From Lime Trees to Eucalypts : A Botany of Tanka

Edited and with an Introduction by Angela Leuck
Welcome to the Atlas Poetica Special Feature on Botanical Tanka. Given my passion for both tanka and all things botanical, I was delighted to have been invited by M. Kei to serve as guest editor. Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of reading a wealth of poems which by their skilful capturing of the unique flora of their region have transported me to places as far-flung as the sequoia forests of California to the Australian Outback, from the Alcazar de Seville to the Man-yoshu garden of Nara.

The task of narrowing down my selection to a mere 25 poems was inevitably difficult. In making my choices I was guided by three considerations:

First, the flower, bush or tree referred to in the poem had to be associated with a particular region. Tanka that mentioned more common botanical species were therefore excluded.

Second, the poem had to have significance for the reader, even when, in many cases, the reader would neither know what the plant looked like nor have any prior associations with it.

Finally, the poem had to be strong enough to stand on its own. It was not enough to simply mention an unusual plant; the poem needed to leave us with something more—a fine piece of description, clever wordplay, a personal reflection or a link to the broader human condition.

In the following tanka, all of which are previously unpublished, the poets have managed the difficult task of accomplishing each of these three things.

These poems should inspire all of us to wander further afield in our own regions to discover new plants and tap into the world’s seemingly inexhaustible botanical legacy. This is not only rewarding in itself, but will expand and enrich our tanka as well. Flowers and trees of all kinds have been important themes in poetry from the earliest times. This is particularly true in the case of tanka, as Amelia Fielden’s poem included in this collection subtly reminds us.

1) Anne Benjamin

outside the gate
I breathe powdered-honey
no need to see the wattle
to know that I am home

Acacia baileyana
Cootamundra Wattle is native to the southern parts of the state of New South Wales and the town of Cootamundra, from which it takes its name.

2) Alan S. Bridges

halfway through spring
a hummingbird
loses itself
finds itself
in the columbine

Northern hemisphere, at higher altitudes

3) Magdalena Dale

Long silhouettes
of traveling shadows
knock at my window;
suddenly a cold rain
over the linden blossoms

Tilia cardama
In Romania, through Eminescu’s poetry the linden tree has come to be known as a symbol of love. Eminescu is the greatest Romanian national poet and in the Copou Garden in Iasi there is an old linden tree called Eminescu’s linden tree. Parks in Romania are full of linden trees and in early June artists go there to seek inspiration. Linden blossoms can be used to make tea and honey.

4) Janet Lynn Davis

I hand water
a beautyberry—
differing views,
my neighbor and I,
on what a weed is

Southeastern United States, including pinewoods of east Texas
Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry)

5) Margarita Engle

Giant Forest
beneath the largest tree
in the world
two deer and I
share deep shade

Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park, California, United States
Sequoiadendron giganteum

6) Seren Fargo

forgetting the name
of the woman
who greets me—
a Viola glabella
nods in the wind

North American Pacific Northwest, United States and Canada
Viola glabella (Stream violet)

7) Amelia Fielden

purple-blue rindoh,
the Chinese bell flowers
of tanka,
found at last in Nara
at the Man’yoshu garden

Nara, Japan
Platycodon grandiflorus

8) Sylvia Forges-Ryan

they’ve splayed themselves
against dank stone ruins
of a colonial fortress
the tangled roots
of a mangrove tree

Dominica, West Indies

9) M. L. Grace

from Gondwanaland
this red beacon of the bush
a waratah bloom . . .
it was not just pioneers
who lit the new-comers’ way

Telopea speciosissima
The emblem of New South Wales, the waratah is found in bushlands and has a magnificent scarlet bloom.

10) Autumn Noelle Hall

bearberries red-ripening
from evergreen leaves
Algonquin pipe prayer whispers:
feed us in this white season

Eastern United States
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Rocky Mountain Bearberry)
Kinnikinnick is an Algonquin word for bearberry, the leaves of which were dried and used in place of tobacco in the smoking of ceremonial pipes and the tasteless fruit of which nonetheless provided nourishment for hungry bears and humans in the harsh mountain winters.

11) Gerry Jacobson

scribbly gum
growing out of solid granite
for two hundred years
pushing our roots down
into a hard land

Canberra, Australia
Eucalyptus rossi
Scribbles on this smooth-barked medium-sized tree are caused by the burrowing of insect larvae.

12) M. Kei

periwinkle clings
to the sides
of the ravine
even in small things

Maryland, United States
Vinca minor

13) Gary LeBel

There in the gully
the mouths of pitcher plants
stand gaping—
old friend, do you still wait for chance
to feed you love?

Guyton, Georgia, United States
Sarracenia flava

14) Toni Libro

Prickly pear cacti
line the rocky hillside
to the Greek temple
this red Sicilian earth
seeded with blood and tears

Agrigento, Sicily
Opuntia ficus-indica, Cactaceae family

15) Francis Masat

cleaning his pool
our neighbor quietly curses
his key-limes
the neighbor’s sea-grapes
but not our mangoes

Key West and the Florida Keys, United States
Citrus aurantiifolia, key-lime tree
Coccoloba uvifera, sea grape tree
Mangifera indica, mango tree

16) Larry Neily

reading on a tombstone
about an ancestor
crossing with the pilgrims—
at my feet among olive-tinted leaves
scented mayflowers

Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, Canada
Epigaea repens
The mayflower or trailing arbutus is the provincial flower of Nova Scotia.

17) Christina Nguyen

lady’s slipper
one rare pink blossom
in June
my pregnant belly
finally shows

North Shore area of Minnesota, United States
Cypripedium reginae
The showy lady’s slipper orchid is Minnesota’s state flower.

18) Polona Oblak

in the stone walls
of an abandoned house
capers bloom
all those years she spent
trying to conceive

Vis, Croatia
Capparis spinosa

19) P. K. Padhy

Jhaun trees
all along Gopalpur sea
muse with wind
embedding the songs of waves
in the layers of shells and sand

Casurina equisetifolia

20) Stella Pierides

so here is the tree
of the liquid gold Homer spilt
so liberally—
between epic verses and
bare rocks it grows its olives

Olea europea

21) Elaine Riddell

a king tide
rises over the foreshore
waves move beneath
the low slung branches
of pohutukawa

New Zealand
Metrosideros excelsa
A massive tree found along the coasts in the north of the country. Covered in crimson flowers at Christmas, the pohutukawa is also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree.

22) Sheila Sondik

nevertheless a surprise
a galaxy floats
inches above the brown duff
return of the starflowers

United States
Trientalis latifolia

23) André Surridge

news of the war
I escape into my garden . . .
beneath the rimu
a trail of feathers leads
to a headless fantail

New Zealand
Dacrydium cupressinum

24) Luminita Suse

luscious lentisk
against the blurred sky
delirious with rain
we dance fandango
in Alcázar de Seville

Pistacia lentiscus
Lentisco is an evergreen shrub of the Mediterranean region that is cultivated for its resin.

25) Rodney A. Williams

lake pedder
lost from van diemen’s land—
huon pines
alive before christ
flooded for this hydro scheme

Tasmania, Australia
Lagarostrobos franklinii
The huon pine is one of the longest-lived and slowest-growing of all trees. Two-thousand-year-old specimens were killed when Lake Pedder was flooded to create a hydro-electric dam in 1972.


Amelia Fielden is an Australian an award-winning professional translator and poet. Seventeen volumes of her translations of Japanese tanka have been published, and six books of her original tanka, the latest of which is Light On Water (2010). Amelia has also collaborated with Australian poet, Kathy Kituai,to produce 2 books of responsive tanka, In Two Minds (2008) and Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (2011), and with Japanese poet, Saeko Ogi, on the bilingual responsive collections, Weaver Birds (2010) and Words Flower (2011).

André Surridge was born in Hull, England and lives in Hamilton, New Zealand. He has won several awards for haiku and tanka and his work has been widely published including; Atlas Poetica; Modern English Tanka; Presence; Magnapoets; Tanka Splendor; Eucalypt; Bravado; Kokako; Simply Haiku; Prune Juice; The Heron’s Nest; paper wasp; Modern Haiku; Acorn; Sketchbook and Take Five.

Angela Leuck has been published in journals and anthologies around the world. An avid gardener, she is the author of Garden Meditations and A Cicada in the Cosmos (inkling press, 2010), and Flower Heart (Blue Ginkgo Press, 2006). She also edited Rose Haiku for Flower Lovers and Gardener (Price-Patterson, 2005) and Tulip Haiku (Shoreline, 2004).

Anne Benjamin is a Sydney-based poet and writer. Her family, spirituality, her involvement in social justice projects, and her personal ties and experiences of working in India, especially South India, inspire much of her writing. She has been published in many tanka journals, Eureka St, and in selected anthologies, as well as more academic venues in the field of education, religion and leadership.

Alan S. Bridges began writing haiku in 2008 after meeting poet John Stevenson on a train trip across the U.S. John’s haiku continues to inspire Alan, who has now been published in many of the journals. Alan recently took third place in the 2011 Kaji Aso Studio annual haiku competition. Also in 2011, he was selected to New Resonance 7, Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku, published by Red Moon Press. One of Alan’s poems will be featured in the 2012 Snapshot Press calendar, and a second was a runner-up. Alan is an oil and gas producer and has two girls.

Christina Nguyen is a writer and poet living in Hugo, Minnesota. She encourages poets on Twitter as @TinaNguyen and is an active member of the Gogyohka Junction community. In 2011, some of her work will appear in American Tanka, Prune Juice, a handful of stones, Moonbathing, tinywords, and other journals.

Elaine Riddell lives in Hamilton, New Zealand at the heart of the Waikato, a renowned dairy farming area. She has spent much of her life in pursuits related to education: as student, teacher and administrator. Elaine has a particular interest in short Japanese poetic forms such as haiku and tanka, but also writes longer poems. Her writing has been published in journals and anthologies in New Zealand and a number of other countries.

Francis Masat’s work appears in Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, India, Japan, New Zealand, Polish, Romania, and Russian. Recent works include Lilacs After Winter (haibun), MET Press, A Taste of Key West, Pudding House Press, Threshing, March Street Press, and A Prairie Trilogy (haibun and poetry), Barnes and Noble. He lives with his wife in Key West, is a 13th year 24/7 volunteer wildlife rescuer, and co-edits Key West’s weekly Key-ku (haiku) column.

Gary LeBel lives, writes, and scissor-cuts in the Atlanta, Georgia, area.

Gerry Jacobson lives, walks and gardens in Canberra, Australia. He recently published a chapbook of dance tanka, and contributes to Eucalypt, Ribbons, GUSTS, Atlas Poetica, Simply Haiku and Haibun Today.

Janet Lynn Davis divides her time between Houston, Texas (USA), and rural Grimes County to the north. Professionally, she has worked in the areas of marketing communications and technical publications. She has written poetry, including tanka, off and on over the past several years.

Larry Neily is a Nova Scotian living in Ottawa; a birder, butterflier and dragonflier who works in geomatics/remote sensing at Statistics Canada. He has tinkered with tanka and haiku since being introduced to them by his late wife Marianne Bluger in 1990. He now has a new wife, Antoinette, and an Arizona winter home. He is published in Canada, USA and Japan.

Luminita Suse lives in Ottawa, Canada. Her poetry appeared in Bywords Quarterly Journal, Ditch Poetry Magazine, The New Stalgica Hymnal, The Broken City Magazine, Sage of Consciousness e-zine, Moonbathing: A Journal of Women’s Tanka, Gusts, Atlas Poetica, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, Magnapoets, Ribbons, Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka 2010, red lights, and others.

M. Kei is a tall ship sailor and award-winning poet. He is the editor-in-chief of the anthology series, Take Five : Best Contemporary Tanka, and the author of Slow Motion : The Log of a Chesapeake Bay Skipjack, which is Recommend Reading by the Chesapeake Bay Project (USA). He has edited and authored several other books of poetry and a major journal, Atlas Poetica : A Journal of Poetry of Place in Contemporary Tanka. He is the compiler of the Bibliography of English-Language Tanka, and the author of the award-winning gay Age of Sail adventure novels, Pirates of the Narrow Seas.

Magdalena Dale was born and lives in, Bucharest, Romania. She is a member of the Romanian Haiku Society and World Haiku Association. Her work can be found in many Romanian and international magazines and anthologies. She has written a tanka book, a haiku book anda renga book together with the poet Vasile Moldovan. She has won several awards.

Margaret L Grace lives near the sea . . .
A lover of food and off beat travel.
A dabbler in art, short stories and memoir.
A companion to frogs and other creatures.
A writer of poetry . . . free verse, Tanka and Haiku.

Autumn Noelle Hall is a member of the Haiku Society of America and Poetry West, and lives and writes in Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, where first readers include partner, Gary, and two daughters. Her work appears in the newly-released Contemporary Haibun Volume 12, online at Haibun Today, Contemporary Haibun Online, Atlas Poetica, and Notes from the Gean, and locally in Poetry While You Wait, Messages from the Hidden Lake, and Pilgrimage.

Margarita Engle is a botanist and the Cuban-American author of young adult novels in free verse, including The Surrender Tree, which received the first American Library Association Newbery Honor ever awarded to a Latino. Her most recent book is Hurricane Dancers, the First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck.

P. K. Padhy holds Masters and Ph.D. degrees from ISM-Dhanbad, India. His haiku and tanka have appeared in World Haiku Review, Lynx-Aha Poetry, The Notes From the Gean, Ambrosia, Sketchbook, Simply Haiku, The Mainichi Daily News, Haiku Reality, The Heron’s Nest, Red Lights etc. Haiku also published on the HSA “Haiku Wall” in the historic Liberty Theatre Gallery, Bend, Oregon, USA.

Polona Oblak has always been fond of all things nature. She enjoys ambling with her camera around Ljubljana, Slovenia, where she lives, in spite of her job at a financial institution. Her haiku have appeared worldwide since 2005 and her first tanka were published in 2011.

Rodney Williams’ tanka have appeared in various journals both in Australia and America, as well as in Austria, Canada and New Zealand, plus the international Gean Tree. He is represented in an Atlas Poetica showcase of 25 Australian tanka poets, leading to inclusion in a Eucalypt anthology Grevillea and Wonga Vine. Rodney’s work appears in other ATPO Special Features (tanka for children and tanka prose), as well as in tanka collections Catzilla! and Take Five.

Seren Fargo has been writing Japanese form poetry since 2008, and is founder/coordinator of the Bellingham Haiku Group. Her poems have won awards and have been published in journals in the U.S. and internationally, including Ribbons, The Red Moon Anthology, Modern Haiku, bottle rockets, Mu Haiku, Asahi Weekly, and Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka. She lives with her three cats in Bellingham, Washington, USA.

Sheila Sondik was born in Hartford, CT in 1949. A visit to the Bay Area in high school convinced her that she was born on the wrong coast. She moved to Berkeley, CA in 1971 and to Bellingham, WA in 2008. She is a visual artist with a long, passionate involvement with Asian arts. Her decades-long interest in Japanese poetic forms flowered in 2010, when she began writing haiku, haibun, and tanka.

Stella Pierides grew up in Athens, Greece. She now divides her time between London and Munich. Her poetry and short stories have been included in anthologies, in print and online magazines, and elsewhere. She has co-edited Even Paranoids Have Enemies (Routledge) and Beyond Madness (JKP). Currently resident in Germany (mainly) and also the UK.

Sylvia Forges-Ryan has published her poetry in Americas Review, Colere, Dogwood Review, Inquiring Mind, Insight, Shambala Sun, Tricycle, The Merton Seasonal, Yale Anglers’ Journal, and in numerous anthologies. Internationally known for poems written in Japanese forms, she was the Editor of Frogpond from 1991-1993. Awards include a fellowship to study poetry in St. Petersburg, Russia. She is co-author of Take a Deep Breath: The Haiku Way to Inner Peace, which has been accepted into the permanent collection of American poetry in the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

Toni Libro is the author of three chapbooks of poetry, most recently, The House at the Shore (Lincoln Springs Press). Her poems have appeared in red lights, moonbathing, The Aurorean, wordgathering, Paterson Literary Review, Modern Haiku, among others. She is the 3rd Place winner in the 2011 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Contest for her poem “Curtains for Mother.” She divides her time between Sea Isle City, NJ and St. Augustine, Florida, where she lives with her husband, a wildlife photographer.

© 2011