Two Tanka from Basia Miller

under downspout
sticky white
morning-glory ring
petal blurred horizon

Five-pound baby Huang:
neighbors offer in her name
fish-head stew
crackling pork belly
baozi dumplings pinched and steamed

In keeping with the journey theme, Basia adds: written in Seattle while my new granddaughter sleeps.

3 Questions for Davida Singer & upcoming event


1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

1 – The poetic line for me is a balancing act between minimalism and substance. I can liken my lines to Giacometti sculptures – stretched long & thin – or often broken by the rhythm that leads me. There’s always music in my head as I write, and often there are visuals too, like photo stills or dream fragments, asking to be translated into the scheme of where the poem is going. I use all lower case, with spaces as punctuation, an aesthetic choice that helps in determining words that stand free and equal, and lines laid open to layers of meaning.

2 – As an avid swimmer, yogi and bicyclist, lots of direct “body information” floats up to the surface when I’m doing these activities. The importance of breath in my work is directly informed by how my body moves through water, how it opens into asanas, how it meshes with speed and time as I ride. Then there’s that craving I get when I watch musician friends play their instruments, or visual artist friends playing with paint, clay, cameras. I want some of that! So I always write longhand first, choose my journals and writing pads, and especially pens, like lovers. And when I start, I can see and feel how the ink touches the page, how the words, the lines start forming patterns. It’s something visceral, and if I’m lucky that’s when the magic happens.

3 – I dislike that poets are notorious as depressive (or worse), solitary and staring into their own navels. That’s why I ran away from the poetry scene and started collaborating with musicians! What a joy to gig together instead of competing for a paltry prize that might sell 17 more books. Personally, it’s more comfortable and rewarding to share ideas and expand horizons with projects like naked romance where John Rangel’s music gives flight to my words. I’ve been reading my poems with jazz (and klezmer) for over 15 years, and love the excitement of the two entities creatively bumping into each other, including improvisational riffs. Right now, John and I are playing with possibilities of going multi-media, adding painter Nicole Schmoelzer’s stunning color bled abstractions, and then some video. I’m over the moon…

salazar romance #2

later you’re pedaling
cruising through splendor
tail of your shirt unfurled
like the hem of fiesta
there’s a five-pointed star
a trailer for sale off salazar road
sparkle of sagebrush
some voice far away pitches harmony
while cactus keep whistling
but why don’t the prairie dogs bark
not specifically for you
just for the romance of it
trance of chance meeting
even a black bear or two turning trashcans
over this wilderness lazy with mountains
heaped at the outskirts you think
as you circle your bike
around measuring space
can’t back away from it
more than an eyeful now now
better not bawl at the beauty
undoing your heart
daylight already too fevered for that

– Davida Singer (naked romance and then some, Aldrich Press, 2015)


Davida Singer will team up with award-winning Santa Fe composer/pianist John Rangel for the New Mexico premiere of Naked Romance at GiG Performance Space, Friday, July 10, 7:30 pm. This live performance features poetry from Singer’s latest book, which has been set to original music by Rangel, and explores the yearning for romance in an increasingly desensitized world. For this Santa Fe exclusive appearance, the performers will mix it up with Andy Zadrozny (bass) and Douglas Cardwell (drums). GiG Performance Space is located at 1808 Second Street in Santa Fe. The performance will be followed by a book signing. Tickets: $20 at door.


Davida Singer is a poet/performance artist, who has done numerous readings combining spoken word with jazz and klezmer at New York venues including The Kitchen, Zinc Bar, and Cornelia Street Café. She is the author of three collections of poetry, including Port of Call (Plain View Press, 2012), a finalist for the Audre Lorde Poetry Award, and, most recently, naked romance and then some (Aldrich Press, 2015). Singer is the recipient of four fellowships from the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico. She was also a featured artist at the 2011 SOMOS Writers Series in Taos, and has published extensively in journals. Currently, Singer is teaching writing and literature at Hunter College and School of Visual Arts in Manhattan (


A Healing Stitch


Please join Turner Carroll Gallery in celebrating the inspirational women artists from West Bengal, India, on Thursday, July 9th
Opening reception 5-7pm; Comments by founders of the women’s collective in India at 6pm 
Don’t miss the opportunity to see the exquisite embroideries telling the stories of their strength and life journeys
In India, many thousands of women, along with their children, are thrown out of their homes each year or deserted by their families. They are thrown out by in-laws when their husbands have died; deserted by their husbands who have decided to take a new wife; or left destitute because of illness which prevents them from adding their share to the family economy.
With the guidance of a compassionate western woman, devoted to empowering women worldwide, art has become the key to freedom from suffering.  It has become the medicine that heals their personal lives and transforms their villages.  Turner Carroll is proud to show the life stories these admirable female heroes have embroidered.  Using traditional kantha (embroidery on old cloth) they have pieced their lives back together, stitch by stitch.

Haiku by Michael G. Smith

It’s summer, and it seems so many of Miriam’s Well’s contributors are traveling. And writing poems en route!

Here is a haiku from the drive to Fairplay CO by Michael G. Smith

driving past
the Great Sand Dunes
pouring rain

Tanka by Karla Linn Merrifield

Taos, 6-12, 10:17 p.m.

Several sirens
along Pueblo del Sur
weekend DWIs
Crickets counter, scratchy-singing
with the syncopated owl

How To Write Tanka by Miriam Sagan

For those of you who are interested in experimenting with the form, but aren’t sure how to get started, I’m re-blogging this article.

Tanka: How to Write An Ancient Japanese Poetic Form in Contemporary English

The short Japanese forms are some of the best ways to capture image, feeling, and a sense of what is fleeting in human life. The tanka is the original Japanese poetry form, older than the haiku. Like all poetic forms that migrate from one culture and language to others, tanka has changed in its history. The tanka written in contemporary English certainly isn’t identical to the classical Japanese, but as poets we are lucky to have access to this pure and lyrical short form. Here is the basic grid for the tanka:


Line 1–5 syllables or less
Line 2–7 or less
Line 3–5 or less
Line 4–7 or less
Line 5–7 or less

You can see how it developed into the haiku, which is essentially the first three lines. But the five line form gives you more time to paint a picture. The subject matter for tanka is less restrictive than haiku, and is often about love. It is the basic form in traditional Japanese poetry. In the following tanka, translated by William Higginson, the first two lines are emotional, and the last three move into a view of nature.

thoughts of her
unendurable, I go there…
the winter’s night’s
river-wind is chill
and plovers are crying
Ki no Tsurayuki

History of Tanka

Tanka is over a thousand years old. It flourished during Japan’s Heian period (794-1185 A.C. E.) Any educated or cultured person could–and did–write tanka as a kind of appreciation–whether of cherry blossom viewing or a romantic night. Tanka wasn’t the province of poets–any literate person could be a poet. Writers often choose a paper and ink that matched the mood of the tanka and sent it with a flower. Tanka was revitalized in the early 20th century–and made more personal and emotionally direct–by Yosano Akiko. She was an early feminist who at first shocked her readers by the direct eroticism in her tanka collected in Tangled Hair. Here three of her tanka:

Disregarding right and wrong,
The next world,
We face each other
Loving and loved.


You young men!
Don’t you think about love,
Want love
Are you blind
To these red lips?


After my bath
At the hot spring,
These clothes
As rough to my skin
As the world!

(From TANGLED HAIR by Akiko Yosano– published in l901. Translated by Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda, Cheng & Tsui 2002.)

Tanka does not have to be about love, however. The Japanese poet Shiki was bedridden the last years of his life, and wrote directly from the experience:

not knowing in the least
when this illness of mine
will fade, will heal,
and still I have had these autumn flower seeds

published posthumously in l904, translated by Sanford
Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda, Tuttle, l998. These
poems cover a period from 1882 to 1902.)

Today, tanka is still widely written in Japan. Young writers continue the form and often send it as a text message–the poetic equivalent of a snapshot.

Tanka in English
Today, tanka is written widely in English. Haiku probably has more followers, but tanka is catching up. The poet Elizabeth Searle Lamb, called the “first lady of haiku” also wrote tanka. Two examples from her, written when she was in her eighties, exemplify the tanka spirit.

I walk and walk
through the house to find
the light I must have left on
~oh, July’s
full moon!

In this one, there is the charming contrast between the writer’s idea of what is happening and the actuality of the full moon–which comes as a kind of surprise at the end. The tanka is divided into a three line phrase and a two line cap–typical of traditional tanka. And then there is the following tanka, both humorous and sad:

too many hours–
she calls Emergency Response
just to hear
someone’s voice
speak her name

While the first tanka hinges on both perception and an image of light, the second is more in the social sphere. Yet it also uses the senses–in this case, sound.
Michael McClintock is a well-known practitioner of tanka in English. Although tanka are written individually, they can be grouped together for a a good effect. The following are part of a selection published in “Santa Fe Poetry Broadside.” (

just over
the ridge
that world
that goes on

three days I’ve waited
for you to cross the bridge
to my house;
at night, hearing hard rain
and a distant torrent

one flash
and it was gone —
a meteor,
at the time of sunset,
seen through honeysuckle vines

There is obvious motion, and association, from one tanka to the next here. McClintock explains: “The poems were not written as a sequence, but individually. In grouping my poems, I try to arrange them as movements within a single piece, as here. The resulting sequence is more related to how a symphony or sonata is constructed …. But I make sure that every poem also stands alone. That was also the method used in my book Letters in Time: Sixty Short Poems (Hermitage West, 2005).”

Tanka Exercises
To get started writing your own tanka, the best approach is to begin spontaneously. Try writing the tanka with a loose hand–both metaphorically and actually. That is, don’t strain for effect, capture the moment, image, or feeling, and then revise later. In Japanese, this technique is called “following the brush.”
Here are some tanka writing exercises.
1. Get a special tanka notebook, small in size, that you can carry around with you. Write a tanka a day for a week or a month–then write a tanka per week for a year. When you revise, consider discarding the ones that don’t work, and only gently fidgeting with those you like. The end result will have vitality.
2. Keep a tanka diary. In your usual journal, add a tanka to a prose entry any time you write. Does it further the prose? Contrast to it? This is a variation on the Japanese form the haibun–which combines prose and haiku.

3. Take a tanka field trip. Go someplace you find inspirational–the woods, a garden, museum, cafe, pocket park–and write a tanka sequence. See if you can write 5-10 in an hour. Respond to the scene around you–and use your senses. Again, keep the ones you like best and arrange them together. Individual tanka do not have titles–but a sequence may.

An excellent example of a group of tanka all written on one subject, and interspersed with prose, is Renee Gregorio’s collection Watershed, subtitled “Akido Tanka.” (Tres Chicas Press). Gregorio, a poet and martial arts practitioner, writes directly about akido:

he charges me
fist furled and uncoiling
timing’s everything
as I make my way around
what would otherwise floor me

and also about the influence of the art in her life:

after all of this
I make a pie and catch myself
using effort
as I sift white flour
into the green bowl

Tanka Resources

1. The Tanka Society of America is a terrific resource for tanka writers–whether advanced or just beginning. They have an excellent publication, “Ribbons,” which is open to submissions to both TSA members and nonmembers alike. The magazine includes a generous sampling of tanka, essays and reviews, and noteworthy news. It also has a special section called “Tanka Cafe.” Here a prompt is given on a theme to inspire your tanka writing. More information can be found at TSA’s editorial philosophy is stated as: “The TSA is seeking fresh material of the highest tanka standard to present to our readers. Any tanka with a sensibility that distinguishes the form will be considered. Therefore, we welcome different syllable counts, varying individual styles and techniques, plus we’re open as well to diverse yet appropriate subject material.”
2. Knowledgeable editor Jane Reichhold runs the excellent AHA site that covers Japanese forms. The site provides definition, examples, and links. For tanka specifics, look at
3. American Tanka is a U.S. publication dedicated solely to the form. Their editorial policy emphasizes the contemporary approach. “Many writers of English-language tanka use less than 31 syllables to achieve the form in English. American Tanka publishes tanka of five lines that are concise and evocative, are true to the purpose and spirit of tanka, and echo the original Japanese rhythm and structure.”


This article first appeared in “Writer’s Digest” and is copyrighted to Miriam Sagan.

“Tanka or something”–Jeanne Simonoff returns from Paris

If I wish too hard
words catapult like stardust
milky way
tune in tomorrow
at daybreak it’s gone.

jeanne simonoff, after the return to santa fe from paris.


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