013 and currently serves as president of the Tanka Society of America.

9) Tracy Davidson, UK

it’s my own fault
I ignored the warning signs
I provoked him . . .
that’s what he always says
so I guess it must be true

Tracy Davidson lives in Warwickshire, England, and enjoys writing poetry and flash fiction. Her work has appeared in various publications and anthologies, including: Mslexia, Atlas Poetica, A Hundred Gourds, Ribbons, Moonbathing, Modern Haiku, Ekphrastia Gone Wild, and Notes from the Gean.

10) Alexis Rotella, USA

Easter dinner—
neither of us
mentions our father
who most certainly
is not in heaven

Alexis Rotella is the author of more than 50 books. She practices Oriental Medicine in Arnold, Maryland.

11) Sylvia Forges-Ryan, USA

unsettled argument
I serve the soup
to warn him
how hot it is

Sylvia’s book, Take a Deep Breath: The Haiku Way to Inner Peace, was recently awarded an R. H. Blyth Honorable Mention in the World Haiku Association’s contest for books making an outstanding contribution in the field of haiku.

12) Anne Benjamin, Australia

you speak
as though I hold no values
after all these years
how could you
not know me yet

Anne Benjamin has enjoyed the fellowship and encouragement of the Sydney-based “Huddle” tanka poets for some years. She regularly writes in collaboration with other poets. Her work is published in various journals.

13) Shrikaanth Krishnamurthy, UK

a family
mourns the dead man
left with everything
but his money

Shrikaanth Krishnamurthy is a psychiatrist living in Birmingham, UK. Hailing from Bengaluru, India he is an amateur poet and a trained vocalist in Karnataka music (South Indian Classical music). Well versed in several languages, he writes poetry in four languages- Kannada, Sanketi, Tamil and English. He often employs ancient metres for his poems. He is also a songster-lyricist-composer (Vaggeyakara) of Karnataka Music and has 2 CDs to his credit.

14) Angela Leuck, Canada

the sun looks warm,
but it’s bitter cold—
another person
I mistake for a friend

An award-winning haiku and tanka poet, Angela Leuck has been published in journals and anthologies around the world. She is the author of a cicada in the cosmos and Garden Meditations (inkling, 2010). She is currently Books Editor for Ribbons, the Journal of the Tanka Society of America.

15) Shloka Shankar, India

last night’s
storm still brewing
her voice
growing more defiant
with each ‘fine’

Shloka Shankar resides in Bangalore, India. Having fallen in love with Japanese poetry forms, her works have been featured in the Bamboo Hut, Asahi Haikuist Network, Creatrix, World Haiku Association, Issa’s Untidy Hut, Under the Basho, cattails, World Haiku Review, Daily Haiga, A Hundred Gourds, Lynx and Haibun Today.

16) Britton Gildersleeve, USA

we know how to hate
our fathers raised us right
we suckled venom
now, we spit it back at you
you who think you are better

Britton Gildersleeve is the former director of a federal non-profit for teachers, and currently serves on the Oklahoma Humanities Council. Gildersleeve spent her childhood and adolescence in Southeast Asia, which she thinks explains a lot. She believes that tanka may be the language of the future. Her work has appeared in Atlas Poetica, Nimrod, Passager, and other journals.

17) Debbie Strange, Canada

that time
you called me
by her name
after all these years
the burning in my belly

Debbie Strange is a member of the Writers’ Collective of Manitoba, as well as belonging to several haiku and tanka organizations. Her writing has received awards, and has been published in numerous journals. Debbie is also a singer/songwriter and an avid photographer. Her photographs have been published, and were recently featured in an abstract exhibition. Debbie is currently working on a haiga/tankart collection. She invites you to visit her on Twitter @Debbie_Strange

18) Autumn Noelle Hall, USA

ever the cheat
appending the term soulmate
to each
in all sincerity
as if he had a soul

An internationally published poet and avowed environmentalist, Autumn Noelle Hall lives in Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, mere miles from the recent Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. Having witnessed first-hand the destruction waged against her mountain wilderness by these man-set wildfires, she wonders whether more venues for appropriate expressions of anger, such as this Tanka Special, might not help prevent future unnatural catastrophes.

19) Joanne Morcom, Canada

taking a class
in anger management
I can’t resist
telling the teacher
he’s full of shit

Joanne Morcom is a writer and social worker living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Visit her at

20) Liz Moura, USA

now that we’re older
our anger has deepened
to a shared silence
day after day we speak
only when spoken to

Liz Moura lives in a converted factory in New England. A former journalist, she now works with elders in a small town.

21) Anne Hollier Ruddy, New Zealand

Mum and Dad
still remain in urns
on your piano . . . .
even death couldn’t make
you share with sisters

I have returned to Auckland, New Zealand after 11 years living in Australia. Some of my poems, tanka and haiku have been published in both countries.

22) Kathy Uyen Nguyen, USA

the fingernail cut
you left deep
within the tomato’s skin . . .
so, this is how you want
to end our one-month fling

Kathy Uyen Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American poet, artist, and yogi and has worked professionally in the healthcare world. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications such as Catzilla! Tanka, Kyoka, and Gogyoshi About Cats, Take 5: Best Contemporary Tanka (Vol. 3), Lishanu, Qaartsiluni, Notes from the Gean, and Lynx. She is @alotus_poetry on Twitter and blogs at

23) Seren Fargo, USA

letting her
control me
all those years—
crumbled sand dollars
in my old trinket box

Seren Fargo has been writing Japanese-form poetry since 2009. Her work has won awards and can be found in publications in several countries. She lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her two cats and two snakes.

24) Janet Lynn Davis, USA

should’ve caught it
in his signature
the large “S”
with all those curlicues
elaborate as his lies

Janet Lynn Davis lives in a rustic area north of Houston, Texas (UNITED STATES). Her tanka and other poems have appeared in numerous print and online venues over the past several years. Janet is vice president of the Tanka Society of America. She maintains a poetry blog, twigs&stones.

25) Carmel Summers, Australia
horse manure
after the parade
far sweeter
to my senses
than memories of you

Carmel Summers is an Australian poet who enjoys collaborative writing with other Australian tanka poets. She also writes novels.

Editor’s Note:
I received many outstanding entries for the angry tanka special feature, so it was very hard to decide which ones to take. Some were angry right now, others angry over the years, some in your face, and some more subtle. I tried to pick a good mix of each to show the spectrum of anger. Keeping the number to 25 was very challenging, as many more were equally good and could have been on the list. Overall I believe this selection is a step in the right direction. I hope that in the future editors will not shy away from untraditional tanka, such as these, but instead embrace them, as we must embrace all parts of ourselves. I hope you enjoyed reading the angry tanka as much as I did.

Guest Editor Susan Burch
Susan Burch’s dad once told her that she couldn’t live her life inside a clam. This was not taken well at the time, but since then she has tried to venture out into the world, at least through her writing. She loves writing short poems, especially Japanese forms. She lives in Hagerstown, MD with her husband and daughter, and frequently watches her dying cherry tree, simultaneously cherishing the life still in it, while mourning its loss.

© 2014