Chen-ou Liu's Translation Project: First English-Chinese Haiku and Tanka Blog

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Sea Foam Tanka

a kid trying
to kick sea foam back
where it came from
I remember the first time
a white man yelled at me

Runner-Up, Tanka Section, 2016 British Haiku Society Awards

Judge's Commentary: This bold and thought-provoking tanka is uncomfortable without being confrontational. It provides food for thought, in a world where it is much needed. In particular, the third line 'where it came from' is fascinating. This sentence alone, can be seen to sum up the tanka, and splendidly so. Racism is not something all of us encounter; it is multifaceted, and often hidden. Yet the poet succeeds in bringing the issue to the surface, using simple straightforward images, such as 'a white man yelled at me' and 'to kick sea foam back'. The sea in its vastness, in this context, can be seen to represent those things we cannot fully grasp or understand, something that perhaps makes us feel small, afraid even. The use of 'kick' implies aggression. Add to it, the simple recollection of an event that happened in the past – 'I remember the first time' – but is still playing on the person's mind. . . Like sea foam reaching the shore, so does a memory resurface here, prompted by the simple act of a child? This is a great example of how tanka can be used to explore personal experience in a wider cultural and political context, without losing its lyricism or reflective nature. In such, it has at its core, the power to instigate change.