American Tanka are illustrations of the light of the heart. The symbols most frequently used are the peony, flower of the bodhisattva, the sound OM, cloud forms, radiances, wisdom flames, the Dorje - representing the tool to conquer ignorance. Often the central fragment of a poem by one of the great mystics is presented, the energy generating all of these being the same. The purpose of American Tanka is to present the light of the heart to the light of the heart, that all may wake in the joy of the world. Gold and silver thread are representative of the Sanskrit word “Upavita”, the thread that connects all souls. It is appliqued to brocades to remind of the transient radiance of life. American Tanka are made to demonstrate the universal transcendent spirit of life and the central core of being, loving compassion.

Praise Prajna and Joy to the world!

Dan's American Tanka can be found at the Guild Gallery in Kerby. He is featured artist for August 2015 at Manley Art Center in Brookings, Oregon.


Dan Barker, initiator of American Tanka (poetry banners) and founder of the Home Gardening Project, is a poet, artist, and novelist. He began writing poetry while in the South China Sea on a troop ship departing DaNang at the end of 1965. The following years took him to readings in coffee houses, colleges, radio stations, teach-ins and antiwar rallies. He was published in many West Coast literary magazines.

Retreating the San Francisco State University riots in ‘70, he began publishing mystic lyric verse and short stories in other literary magazines, including Northwest Quarterly, Berkeley Barb, Portland Today, Wind Horse Review, & Antioch Review among many others. His Vietnam novel, Warrior of the Heart, was published by Burning Cities Press in ‘91, and re-issued in ’09 as The Snake That Became A Tiger. Regular White Guys, Queen Jane, Poems and Essays, and Building Free Vegetable Gardens for People in Need were published in ‘09.

In the 80’s, finding readings and print inadequate to the presentation of the radiance of mystic thought, he began creating American Tanka (poetry banners). The form is loosely based on Tibetan Thangha. Using silks, satins, metallic threads (Upavita – the thread that connects all souls), semiprecious stones and pearls to frame the thought-essence of the great mystics, often presented on handmade paper or in gold-leaf, the artist extends joy to the world.

Dan Barker is currently publishing, making and showing American Tanka, and is the director of the Home Gardening Project Foundation. After building 1400 free raised-bed vegetable gardens for low-income households in Portland’s disenfranchised neighborhoods from the ‘80s through the 90s, he established the HGP as a contributing foundation. Thousands upon thousands of free vegetable gardens have been built on the HGP model.

Notice of his work has appeared in National Geographic, Utne Reader, Smithsonian Magazine, The Congressional Record, Der Plunkt, The Sun, Organic Gardening Magazine, Rain, Catholic Digest, Reader’s Digest, Biography, Who’s Who, Australia Broadcasting Company, NPR, KATU, KPTV, ABC TV’s Home Show and Good Morning America, Chicken Soup for the Gardeners Soul, among a host of others, and has been given Renew America’s 8th annual National Environmental Sustainability Award, along with a grant from the Rodale Institute (4/’98). He was selected as one of Utne Reader’s 100 American Visionaries in ‘95.

Dan’s American Tankas and his books can be found at the Guild Gallery in Kerby, Oregon. He lives with his wife, Cynthia Cheney, on five acres of madrone woodland near the Upper Applegate River.