Chiaroscuro—25 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Tanka

Edited and with an Introduction by Janick Belleau
The title Chiaroscuro is a veiled reference to Torikaebaya Monogatari whose literal translation is ‘If only I could exchange them’ story. It was written around the 12th century in Japan by Anonymous, who, to this day, we do not know, was either a man or a woman. The novel is graced with approximately 80 waka/tanka.

Torikaebaya is the tale of a sister and a brother whose personalities are best suited to the opposite sex. Their father decides, in time, to present them to the Imperial Court in the sexual identity of their choice; both siblings pursue fabulous careers. The Author touches many themes in this novel: Lesbianism, Gayness, Bisexuality, Transgender and Androgyny. The notion of gender is played with humour and psychological insight: one might ask, did writers such as Balzac with Séraphîta (1834) and Virginia Woolf with Orlando (1928) know about Torikaebaya?

The whole book is chiaroscuro: whether it shows the emotional distress of the heroine as a divine nobleman; whether it portrays the shy brother as a lady confidante or ultimately, the lover of the Emperor’s naïve daughter; whether it relates to meetings of lovers between dusk and dawn.

The story, which alludes frequently to Genji Monogatari penned by 10th century Lady Murasaki Shikibu, has been translated into English by Rosette F. Willig in 1983 as The Changelings; into German by Michael Stein in 1994 as Die vertauschten Geschwister (lit. ‘The exchanged siblings’) and into French by Renée Garde in 2009 as Si on les échangeait—Le Genji travesti.

M. Kei’s invitation to head this Atlas Poetica Special Feature filled me with pride— “Here’s my chance to openly support LGBT tanka on an international level” and anxiety— “I am unknown outside French and English Canada; will enough poets respond to my call?” True, the chosen theme, even in our 21st century, might appear unusual, given that waka/tanka is the jewel of Japanese poetry. The criteria in the call for submissions were minimal, that is, five-line poems with no capitalisation and little punctuation. To be as respectful of privacy as possible, pseudonyms were allowed and the country was the only civic address required. Although the call was opened to everyone, the reminder pointed out that one did not need to be an LGBT person. One, however, might have friendly or parental, professional or social links with a person of this community. There was one suggestion: the unpublished tanka had to have a positive outlook on the LGBT world.

I am thankful to have received 130 poems from 32 contributors, 21 women and 11 men, residing in nine different countries. Actually, it would have been a blessing in disguise to have simply received the required number of submissions, namely 25. It would have saved me from being devastated to exclude some contributions.

All of the tanka in this collection stray from the birds and the bees. Since I wanted to favour intimate content, I selected poems conveying a strong emotion or evoking inner thoughts, profound aspirations, heartfelt concerns. The ultimate intent of this project is to give voice to LGBT and androgyne persons, friends and supporters. I hope the selection reflects the various colours of the rainbow . . . sometimes tinted chiaroscuro. In the end, the personal becomes universal even in the small community called Tanka.

I wish to die
seeing a tamarix
in bloom
my last smile
for the woman of my life

© Janick Belleau, 2012

1) Roberta Beary—USA/Ireland

my son’s boyfriend
three words i practice saying
alone in my room
while fireflies in love
beckon at my window

2) Micheline Beaudry—Canada

so beautiful
he comes with her
searching for another man
two solitary cranes
walk at low tide

3) Maxianne Berger—Canada

a case
of apples and oranges
whatever . . .
he did leave me for a man
younger than my vibrator

4) Terry Ann Carter—Canada

Gay Pride
on my sister’s jacket
I worry
for her safety

5) Susan Constable—Canada

approaching the light
he tells her to go straight
she turns
to her Dad with a smile
I tried, but it didn’t work

6) Tracy Davidson—England

my partner and I
both wearing white dresses
down the aisle
I feel a jealous pang . . .
he looks better in heels

7) Scout Endress—USA

queer bodies
defy binary mythology—
heavy breath
ignites deep surrender
as he kisses my scarred chest

8) Adena Franz—Canada

to feel less ugly
my wig covers the hair loss
she so loves me still
how can I believe her
here today, gone tomorrow

9) Eva B. Gubat—Philippines

mystery layers
soles of your feet crowned by light
that my shoes leave me
to follow their real mistress
your haloed feet burning deep

10) Gerry Jacobson—Australia

in the dance of slow . . .
dissolve and I discover
I’m dancing with another me

11) M. Kei—USA

they say there’s
a life mate for everyone
but they never said
when, or how long
I’d have to wait

12) Miodrag Kojadinović—Canada

‘gender’ I knew not
when, adolescent, I felt
androgyne inside;
as my body was changing
loneliness closed in on me

13) Angela Leuck—Canada

the queer boy
from St. John’s
so gentle and easy going
the first time ever
I contemplate rape

14) Chen-ou Liu—Canada

the diary
under a floorboard
in his room
the broken mirror reflects
her breast binder

for Ru-nas
note: Ru-na literally means “be/act like (ru) a man (na)” in Chinese

15) Lynne Mayhew—USA

my cousin
rejected by anti-gay
parents . . .
I first meet his life partner as
we hold each other graveside

16) Pravat Kumar Padhy—India

black and white
paintings on the pot
the transgender
searches the streak of colors
to fill the gap of the emptiness

17) Patricia Prime—New Zealand

out of the blue
that moment of surprise
the ecstasy
of wanting to be part
of same-sex exploration

18) Nu Quang—USA

the woman
in Butterfly Lovers *
dressed herself
like a man to attend school—
a tale I cried for and still relish

*a Chinese legend made into a movie

19) Jane Reichhold—USA

a string quartet
pulls up so slowly
a heaviness
tied deep in a female body
feelings buried by the years

20) Violette Rose-Jones—Australia

the scent of jonquils—
I recall the first moment
he spoke of love;
this morning he slaps my face
do you sleep with your female friends?

21) Gary Severance—USA

seeking a lover
beyond his marriage partner
hesitant movements,
leave her there to find new light
stay in darkness to meet his vows

22) Violetta Antonia Sorcini—USA

play dress up with neighbor girls
a boy with fire red nails and earrings
my father’s face at seeing me
brothers just want to play war
I just want a pink dress

23) David Terelinck—Australia

with each cough
and darkening mole . . .
we refuse to be
that much-feared scourge
of your prediction

24) Alex von Vaupel—Netherlands

those days
when it all made sense
playing Robin Hood
getting mud all over
my butterfly dress

25) Kath Abela Wilson—USA

sweet niece
even sweeter
as nephew
inner strength flows more freely
as the road opens up

Biographical Sketches

Guest Editor, Janick Belleau has edited three haiku collections. Has published four personal collections; one of them, D’âmes et d’ailes/of souls and wings—tanka, won the Canada-Japan Literary Award in 2010. Her feature articles (in Revue du tanka francophone) and presentations (in Canada, France, Japan) show how women have contributed to the advancement of haiku and tanka. Her poems appear in French and in English in literary journals and anthologies. Her bilingual website is

Roberta Beary’s collection of short poems, The Unworn Necklace (Snapshot Press, 2007), selected as an Award Finalist by the Poetry Society of America, received a Kanterman Book Prize by the Haiku Society of America. In addition to her work as an editor at Modern Haiku, she is a longtime member of towpath, haiku poets of the Chesapeake Watershed. For more information, see

Micheline Beaudry lives on the South Shore of Montreal. She published Les maisons des femmes battues au Québec translated by Margaret Heap & Lorne Huston as Battered Women (Black Rose Books, 1985). Has published Blanche Mémoire, a renku with Jean Dorval (2002) and Les couleurs du vent (2004). Has participated in various international haiku anthologies. Was a founding member of the Association francophone de haïku and its journal, GONG (2003). She founded the Groupe Haïku Montréal (2005).

Maxianne Berger is a Montreal poet, reviewer and literary translator. The author of Dismantled Secrets (Wolsak and Wynn, 2008), she writes in form as well as free verse. She is active in both the English and French haiku and tanka communities, contributing to Tanka Canada’s Gusts and to the Revue du tanka francophone. Her current haiku project is OuLiPo-based.

Terry Ann Carter is the author of five poetry collections and four chapbooks of haiku. She is the President of Haiku Canada.

Susan Constable began writing haiku in 2006. Since then, she’s tried her hand at haiga, haibun, and tanka. Her work has been published in over 30 journals as well as numerous anthologies including Montage: The Book, New Resonance 6, several Red Moon anthologies, and 57 Damn Good Haiku by Some of Our Friends. She is currently the tanka editor for A Hundred Gourds. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, off Canada’s west coast.

Tracy Davidson lives in England and enjoys writing poetry and flash fiction. Her work has appeared in Atlas Poetica, Simply Haiku, A Hundred Gourds, Modern Haiku, Ribbons and Notes from the Gean.

Scout Endress, MA, LCSW is a psychotherapist from Albany, NY, who specializes in LGBTQ mental health. He is inspired by Buddhism, nature, music, and all creative beings throughout History. He identifies as a queer transman and has lectured on many topics of relevance to the transgender community. Deep gratitude to John Crowe, fellow colleague, for his joyful humor and poetic support.

Adena Franz has become interested in Japanese poetry thanks to the influence of her partner and friends. She’s interested in various forms of writing: travel, personal essays, storytelling, journalism and some short story fiction and has published here and there throughout the years. She looks forward to being influenced by the beauty and profound simplicity of tanka and haiku.

Eva B. Gubat writes for magazines and for television among other freelance jobs. She was a fellow for poetry in the 50th ‘Silliman National Writers’ Workshop and in the 15th ‘Iligan National Writers’ Workshop. She is taking up her master’s degree in Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines.

Gerry Jacobson lives in Canberra, Australia. He has published two collections of tanka and contributed to journals. He is currently engaged in a struggle with “tanka prose”.

M. Kei: Tanka poet, editor, researcher. Editor-in-chief of four annual anthologies, Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka (from 2008 to 2011). Editor, Atlas Poetica: A Journal of Poetry of Place in Contemporary Tanka. He has published over 1400 tanka in various languages around the world.

Miodrag Kojadinović is a Canadian poet, “éroticien”, researcher, translator, art critic, photographer of an origin that includes five European and one Levantine ethnicities; born in Serbia. Has done graduate studies and academic research in Norway, Hungary, and Holland, and is currently teaching at a university in China. He forever dreams of a lifetime in Lisbon, or Flanders, that has eluded him because of the inhumane brutality of the Fortress EU immigration laws.

Angela Leuck, an award-winning Montreal haiku and tanka poet, has been published in journals and anthologies around the world. She is the author of eight poetry collections including Garden Meditations and a cicada in the cosmos (inkling, 2010). In 2005, along with Kozue Uzawa, she founded Tanka Canada and its biannual journal Gusts.

Chen-ou Liu is the author of Ripples from a Splash, Broken/Breaking English: Selected Short Poems, and Following the Moon to the Maple Land (First Prize Winner of the 2011 Haiku Pix Chapbook Contest). His tanka and haiku have been honoured with many awards. To read more of his poems, please go to Poetry in the Moment,

Lynne Mayhew (pseudonym) is an internationally acknowledged tanka poet. Retired, her joy and avocation is to express truth and beauty in poetry for others.

Pravat Kumar Padhy hails from Odisha, India. He holds a Masters in Science and a Ph.D from Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad. His haiku, tanka and haibun have appeared in The World Haiku Review, Lynx, Notes from the Gean, Atlas Poetica, Simply Haiku, The Mainichi Daily News, red lights, The Heron’s Nest, Shamrock, A Hundred Gourds, Magnapoets, etc.

Patricia Prime is co-editor of Kokako, reviews/interviews editor of Haibun Today, was one of the editors for the annual anthologies, Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka and writes reviews for Takahe (NZ), Atlas Poetica and Haiku NewZ. Her poetry, reviews and interviews have also appeared in the World Poetry Almanac (Mongolia). She is currently working on interviews with Damien Wilkins (NZ) and Steven Carter (USA) and on essays for Ribbons and Simply Haiku.

Nu Quang is Chinese Vietnamese. She grew up during the war and lived under the Communist rule for ten years after Saigon fell. Now a naturalized USA citizen, she writes from her background consisting of three cultures. Her haiku, haibun, and tanka have been published in Notes from the Gean, A Hundred Gourds, The Heron’s Nest, Haiku News, Multiverses, Moonbathing, red lights, Lynx, Atlas Poetica, Ribbons, Lyrical Passion Poetry Ezine.

Jane Reichhold has had over thirty books of her haiku, renga, tanka, and translations published. Her latest tanka book, Taking Tanka Home has been translated into Japanese by Aya Yuhki. Her most popular book is Basho The Complete Haiku. As founder/editor of AHA Books, has published Mirrors: International Haiku Forum; Geppo, for the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society. Has co-edited with Werner Reichhold, Lynx for Linking Poets (1992)—online since 2000: . Since 2006, she maintains an online AHAforum.

Violette Rose-Jones is a happily married university student with one son. She is currently enjoying a year of self-imposed study of Japanese form poetry. Her haiku and haiga have been published widely but she is just getting into tanka.

Gary Severance lives in the low country of South Carolina where he writes poetry that has been published in Atlas Poetica.

Violetta Antonia Sorcini, born intersex and transgendered in Mexico from American parents to a family of six siblings. Lives and works in Los Angeles, California as an established artist, poet and teacher. Has lived openly as woman for a good part of her professional life with the support of family, friends and associates.

David Terelinck (Sydney, Australia). He has been writing tanka for the past six years. In 2011, he was on the editorial team for Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka, Vol 4; co-edited Grevillea & Wonga Vine: Australian Tanka of Place with Beverley George; and published his first tanka collection, Casting Shadows. He was awarded third place in the ‘2011 Spirit of Japan Tanka Contest’. In 2012, he joined the editorial selection panel of Gusts: Contemporary Tanka.

Alex von Vaupel lives in Utrecht, Netherlands, with his many dictionaries and a balcony vegetable garden. His tanka appear in Atlas Poetica, Concise Delight, Prune Juice, and Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka (anthologies of 2009, 2010, 2011). Visit his website

Kath Abela Wilson is the creator and leader of Poets on Site, a poetry writing and multi-media performance group in Southern California. She hosts meetings of tanka poets at her home and on the nearby Caltech campus, and is in the midst of creating a “Tanka Tour of the Caltech Campus”. Friends and family in the LGBT community have participated in her poetic celebrations and inspire her work.

© 2012 by Keibooks. All rights reserved. See Educational Use Notice for policy governing use in an educational context. Copyright for the individual poems and prose remains with the contributors.