he says I speak
differently to strangers–
perhaps he can hear
the stilled whisper of love
in a mockingbird’s song
I’m pleased to have work included in the latest (and, sadly, last) edition of M. Kei’s Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka, Volume 4. It’s a stunning and poignant collection featuring a diverse sampling of poems by more than 250 contemporary writers of the five-line genre known as tanka. With such a wealth of entries, it’s difficult–if not impossible–to pick a handful of favorites. But, perhaps, a few selections will provide a feeling for what the book has to offer readers–whether or not they already are lovers of tanka or are just discovering this rich and lyrical form.
Many of the tanka here, as Kei points out in the anthology’s introduction, express “sadness, loss and lament . . . . ” Last year–the year that the selected contributors’ poems were first published in numerous online and print journals–was marked by one of the worst natural (and nuclear) disasters mankind has experienced: the tsunami that brought so much devastation to Japan and its people. It is no surprise, then, that an undercurrent of shock and sorrow permeates the writing of many of the collection’s tanka; however, the following one–inspired by the news photograph of a young girl undergoing radiation detection in Fukushima–is especially testament to the short form’s power:
a girl on the front page–
the camera watching her
a radiation detector
sweeping over her tiny body
–Naoko Kishigami Selland
As Kei notes, the lyricism associated with tanka lends itself to ” . . . aware, the Japanese concept of transience.” And many of Take Five’s poems, like the following, resonate with a haunting acceptance of passing time, and its inevitable consequences:
is it still
has gone and the other
This is not to say, however, that the collection is in any way a “downer.” Quite the contrary. If anything, the five-line gems here run the gamut of emotions–a true reflection of what it means to be human in a world that can be by turns cruel, joyful or heartbreakingly beautiful. It seems miraculous that such brief poems have the capacity to lift us up and call attention to “small” things too often overlooked, as in:
what was beautiful
about the waterfall
was the fern
small and quiet
beside the torrent
Or that they can so tenderly express the ongoing romance between life partners, as does this one:
before falling in love
with my wife
again and again
the cries of swifts
Or the longing experienced when that kind of love is absent, so masterfully expressed by the anthology’s editor in this tanka:
of a winter moon
perhaps it knows
how I feel
without a partner
As I write this, it is hard not to reflect on the eerily serendipitous nature of this kind of collection, which seems to tap into some sort of collective unconscious. The following entry, for example, seems uncannily surreal and poignant in the wake of the poet’s own death just a few days ago:
the tiny casket–
I touch my belly
how the emptiness
continues to grow
Kei’s observations at the end of the introduction to this anthology, then, seem even more compelling. “Poems,” he writes, “are the grave-goods of poets. They are worth nothing if they are kept concealed in our hearts; it is only by sharing them that we can enrich the world around us . . . . ” Thank you, Kei. And thanks to all the editors and poets associated with this project. Thank you, all.
(The Take Five anthology is available through Amazon.com, or through Createspace.com.)
Thanks for sharing, Margaret. Oh! How I love posts that share so many works. It’s why I feel that the value of these blogs is so very worthwhile. Many thanks. Merrill
Thank you, Merrill. Of course, it’s just the tip . . . so many wonderful tanka in this collection!
I know what you mean. All we can do is keep sharing the ones that seem to carry something others can appreciate as well. Thanks for following my blog. I too can only share a tiny portion of the wonderful haiku/tanka I come across. Good poetry never gets old…
You are most welcome–about the blog. I’m excited to see your work shared in this way.
Hi, Margaret, It took me a long time to figure out how to use the blog… I still am perplexed about a lot of things so I’m tryin to keep it simple. Basically I just want to present each haiga and give time and space around each one…and end up with them all in one place.
Many thanks for your kind words. And thanks for the postings you bring to life too!
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