The Atomic Era – Seventy Years of…

Edited and introduced by Don Miller
The horrors of the atomic era exploded upon us during time of world conflict when on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic weapon on Hiroshima, Japan, and three days later duplicated the act on Nagasaki, Japan. “Peace” was forged in part through the near instant vaporization of thousands of lives. A haunting reminder from these two atomic blasts are the “ghostly silhouettes” seemingly etched or seared into the stone or concrete on which that person was standing or sitting at the time of detonation. This was a somber theme explored by several contributors to this Special Features like Joanne Watcyn-Jones:

looking out
at Hiroshima
I remember
the outline of a woman
branded into stone

and Carole MacRury:

at Los Alamos
we learn about the power
of nuclear fission . . .
not a word about the shadows
left behind by the dead

Most recently a “silent horror” was released on Japan in the area surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the meltdown of several of the reactors damaged by the Great Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011. An estimated 100,000 persons are still displaced in the Fukushima prefecture, and an estimated 60,000 persons have been evacuated to other prefectures.

This triple disaster was another theme linking many of the submissions. While a number of contributors focused on the effects to the human population, one of Joy McCall’s tanka exposed an often overlooked casualty in any disaster, the animals. Joy’s tanka touches on the enormity of this problem as it extends the atomic era beyond the human element.

one old man, alone
in the radioactive fields
of Fukushima—
my hero, feeding
the slow-dying dogs

To view photographs of this man, copy and paste the following address into your web browser:

A collaborative dance/photo exhibition, “A Body in Fukushima”, inspired by movement artist, performer and choreographer Eiko Otake, and photographed by William Johnston was in part the inspiration for ekphrastic tanka by Autumn Noelle Hall. On display were photographs of haunting images of the vacated ruins of towns and railway stations immediately surrounding the crippled nuclear power plant. With ekphrastic tanka like the following, Autumn added an unexpected twist to this prompt. By linking her “conversation” with the visual and performing arts to The Atomic Era prompt she has helped to expand the dimension of this Special Feature beyond tanka.

red sun setting
on the pyramid of her back
Eiko Otake
on tidal wave-tumbled blocks
radiating despair

The following links are provided for those interested in viewing video excerpts of “A Body in Fukushima”: and

While the intent of this Special Feature’s prompt was not to focus on Japan, to date the two devastating events previously described seemingly act as bookends in the atomic era. In between these two events political and social strife has engaged a world population for nearly 70 years through cold war, and anti-proliferation and disarmament rallies. Yet, amidst this conflict atomic/nuclear innovation has developed in areas having positive effects such as in the medical field. Imaging and cancer treatment are two of the most notable medical applications resulting from nuclear research; research and applications that have touched nearly if not all of us either personally or through a family member or friend.

Again, there were a number of quality tanka written on the positive applications that have evolved throughout the atomic/nuclear era. Another unforeseen turn in the submissions was Catherine Smith’s tanka that took the medical application beyond the human patient.

and strapped down
Buster glides
into his PET scan . . . result
five more years of tail wagging

Quite a few of you responded that this Special Feature’s prompt was “personal” and “challenging to you” or “moved you to explore beyond your comfort zone”. While this may be true, I assure you the challenge was mine to select 25 tanka out of all your submissions to represent 70 years of the atomic era. 50 persons contributed over 200 tanka to this prompt. Above I have included quality tanka “left behind” as an example of just how challenging you all made the selection process. It is quality writing like this that will serve our genre well as we continue to explore the boundless subjects of tanka. For this, I thank all of you who contributed to and/or are reading this Special Feature—25 Tanka on The Atomic Era.

1) Beatrice Yell, New South Wales, Australia

in icy waters
of Nagasaki harbour
after the blast
my uncle’s tenacious will
to survive . . . and then die of cancer

2) Joy McCall, Norwich, England

a small girl
at my grandfather’s feet
as he wept
I helped to split the atom, child,
I wish I, too, could die

3) Neal Whitman, California, USA

“the verdancy rose”
not the Garden of Eden
John Hersey’s vivid account
biblical in proportion

4) Michael G. Smith, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

a scientist
at Los Alamos,
I could not see
the future, the secret
half-life I needed to live

5) Dawn Bruce, Sydney, Australia

Hiroshima . . .
in a zen garden
dwelling on the light
and shade of stones

6) Patricia Prime, Auckland, New Zealand

the balance of power
between nations
teetered with the refusal
to allow nuclear-powered ships
into New Zealand ports

7) Ron Truax, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA

in NORAD’S shadow
my house sits
within ground zero
Los Alamos and White Sands
don’t seem so long ago

8) Liz Moura, East Taunton, Massachusetts, USA

A brilliant flash
replaces the sun.
Other children
reach out to touch
new blossoms.

9) Ken Sawitri, Indonesia

the rains come
by the rich plutonium
nuclear blossom
an old anger

10) Gerry Jacobson, Canberra, ACT, Australia

a stalactite
for a million years
deep in the cave
uranium decay

11) Sanford Goldstein, Shibata, Japan

maybe Mount Fuji
is the best place for
our atomic woes,
the mountain is too elegant
for such abundant trash

12) Britton Gildersleeve, Ph.D., Tulsa, Oklahoma; moving soon to Blacksburg, Virginia, USA

the nanometer
has no voice, only a song
hummed beyond hearing
the sound of the earth spinning
within us and without us

13) Pravat Kumar Padhy, Odisha, India

resonance of the
twilight soaked waves . . .
with singing wings
the Kalpakkam paints
the sky with sparkling light

Kalpakkam Nuclear Plant is situated close to the sea in Tamilnadu State, India

14) Ernesto P. Santiago, Philippines

dark matters
space and time
our thoughts
we sense when they explode
like distant stars

15) Samantha Sirimanne Hyde, Denistone NSW, Australia

manned missions
to Ganymede and beyond
further yet . . .
skipping light years
to Andromeda

16) Dean A. Brink, Tamsui, New Taipei City, Taiwan

Scientists say fire
it up, ionizing light
from butterflies, half
lives bred in rounded down wings
sunflowers turning circles

Note: This tanka alludes to butterflies misshapen by mutation found in Fukushima and the false notion that sunflowers might remove radioactive materials from contaminated soil.

17) Alegria Imperial, Vancouver, BC, Canada

after Fukushima
another note from Mie
tells me
her bonsai cherry tree
blossomed a little

18) Marianne Paul, Ontario, Canada

the fallout
from Fukushima
green tea and the flutter
of butterfly wings

19) Kath Abela Wilson, California, USA

from the eternal fire
a nuclear spark
of insight to see
the breaks

20) Catherine Smith, Australia

all those years
so sure his heart
was broken
nuclear imaging
revealed it . . . still in one piece

21) John Tehan, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA

they tell me
my only hope now
is nuclear medicine . . .
declining, I prepare
for a different journey

22) Miriam Sagan, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

dark spiral
cuts the earth—abandoned
uranium mine;
Navajos still chanting
“walk in beauty.”

23) Autumn Noelle Hall, Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, USA

A Body
in Fukushima
dosimeter dance
Eiko Otake’s red sash
staining the wind

24) Annie Gustin, Woodbridge, Connecticut, USA
“a father’s prayer”

out of the ashes
you emerged. the bomb brought on
your mother’s labor.
cry of joy amidst the ruins
hope—soft-skinned, double-fisted.

25) Magdalena Dale, Bucharest, Romania

Takizakura *
for over one thousand years
still blooms
nothing can extinguish
the flame of heart

*an ancient cherry tree, over 1,000 years old in Miharu, Fukushima


Alegria Imperial
Vancouver, BC, Canada
With works published in international journals, Alegria Imperial, a former media person and journalist in Manila, Philippines, since stumbling on Japanese short form poetry seven years ago has found the perfect fit for her writing, but more so, a healing of a family history as the fog of silence she grew up with over her grandfather’s execution by the Japanese gradually dissipated.

Annie Gustin
Woodbridge, Connecticut, USA
Annie Gustin is Brazilian and has lived in the United States since childhood. Her tanka and haiku have been published in the U.S., Brazil, Japan, and France, and have received awards from the Daichuji Temple in Shizuoka, the Itoen Tea Company, and the Tanka Society of America. Annie taught both Portuguese and English as a Second Language for many years—at Yale University, The International Center of New Haven, and privately, as well as abroad.

Autumn Noelle Hall
Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, USA
Having stood nose to nose with a North Korean guard at the DMZ as a young airman, Autumn Noelle Hall is no stranger to the threat of global nuclear war. But as the daughter of a Multiple Myeloma sufferer whose survival required a bone marrow transplant, she is well aware of life prolonging medical use of radiation as well. Her hope is that our consideration of future nuclear applications will err on the conscientious and compassionate side.

Beatrice Yell
New South Wales, Australia
Beatrice Yell has spent most of her life in her favourite city, Sydney, Australia. A late starter to writing, she tried several genres but became fascinated by Japanese short form poetry and enjoys its challenges. She is a member of some writing groups and has had some success in anthologies and international competitions.

Britton Gildersleeve, Ph.D.
Tulsa, Oklahoma; moving soon to Blacksburg, Virginia, USA
My tanka has appeared in Atlas Poetica, Bright Stars, The Garage Not the Garden, and Fire Pearls. My haiku placed 2nd in The Lincoln Underground’s annual haiku contest. Other work has appeared in Nimrod, Passager, New Millennium, and other journals. I have 3 chapbooks published, the most recent one with Kattywompus Press.

Catherine Smith
Catherine Smith—Australia has had Tanka, Haiku and Tanka Prose published in Australia and Overseas. She credits her gradual success to a keen interest in the Japanese disciplines and to the generous mentorship and support of internationally known writers of Japanese poetry in Australia.

Carole MacRury
Point Roberts, Washington, USA
Carole MacRury is a poet and photographer living in Point Roberts, Washington. She is involved in the arts community on both sides of the US/Canadian border. Her tanka have won awards and been published in anthologies and journals worldwide. Her first book, In the Company of Crows: Haiku and Tanka Between the Tides, was published in 2008 and her award winning tanka e-chapbook, The Tang of Nasturtiums was released by Snapshot Press in 2012.

Dawn Bruce
Sydney, Australia
Dawn Bruce is an Australian poet, living in Sydney. She was coordinator of the awarding winning group Somerset Poets for five years and the leader of Harbourside Poets, also for five years. She is presently the leader of Ozku (haiku) and Moonrise (tanka), both small master classes in Sydney. Her free verse and haiku collections, ‘Stinging the Silence’, ‘Tangible Shadows’ and ‘Sketching Light’ (the latter containing tanka and haibun too) were published by Ginninderra Press. She is not sure if free verse gave her up or she gave up free verse . . . she writes only haiku, tanka and haibun now . . . but with a passion.

Dean A. Brink
Tamsui, New Taipei City, Taiwan
Dean A. Brink’s poetry reflects experiences growing up in rural Washington State, attending schools in Seattle, Chicago, and Tokyo, as well as living on a Kibbutz and traveling widely. He now lives in Taiwan with his family and is an associate professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Chiao Tung University. His poetry has appeared in Columbia Poetry Review, Cordite Poetry Review, Exquisite Corpse, Frogpond, Going Down Swinging, New Writing, Portland Review (online), and many other journals and anthologies, including In Protest: 150 Poems for Human Rights (2013). He composes tanka in Japanese with the Taiwan Poetry Association (Taiwan kadan) as well as verse in English. His research on American, Japanese, and Chinese poetry appears in various venues, including “Richard Wright’s search for a counter hegemonic genre: The anamorphic and matrixial potential of haiku” in Textual Practice. An earlier essay is his “John Ashbery’s “37 Haiku” and the American Haiku Orthodoxy.” He maintains a blog of poetry and sound work: Taiwan Scooter Poet ( and is currently working on a film about tanka poets in Taiwan.

Ernesto P. Santiago
Ernesto P. Santiago enjoys exploring the poetic myth of his senses, and has recently become interested in the study of haiku and its related forms.

Gerry Jacobson
Canberra, ACT, Australia
Gerry Jacobson writes tanka in the cafes of three cities. Canberra, where he lives. Sydney and Stockholm, where his grandchildren live. He has just published a chapbook ‘Dancing with Another Me’, a collection of ‘tanka prose’ pieces about dance.

Joanne Watcyn-Jones
New South Wales, Australia
Joanne Watcyn-Jones is a member of Ozku, the Sydney based, haiku dedicated poetry group formed by Dawn Bruce in 2010. In early 2011, Ozku incorporated Moonrise, a tanka specific discussion group into its format. In 2012, Ozku produced their first anthology, raking stones, a collection of haiku, tanka and haibun. Joanne is a regular contributor to Eucalypt: a tanka journal.

John Tehan
Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA
John Tehan lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where he reads some, writes some and ponders this and that. His tanka have appeared in Atlas Poetica, Ribbons and Bright Stars, as well as in several ATPO Special Features. John lives a short and uneasy distance from the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant, located on Cape Cod Bay in Plymouth, America’s Hometown. Pilgrim has been called a “carbon copy” of Fukushima Daiichi in terms of its age, design and potential for disaster.

Joy McCall
Norwich, England
Joy McCall is a paraplegic amputee following a motorcycle crash. Her kinfolk, friends, nature, love, and poetry keep her sane. She spent much of her life in the States and Canada but now lives in Norwich, England, where she was born a year before the bombs fell. Keibooks has published three of her books of tanka and more are planned.

Kath Abela Wilson
California, USA
Kath Abela Wilson is fortunate to live very close to Caltech campus in Pasadena where cutting edge experiments and scientific discoveries happen. She regularly attends lectures by JPL scientists and seminars in physics, chemistry, and astronomy by world renowned scientists. She travels the world to conferences with her Caltech mathematician husband Rick Wilson, writing poetry about their adventures.

Ken Sawitri
Ken Sawitri was born in Blora, Central Java, Indonesia, and completed her degree in psychology at the University of Indonesia (1993). She was the Psychology & Education editor of Ayahbunda magazine (1995–1998).

Liz Moura
East Taunton, Massachusetts, USA
Liz Moura lives in a converted factory in New England. She works with elders in a small town. Her work has appeared in Shamrock, Frogpond, Chrysanthemum and Atlas Poetica.

Magdalena Dale
Bucharest, Romania
Magdalena Dale was born in, and lives in, Bucharest, Romania. She is a member of the Romanian Society of Haiku and of the Romanian Writers’ Society. She has published in several magazines in her country and abroad. Her work can be found in some national bilingual anthologies and abroad anthologies. She was coeditor along with other seven tanka colleagues from other countries. of „Take Five tanka anthology”, volume three, 2010 and volume 4, 2011, editor in chief M. Kei USA. She wrote two tanka books, a haiku book and a renga book together with the poet Vasile Moldovan.

Marianne Paul
Ontario, Canada
Marianne Paul is a Canadian novelist and poet whose tanka and haiku have appeared in numerous journals both online and in hard copy. She lived many years ago in a small community very close to a nuclear reactor.

Michael G. Smith
Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
Michael G. Smith was a staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. His poetry and prose have been published in Atlas Poetica, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Cider Press Review, Haibun Today, Nimrod, The Santa Fe Literary Review, and other journals. No Small Things was published by Tres Chicas Books in 2014. The Dippers Do Their Part, a collaboration with artist Laura Young of haibun and katagami, will be published by Miriam’s Well in 2015.

Miriam Sagan
Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
I blog at Miriam’s Well ( I’m the author of 25 books, including the recent collection from Sherman Asher, SEVEN PLACES IN AMERICA: A Poetic Sojourn. Recently won New Mexico Literary Arts Gratitude Award in Poetry, and have received the Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. I also do text and grassroots installations most recently at Salem Art Works and at The Betsy Hotel.

Neal Whitman
California, US
Neal Whitman lives in Pacific Grove, California, with his wife, Elaine. Both are members of the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society which meets every fall at the Asilomar Conference Center a mile down the street from their front door. Motto Chez Whitman: If you are lucky enough to live by the ocean, you are lucky enough. Monterey Bay inspires their haiku and tanka.

Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand
Patricia Prime lives in Auckland, New Zealand. She is co-editor of the haiku magazine, Kokako, reviews/interviews editor of Haibun Today, and is a reviewer for Takahe , Atlas Poetica and Metverse Muse She co-edited, with Australian poets, Amelia Fielden and Beverley George, the tanka collection 100 Tanka by 100 Poets and edited with Dr. Bruce Ross and others, the contemporary world haiku anthology A Vast Sky. With French poet Giselle Maya, Patricia recently published a collection of collaborative tanka sequences, haibun and tanka prose entitled Shizuka.

Pravat Kumar Padhy
Odisha, India
Pravat Kumar Padhy, a graduate from IIT Dhanbad, loves to blend science with literature. 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, Acorn, Kokako, Presence, Issa’s Untidy Hut, The Bamboo Hut, Modern Haiku, tinywords 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, 2013, UNESCO International Year of Water Co-operation, 2013 and The Kloštar Ivanic’ International Haiku Contest.

Ron Truax
Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
Ron Truax lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His poetry in many forms has been published in various journals and anthologies.

Samantha Sirimanne Hyde
Denistone NSW, Australia
Samantha Sirimanne Hyde was born in Sri Lanka and now lives in Australia. She is grateful to have recently crossed paths with the exquisite world of haiku, tanka and other Japanese poetry forms.

Sanford Goldstein
Shibata, Japan
Sanford Goldstein has been writing tanka for more than 50 years.

© 2015