Geography and the Creative Imagination

Edited by Sonam Chhoki
Whether fictional or real, geography plays an important part in bringing the world of a writer or poet to the reader. Here are twenty-five tanka poets from around the world who have written about a place special to them.

My sincere thanks to M. Kei for this opportunity to guest-edit this special issue of ATPO. It has been a privilege to read the works of so many fine poets, hot from the anvil, so to speak. The selection was quite difficult and at times painful.

1) Randy Brooks, Decatur, Illinois, USA.

the turn
to grandpa’s house
all the milkweed pods
merely shells
of themselves

My great grandfather, Oscar Andrews, homesteaded near the small town of Bloom, Kansas. The family homestead consisted of buffalo grass pastures and dry-land wheat fields. It was about 20 miles from Dodge City.

2) Owen Bullock, Katikati, New Zealand.

mud sucking
Athenree estuary
I walk through
wander back
at oozing pace

Near Waihi Beach, New Zealand.

3) Matthew Caretti, Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, USA.

waking under nests
of egrets, day breaks placid
over Lake Nyassa
where crowds haggle for kwacha
and the morning’s first catch

Just south of the Tanzanian Border in Malawi.

4) Susan Constable, Nanoose Bay, British Columbia, Canada.

whitecaps scattered
on a crescendo of waves . . .
let me live and die
with a million moonlit stars
dancing on the Salish Sea

The body of waters under the name, ‘Salish Sea,’ include the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound, and all the interconnecting waterways. Until the winter of 2009-2010, we referred to each of them individually (and still do), but had no term to describe the whole area. The Salish Sea is partly in British Columbia, Canada, and partly in Washington State, USA.

5) Claire Everett, North Yorkshire, England.

Keswick Carles
ringed by mountains
on a rock in space
as if time were a lake
and I a skimming stone

Castlerigg Stone Circle, Cumbria, England.

6) Amelia Fielden, Buff Point, Australia.

a crocodile
of schoolgirls, winding
down Gallery Road
accompanying me
scores of memories

In Sydney, Australia.

7) Seánan Forbes, London, UK/ New York City, USA.

Beomeosa temple—
we share no language
but food wrapped in shiso
water from a well
a path in the clouds

Pusan, South Korea.

8) Carole Harrison, Jamberoo and Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia.

cockatoo sunrise
magpies and rosellas
taking turns
we listen to each other
in Murrumbidge mists

Wagga Wagga, Australia.
Murrumbidgee is a significant river in south-eastern Australia.

9) Elizabeth Howard, Crossville, Tennessee, USA.

I burst forth from the shallows
of Spring Creek
ride the rapids to faraway places
one day I shall return
settle down like a mud turtle

Tennessee, USA.

10) Alegria Imperial, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

if you hear a fish sigh
let me please know
the meanings that escaped
through time’s fingers

Bacarra, Ilocos Norte, where I was born, is a town in the northernmost western edge of the Philippine archipelago.

11) Gerry Jacobson, Canberra, southeast Australia.

a dusty park
bears his name . . . Amichai
his magic words
float in Jerusalem air
above the roar of traffic

Jerusalem, Israel.

12) Chen-ou Liu, Ajax, Canada.

Barbie’s Dreamhouse
under Berlin’s twilight sky
a woman holds
her dog-eared copy
of A Doll’s House

Berlin, Germany.

13) Bob Lucky, Ethiopia.

the Coliseum
clogged with tourists
now is the time
I say to my wife
to let loose the beasts

Rome, Italy.

14) Beverly Acuff Momoi, CA, USA.

world wars, unrequited love—
the library
seduced me every Saturday
with its knowing promises

Memphis, Tennessee, USA.

15) Mike Montreuil, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

today pieces
of the last ice floes
reach the falls
my death too will be
from the waters of the river

The Mattawa River in Ontario, Canada. It was part of the fur trade route into the heart of North America, during colonial times. I was born in the town of Mattawa, where the Mattawa River meets the Ottawa River.

16) Pravat Kumar Padhy, Orissa, India.

rising waves
resound with the rhythm
of temple bells
composing melodies
for the Rath-Yatra by the sea

Ratha-Yatra (The Car Festival), annually celebrated by the Hindus, is associated with Lord Sri Jagannath, Puri, Odisha. It commemorates the journey of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, and their sister Subhadra to their aunt’s temple, the Gundicha temple, which is about 2 km from the main temple. After nine days, the devotees bring back the deities to the main temple. The return journey is called Bahuda-Yatra.

17) Christina Pandjaridis, Bulgaria.

geography exams—
pupils don’t know the answers
the teacher sighs:
a book is too narrow
for the imagination

На изпита по география
класът се смее на изпитвания
учителят въздъхва извинително
не се побира в учебника


18) Miriam Sagan, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

arctic terns
dive bomb us
but we go on walking
lost in our
twenty-year conversation

Laugervatn, Iceland.

19) Vessislava Savova, Bulgaria.

Devil’s Throat cave—
stalactites and stalagmites
show the way
shadows on the wall
moving faster than me

Devil’s Throat (Dyavolsko Garlo) is in Western Rhodopes Mountain in Bulgaria.

20) Michael G. Smith, Sante Fe, New Mexico, USA.

waking under cold sheets
of rain fused with sunbeams
asking who dreams who
rotting cedar nurse log
or upstart alder tree?

Shotpouch Cabin, Coastal Cascade Mountains, Oregon, USA.

21) Debbie Strange, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

the lake’s black skin
tattooed with starlight
and aurora
remember that night we dipped
ink-stained hands into the moon

Whiteshell Park, Manitoba, Canada.

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

halcyon days
our footprints stomp
on pale pink skies
as we run naked
to the calling surf

Mountain Top, NSW, Australia.

23) toki, Oregon Coast, USA.

Rural Oregon—
it’s still about the simple things . . .
just ask this man
by the road walking
his dog
. . . and his llama

Oregon Coast, USA.

24) Kath Abela Wilson, Pasadena, California, USA.

the silence
of her cattail heart
she built
a muskrat’s den

California, USA.


Dr. Randy Brooks is Dean of Arts & Sciences at Millikin University where he teaches courses on publishing, haikai traditions, and tanka writing. He is co-editor of Mayfly magazine and publisher of Brooks Books. He was introduced to modern tanka in 1976 by Dr. Sanford Goldstein and has been writing haiku and tanka ever since. His tanka have been published in several journals and anthologies such as, the Ash Moon Anthology, and the Take Five Best Contemporary Tanka for 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Owen Bullock published his first tanka in tangled hair in 2000, and was subsequently included in the journals A Hundred Gourds, Atlas Poetica, Bravado, Eucalypt, Fire Pearls 2, Kernels, Kokako, Lynx, Magnapoets, Modern English Tanka, Moonset, Notes From the Gean, paper wasp, Presence, RawNervZ, Simply Haiku, Stylus, and the anthologies, Butterfly Away, Catzilla, Dreams Wander On, Many Windows and Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka Volumes I-IV.

Influenced in equal parts by his study of German language and literature, by his Zen training in the East, and by the approach of the Beat writers, Matthew Caretti has published his poetry in numerous print and online journals. He currently teaches English and directs the Writing Center at a college preparatory school in Pennsylvania.

Susan Constable’s tanka have appeared in numerous international journals and anthologies. Her collection, The Eternity of Waves, is one of the winning entries in the 2012 eChapbook Awards, sponsored by Snapshot Press. Susan is currently the tanka editor for the online haikai journal, A Hundred Gourds.

Claire Everett is the founder and editor of Skylark tanka journal and Tanka Prose Editor for Haibun Today. She draws much of her inspiration for tanka and tanka prose from the Yorkshire Moors and Dales and the Lake District. Her recent tanka prose piece, “Brimham Rocks”, (Haibun Today 7:3, September 2013), exemplifies the way the local landscape appeals to her creative imagination.

Amelia Fielden’s writing is always influenced by the geographical situations she encounters. These are many and varied: She was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, but half a century ago, Japan became her second country. She has also worked in London and travelled extensively with her two grandchildren who live in USA.

Based in London and New York, Seánan Forbes is an urbanist with a nomadic heart and peripatetic habits. Her poetry has run in The Heron’s Nest, A Hundred Gourds, Frogpond, Skylark, Contemporary Haibun Online, Haibun Today, Acorn, The Mid-American Poetry Review, The Prose-Poem Project, Atlas Poetica, Modern Haiku, and other journals.

In her former life Carole Harrison was in teaching, then antiques. Now she walks caminos and studies Buddhism, Spanish and short form poetry. Inspired by nature, especially birds, she regards herself as a part-time foster parent to fledgling Willy Wagtails.

Elizabeth Howard lives in Crossville, Tennessee. Her tanka have been published in American Tanka, Lynx, Eucalypt, red lights, Mariposa, Ribbons, Gusts, and other journals.

Alegria Imperial, a former Manila journalist, plunged into writing poetry seven years ago, finding in haiku, tanka and other Japanese short forms, a journey of self-discovery about her Southeast Asian origins. She often struggles with the sparse language and objectivity required of such genres against her densely-layered culture of opposing Oriental, Spanish and American influences. Her poetry has won awards and been published in several journals.

Gerry Jacobson explores landscapes, inner and outer, near and afar. He finds worlds so full of special places. Gerry has published tanka and tanka prose in journals including Haibun Today, GUSTS, Atlas Poetica, Ribbons, Eucalypt and Skylark.

Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Chen-ou Liu emigrated to Canada in 2002 and settled in Ajax, a suburb of Toronto, where he continues to struggle with a life in transition and translation. He is the author of four books, and his tanka and haiku have been honored with many awards.

Bob Lucky moves around a lot, lives and works in different places. He thinks that most of the time we don’t think about or know where we really are. And when we realize that, we experience wonder and awe because we are truly lost. Of course, then we make up stories to locate ourselves.

Beverly Acuff Momoi’s poems have been published widely, appearing in such journals as A Hundred Gourds, American Tanka, Chrysanthemum, Eucalypt, GUSTS, Modern Haiku, Ribbons, and Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka, Volume 4.

Mike Montreuil’s English and French haiku, tanka, and haibun have been published online or in print. In January 2014, he and Maxianne Berger will be launching the first online French tanka journal, CIRRUS.

A scientist and poet, Pravat Kumar Padhy’s poems are widely published and anthologized. His tanka appeared in Lynx, The Notes from the Gean, Sketchbook, Atlas Poetica, Simply Haiku, red lights, Chrysanthemum, A Hundred Gourds, Magnapoets, Ribbons and the anthology, Fire Pearls 2 edited by M Kei.

Christina Pandjaridis graduated in journalism and worked in a local town’s newspaper. She has published a novel written in joint authorship and is waiting for another to be published. She also writes short stories, book reviews and plays. She fell in love with the haiku four years ago and has recently begun to write tanka.

Much of Miriam Sagan’s poetry is based on place. This tanka is one of many written about Iceland, where she was in residence at Gullkistan Residence for Creative People in Laugervatn—on a lake, by hot springs, with a view of a majestic volcano. It was written about the summer solstice—a time of pure light. She will be returning this winter to write in darkness. Her collection TANKA FROM THE EDGE was published by MET Press.

Vessislava Savova was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. Her haiku, senryu and tanka have received honorable mention accolades and have been published by World Haiku Review, Under the Basho, Haiku Bandits Society, Apollo Poetry, Diogen. From October 2013 she is a part of The Living Haiku Anthology.

Michael G. Smith’s poetry has been published in many literary journals and anthologies. A chapbook, The Dark is Different in Reverse, was published by Bitterzoet Press (New Haven, CT) in 2013. A full-length book of poetry, No Small Things, will be published by Tres Chicas Books (Santa Fe, NM) in 2014.

Debbie Strange is a member of the Writers’ Collective of Manitoba and the United Haiku and Tanka Society. Her writing has received awards, and has been published in print and online by numerous journals. Debbie is also a singer-songwriter and an avid photographer. Her photographs have been published, and were recently featured in an exhibition. Debbie is currently assembling a collection of haiga and tankart.

Barbara A. Taylor’s free verse poems, renku, haiga, haiku, tanka, and other Japanese short form poetry appear in international journals and anthologies on line and in print. She lives in the Rainbow Region, Northern NSW, Australia.

Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, toki often writes poetry informed by the experience of that region: the labyrinthine confines of the evergreen forests, the infinite vastness of the sea and inclement sky, and the liminal spaces in between, both macro- and microcosmic. toki’s poetry can be found online and in print, with recent work published or forthcoming in Atlas Poetica, The Bamboo Hut, and Poetry Nook.

Kath Abela Wilson has been known to say that her personal geography is “more real than real”. She has a flair for excess and tends to create imaginary worlds that have extraordinary personal significance. Sometimes others inhabit them with her. Kath Abela is the leader of Tanka Poets on Site, and secretary of the Tanka Society of America. The sites of her imagination include her personal past and wishes, and dream world of which she says “that’s where there’s solid ground”.

© 2014