Turn the Other Cheek : Nonviolent Resistance and Peaceful Protest Tanka

“What does your peace of mind mean in a time as troubled as ours? To be troubled in a troubled time seems to me to be a citizen. Grief is our kinship with the increasingly blighted world around us . . .”

~Steven Jenkinson, “Death Phobia and Grief Illiteracy: How They Distance Us from One Another, Our Planet, and Our World Crisis”

just when we thought
it couldn’t get any worse
we stopped thinking
it couldn’t get
any worse

Where does awareness begin? What frees us from our cocoon of comfort and complacency? Large-scale movements? Mass media feeds? Can these persuade us to get up off the couch? Or is the catalyst more visceral — a twisting intuition in the gut that tells us something is not right? Or more personal — an innocent victim known to us, an illness or injury sustained? Or might awareness arise from an underlying sense of kinship — the dissolution of another’s otherness, such that his or her suffering suddenly becomes our own? It seems howsoever we open the door and choose to step through, awareness instantly hands us a To Do list — a burden of obligation and responsibility.

The tanka curated in this Peaceful Protest Special demonstrate not only the contributing poets’ heightened awareness, but their willingness to accept that burden and carry it through to action. There is a boundless energy crackling within these poems that embodies the bright, illuminated, awake aesthetic the Japanese call akarui. Even the quietest of these tanka demands we take notice. Each resounds simultaneously with a bold YES — yes, I will open my eyes, yes I will stand up, yes I will act; and a bold NO — no I will not tolerate this, no it is not okay, no I will not give up or give in. There is a flamboyance to these poems, a courage and a grief. There is sacrifice and resilience and persistence. There is a beautiful readiness to face ugliness head-on — to make trouble, to make right, to make due, to make peace. There is a laudable humanity and integrity — a brave inclination to speak truth. Most importantly, there is an open invitation to unite and become part of a growing solidarity based around an insistence that we can — and must — do better.

Subjects in the selected tanka, while diverse and wide-ranging in scale, necessarily represent only a fraction of potential protest topics. Among other relevant issues addressed in submissions were school shootings, immigration, the Me Too movement, gay rights, the U.S. Census, and human trafficking. Challenges inevitably arise in rendering such crucial concerns into poetry, however; even the most masterful poet struggles to transform urgent information from sound bite into tanka. The poets assembled herein are exceptional in their ability to honor the essence of that centuries-old form in concert with the modern spirit of resistance.

The sequencing of their poems is an attempt to move from large-scale public protests, through the individual awareness, observation and introspection they engender, to the small personal actions which arise in response. The intention is to draw attention to the circular potential of resistance, and to demonstrate the way those small actions build the energy which once more transforms into large-scale movements. This is how we engage. This is how we make a difference.

“An extraordinary alchemy can take place when people follow their inner directives to stand up and face squarely the dire odds of biosphere survival. These actions involve extraordinary outer and inner courage, which can nurture a profound activism. The gifts provided by the crisis at hand are the conditions that make possible widespread shifts in political identity, purpose and consciousness.”

 —  Dahr Jamail, The End of Ice

Perhaps the place to begin resisting is not in asking, “How can we live with all of this?” but, “How can we all live, consciously, with ourselves?” To choose awareness with all the sacrifice and grief it entails, to enact — courageously, humanely and with grace — that which we believe to be right, to be, as Gandhi urged, the change we wish to see in the world, does not guarantee that change. But it does catalyze an inner evolution in individual consciousness. And just as each drop from a melting glacier has the potential to raise the level of the world’s oceans, each drop of individual awareness can raise the collective consciousness of us all.

I am incredibly grateful to M. Kei and Atlas Poetica for creating a space and trusting me to edit this challenging Tanka Special at this pivotal historical moment. My sincere thank you to each and every poet who sent work. It was my great privilege to read your poems — I have learned and grown in unforeseen ways because you shared them with me. It is remarkable and well worth relating that every single writer who submitted work for this endeavor had at least one poem on my shortlist. This indicates to me that, when given the opportunity, poets have plenty to say on these critical issues — and the practiced skill to articulate it in tanka form. Finally, my gratitude to all the readers. October 2, 2019 marked both an International Day of Nonviolence and Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday. May the poems and ideas herein inspire you to honor such days with meaningful action. ~ANH

Edited and Introduced by Autumn Noelle Hall

Selected Tanka

1) Kath Abela Wilson

speaking the silence of trees
my myriad selves lined up
on earth ad infinitum
wearing flowery hats
reading resistance poems

~Pasadena, California, USA

2) Susan Weaver

inauguration day — 
I cut big orange letters
RISE UP . . .
picturing myself at the rally
first time in a hijab

Progressive groups in Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA, conducted a “Hijab Solidarity Day” rally January 20, 2017.

~Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA

3) Chen-ou Liu

does not own my body . . .

arm in arm
rows of young women wearing
red cloaks and white bonnets

~Ajax, Ontario, Canada

4) Barbara A. Taylor

flying banners
amidst supportive crowds
urgent calls
for medicinal

~Mountain Top, NSW, Australia

5) Kenneth Slaughter

my parents
didn’t quite see it
like that . . .
a badge of honor
going to jail

~Worcester, Massachusetts, USA

6) Michael Ketchek

at the demonstration
not because I believe
it will end this war
just to say
not in my name

~Rochester, New York, USA

7) Pamela A. Babusci

the Vietnam war
there wasn’t
a violent bone
in my dead cousin’s body

~Rochester, New York, USA

8) Linda Jeannette Ward

on her knees
beside her bleeding lover
a black woman
live streams the cop and the gun
 — King, shining in this Diamond

In honor of Diamond Reynolds, who live-streamed the aftermath of her boyfriend being fatally shot by a police officer in July, 2016.

~Coinjock, North Carolina, USA

9) Ella Wagemakers

war in, war out
and still she goes to work
to pay her debts
until her house becomes
an independent country

~Breda, The Netherlands

10) Tim Gardiner

silent protest
on Mount Rushmore . . .
an equinox sunset,
shadows beneath
granite eyes

~Manningtree, Essex, United Kingdom

11) Gerry Jacobson

plus layers of delusion . . .
the people
who control us
are out of control

~Canberra, Australia

12) Marilyn Shoemaker Hazelton

a larger house
or planet slaughter
is not the way
to escape
our fear of dying

~Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA

13) Marcyn Del Clements

dead of starvation
lying in a pool
of her own blood
the grey whale’s bare ribs
a question mark of bone

~Claremont, California, USA

14) Tish Davis

as a seal
struggles to breathe — 
is my name on that bag?
my identity now linked
to what can be used again

~Concord Township, Ohio, USA

15) Sandra Renew

if our peacenik personae
take the line of least resistance
Ohm’s law dictates
we must equal evil’s strength — 
not steel, but bamboo

~Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

16) Pat Geyer

sunflowers glow bright . . .
ordinary symbols of
nuclear disarmament

~East Brunswick, New Jersey, USA

17) Susan Burch

garden table
crossing my legs
the other way
so I don’t disrupt
the spider’s web

~Hagerstown, Maryland, USA

18) Ignatius Fay

takes time
but I bank in person
to force
the bank to maintain
human tellers

~Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

19) Patricia Kennelly

at the library
titles break silence’s spine
liberty of thought
binds every turn of the page
 — re-shelve the propaganda

~Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA

20) Michael H. Lester

I’ve had my share
of alley-picked furnishings
the discarded trappings
of materialistic excess

~Los Angeles, California, USA

21) Matthew Caretti

just one hour
for the planet
seems too little
turning off the lights
every day for a candle

~Johor Bahru, Malaysia

22) David Rice

live streaming
each drop of melting ice
if enough of us followed
shared tearful selfies . . .
maybe then?

~Berkeley, California, USA

23) Charles Harmon

corporate cuisine
cooking up cravings and cash
creepy chemicals — 
on the home front keeping it real
organic lifestyle for the kids

~Los Angeles, California, USA

24) Tracy Davidson

politicians say
they should stay in their classrooms
my daughter
learns more about the world
fighting for its future

~Warwickshire, United Kingdom

25) Don Miller

all the children
holding pinwheels . . .
harnessing the power
in their hands

~Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA

Contributor Bios:

1) Kath Abela Wilson from Pasadena, California, travels to scientific, musical and poetic gatherings with her husband Rick Wilson a mathematician at Caltech and world flute collector and player. For almost twenty years they have performed poetry and music that draws together countries and cultures and hosted countless gatherings at their home of poets and musicians on site.

2) Susan Weaver, a former fitness, bicycling and travel journalist, writes poetry in free verse, as well as tanka and tanka prose. Her work appears in a number of journals, including red lights, Moonbathing, and Ribbons, and has been anthologized in Skylark Publishing’s Earth: Our Common Ground and elsewhere. She is tanka prose editor for Ribbons, journal of the Tanka Society of America.

3) Chen-ou Liu lives in Ajax, Ontario, Canada. He is the author of five books, including Following the Moon to the Maple Land (First Prize, 2011 Haiku Pix Chapbook Contest) and A Life in Transition and Translation (Honorable Mention, 2014 Turtle Light Press Biennial Haiku Chapbook Competition). His tanka and haiku have been honored with many awards.

4) Barbara A. Taylor writes, “Each day demands that I write and that my fingers touch and feel the earth.” Her free verse poems, renku, haiga, haibun, haiku, tanka, and other Japanese short form poetry appear in many international journals and anthologies online and in print, including Eucalypt, Frogpond, Atlas Poetica, Wisteria, Skylark, Kokako, Modern English Tanka, Red Lights, TinyWords, Contemporary Haibun Online, and others. Barbara lives in the Rainbow Region, Northern NSW, Australia.

5) In 2011, Ken Slaughter came to the realization that most of his poems tend to be brief. He began searching for a short poetry form and discovered tanka. Ken’s tanka have been published in many online and print journals, including Ribbons, Atlas Poetica, Red Lights, Cattails, and Moongarlic. In 2015 he won first prize in the Tanka Society of America annual contest. Ken has previously served as vice president of the Tanka Society of America.

6) Michael Ketchek prefers hiking, dark beer, baseball and poetry to almost everything else.

7) Founder/editor of Moonbathing : a journal of women’s tanka, Pamela A. Babusci is an internationally award-winning haiku, tanka and haiga artist. In addition to logo and cover designs for prominent poetry journals, Pamela’s accomplishments include two tanka collections — A Thousand Reasons and A Solitary Woman. Through a deep desire to be creative daily, Pamela has mastered mediums such as abstract painting, jewelry making, sculpting, collage, Japanese sumi-e and calligraphy, which in turn feed her spirit and give her life meaning.

8) Linda Jeannette Ward’s tanka poetry has been published internationally, and in two collections: A Frayed Red Thread (Clinging Vine Press, 2000) and Scent of Jasmine and Brine (Inkling Press, 2007). She won first prize for her tanka in the San Francisco International Haiku Senryu and Tanka Contest (2013 and 2018), The British Haiku Society Awards (2014 and 2017), and The Tanka Society of American Tanka Competition (2009 and 2017).

9) Ella Wagemakers has two self-published books — Sorrows of the Chameleon and Metal Ox Moon. Ella is married and works as a university lecturer in Rotterdam. Her hobbies include traveling, photography, genealogy, and writing.

10) Tim Gardiner is an ecologist, editor, poet, and children’s author from Manningtree in Essex, UK. His tanka have appeared in Atlas Poetica, Ribbons and Skylark. Tim has had four collections of poetry published, the latest being the sky, taken away, released by Yavanika Press in 2019. He currently edits the tanka prose section of Haibun Today.

11) Gerry Jacobson lives in a Canberra suburb. He has been writing tanka daily for ten years and enjoys its challenges. He writes about his experiences, memories, and feelings. Gerry dotes on four young grandchildren and visits them in Sydney and in Stockholm.

12) Marilyn Shoemaker Hazleton edits red lights, an international tanka journal, and is past President of the Tanka Society of America. Rostered as a teaching artist with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, she has taught in public and private schools, a prison halfway house, and other settings. Marilyn approaches tanka as a pathway for empathy, understanding, and awareness. In writing and editing, she is looking for ways to creatively persist during this tumultuous time.

13) When not writing, Marcyn Del Clements enjoys her other favorite activities: traveling, wildlife watching and fly-fishing. She also likes to collect stamps, sing, play recorders and is learning the harp. Marcy’s published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Appalachia, Eureka Literary Magazine, Flyway, frogpond, Hollins Critic, Literary Review, Lyric, Modern Haiku, Pilgrimage, Ribbons, Sijo West, Snowy Egret, The Worcester Review and others. She also appears occasionally in on-line journals such as: contemporary haibun online and Haibun Today.

14) Tish Davis lives in northern Ohio. Her work has appeared in various journals including Atlas Poetica, Skylark, Haibun Today, Modern Haibun and Tanka Prose, Ribbons, Red Lights, Contemporary Haibun Online, and others. When she isn’t busy with work and grandchildren, she enjoys exploring the local parks with her husband and three dogs.

15) Sandra Renew is an Australian poet. Her ongoing project is the interrogation of gender presentation and the LGBTIQAA gender discourses. Her poetry comments on contemporary issues and questions including war, language, environment, climate and the planet’s health, translation, border crossings, dissent, gender. Her work is informed by many years working in war zones, in Indigenous communities and on the fringes of heterosexuality.

16) Pat Geyer lives in East Brunswick, New Jersey, USA. Her home is surrounded by the parks and lakes where she finds her inspiration in Nature. Published in several journals, she is an amateur photographer and poet.

17) Susan Burch is a good egg.

18) Ignatius Fay is a retired invertebrate paleontologist who writes poetry in various Japanese short form styles — haiku, tanka, haibun, tanka prose and rengay. His poems have appeared in many of the most respected print and online journals. In 2012, in collaboration with Irene Golas, he published a collection entitled Breccia. Ignatius designs and edits News, the monthly online bulletin of the Haiku Society of America. He resides in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

19) Patricia Kennelly is a poet and writer who currently lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. While she is most comfortable writing about the natural world and the beauty of place, she supports and encourages nonviolent resistance and peaceful protests. Most recently her work has appeared in Nourish Poetry, red lights, MycoEpithalamia: Mushroom Wedding Poems, and Poet’s Market.

20) Michael H. Lester is a CPA and attorney living in Los Angeles, California. Passionate about short-form poetry, Michael has been widely published in prestigious poetry journals and has won numerous awards; in addition, he has served as editor for two Atlas Poetica Tanka Specials. Michael’s recent publications include an illustrated children’s book, Cassandra and the Strange Tale of the Blue-Footed Boobies, as well as a book of poetry, Notes from the Commode.

21) Matthew Caretti began composing short poems in 2009. His work has since appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka, vol. 4, Neon Graffiti: Tanka of Urban Life, and Atlas Poetica: Stacking Stones. His first chapbook, Harvesting Stones, was just published as the winner of the Snapshot Press eChapbook Award. Originally from Pennsylvania, Matthew currently resides in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, where he teaches at an international school.

22) David Rice has been the editor of the Tanka Society of America’s tri-annual journal, Ribbons, since 2012. A life-long love of birds, and in more recent years, an abiding affection for his grandchildren inform his collections, Why We Bird and The Grandfather Poems. A new book of tanka gathered along the John Muir Trail is forthcoming.

23) Charles Harmon, science teacher, lives and works in Los Angeles, California, and enjoys cooking for his wife and three children. Charles has spent over five years overseas in some sixty-seven countries traveling, travailing . . .

24) Tracy Davidson lives in Warwickshire, England, and writes poetry and flash fiction. Her work has appeared in various publications and anthologies, including: Poet’s Market, Mslexia, Atlas Poetica, Writing Magazine, Modern Haiku, The Binnacle, A Hundred Gourds, Shooter, Journey to Crone, The Great Gatsby Anthology, WAR and In Protest: 150 Poems for Human Rights.

25) Don Miller has been living in the Chihuahuan Desert of southern New Mexico, USA for over 30 years, and when the occasion has presented itself, he has shared his daily bread with those lost and in search of survival in and safe passage through an increasingly inhospitable landscape.

Autumn Noelle Hall and her husband Gary share their Colorado home with bears, mountain lions, hummingbirds and other threatened wildlife. Deeply troubled by our anthropogenic Climate Emergency’s extinction escalation, Autumn harnesses her Eco-grief to generate action. Her efforts to raise consciousness while lowering her carbon footprint include a plant-based diet, refusing airline travel, planting pollinator-friendly native species, co-hosting an I Ching/Tao de Ching study group, and this Peaceful Protest Tanka Special.

© 2019