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Three Trees. Sumiko Koganei. Japanese kanji and English on facing pages. Hard cover, dust jacket, 238 pp., 5 x 8". Contact author at 1-10-12 Honkoma-gome, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 113-0021 Japan.
Tanka, as they are written down, have a way of marking time. Usually the essence of the season remains beside an indication of the emotions of the author at that particular instant of feeling. Thus, as one reads back through the poems one has collected over the years, an invisible graph charts the journeys of the heart and mind.
Thus Sumiko Koganei celebrates her fiftieth wedding anniversary with a book of tanka poems – Three Trees – which pinpoints and illuminates personal and public moments in the author's life. Be prepared for long journeys. Ms. Koganei is equally at home in Europe and Japan, so her poems are liberally sprinkled with French, German, Latin and Italian words as she translates her poems from the Japanese. Even so, she maintains the 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic count in English as if it was an easy thing to do.
Sometimes newcomers to tanka from haiku wonder what the difference is between the two forms, besides the line numbers and length. One answer to the question is: tanka allows the use of fantasy, as in Sumiko Koganie's tanka:
On the stage, there were
Lots of flowers, white, mauve and pink,
The huge photograph
Of the late professor
Seems to admire their perfume . . .
This poem, from the section titled "The Poetry Reading Circle" – one of the nine sections into which the book is divided, continues the engagement of this particular ability:
The rich baritone
Of Dr. Moore's recitation
Of his own poems
Flows from the gorgeous salon,
To the green trees in the garden.
It is one thing to write about one's daily happenings. It takes a radically altered mindset to perceive the smallest incident as poetry. As you see in Sumiko Koganei's tanka, it takes the heart of a poet.
The tanka are generously set three to a page on the ivory paper. The design of the division pages carries out the golden theme while giving the copious collection direction and containment.
Father Neal Henry Lawrence, O.S.B., the well-known tanka writer of Shining Moments, wrote the Introduction to Three Trees giving the reader an overture to, not only Ms. Koganei and her work, but also to tanka in English.
TANKA TALES: And Various Works in Traditional Tanka Form. James Kirkup. University of Salzburg, 1997. Perfect bound, 104 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, $10.00. ISBN: 3-7052-0127-1. Distributed by Drake International Services, Market House, Market Place, Deddington Oxford OX15 0SF, England, Phone: 01869 338240; Fax: 01869 338310 or International Specialized Book Services Inc., 5804 NE Hassalo St., Portland OR 97213-3644. Phone: 503.287.3093; Fax: 503.280.8832.
Since James Kirkup has turned the focus of his writing from haiku to tanka – he is no longer President of The British Haiku Society – he has had a magnificent outpouring of new works which have already been compiled into books. Just a year ago, Kirkup's book, A Book of Tanka was reviewed here in Lynx. And now, already in January, came his newest book – Tanka Tales.
Tanka Tales continues the path Kirkup made in Tanka Sequences: From a Tale by Jacob Grimm, an unbound collection made by Mutsuo Shikuya, in which Kirkup retells fables and legends using the syllable count of traditional tanka. In order to make his lines, which are basically prose, adhere to the form, he uses punctuation and ignores the function of line breaks to indicate syntax pauses.
Just deciding to present material in this manner is not enough to make me question whether the resulting stanzas are 'really' tanka. Geraldine C. Little followed exactly the same maneuver in her book, More Light, Larger Vision (AHA Books, 1992). The difference is: Little understood the purpose and use of the pivot or twist in tanka and used it in most of her poems. One of the aspects which sets tanka apart from the other poetry genre is that the two sections contain a shift from one part to the other. The upper three-line haiku-like portion is called in Japanese, kami-no-ku and the lower two lines are named shimo no ku. One method of increasing the shift between the two parts was to have different people write each of them. This gave rise to tan-renga, the shortest renga you can write. This is still a good exercise for persons wanting to overcome the urge to connect the upper and lower sections of tanka too closely.
This shift is usually made by change of voice, place, person or even, reality when the author moves to vision, fantasy, memory or dream.
It is one thing to "tell a story" in 5-7-5-7-7 syllable stanzas, but a much more intricate process to make the complex-style of tanka out of each stanza. It is not that James Kirkup does not know how to write a tanka. He does and when he does – as in some of his own tanka sequences in Part 3 of Tanka Tales – he writes exemplary tanka. I just have trouble then, when in his Introduction – "Tanka Renaissance"— to Tanka Tales he chides (gently, but nevertheless) the Editors of Lynx for publishing 'experimental' tanka (non 5-7-5-7-7) and then soundly denounces Leza Lowitz for her modern and sometimes very brief translations of contemporary Japanese women's tanka in a long rainy season (Stone Bridge Press, 1994).
I am not eager to get into a debate about the syllable count controversy, because I feel the more defining and more interesting indications of a tanka can be used regardless of the syllable count. I simply question how one can so stoically defend one aspect of tanka and yet consistently ignore others. But I could be wrong! It could be that others will be delighted by this 'new' method of remolding prose. Perhaps if one is not so set on presenting tanka as a new (to us in English) genre, one – I – could relax and simply enjoy this succinct method of story telling, which does have a strong relationship to the stanzas of ballads. Still, even ballads rarely ignore grammatical syntax of the end-of-the-line break.
Sections One and Two of Tanka Tales are the retelling of well-known fables of cultures from the East and West. The second half of the book, divided into two sections, presents a series of tanka sequences by James Kirkup on the various influences of his life extending from child abuse to the pottery of Bernard Leach. There is a tendency for Kirkup to go philosophical on the reader, filling the page with sage advice or insights on life and writing in tanka form. However, when he stops that, looks around the physical world before him, enters it to find his tanka, something magical happens and he truly becomes a poet worthy of our honor. This is the proper point to proceed to Kirkup's other new book this year.
PIKADON: An Epic Poem. James Kirkup. University of Salzburg, 1997. Perfect bound, 134 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, $15.00. ISBN: 3-7052-0128-X. Distributed by Drake International Services, Market House, Market Place, Deddington Oxford OX15 0SF, England, Phone: 01869 338240; Fax: 01869 338310 or International Specialized Book Services Inc., 5804 NE Hassalo St., Portland OR 97213-3644. Phone: 503.287.3093; Fax: 503.280.8832.
Pikadon means, James Kirkup tells the reader in the Foreword, "the flash-explosion of an atom bomb" such as experienced by the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945. This book, Pikadon, which is a dramatic poem, is Kirkup's tribute to the people who have been affected by these acts. The book is dedicated to Fumiko Miura, Professor Emeritus of Keio University of Tokyo, and fortunately, contains translations of 12 of her excellent tanka.
Pikadon is an epic poem because it tells an epic story. And as for such a story, no one genre seems large enough, so Kirkup has wisely, and since he is so talented, used a variety of poetics to change pace and place and voice as he recounts the many stories which have come from the hibakusha – survivers of the atom bomb blasts.
As Kirkup piles horror upon horror, poem upon poem, the tender reader will find him/herself laying the book aside. This is not a page-turner. It IS poetry at its strongest and gutsiest. And it is hard to read and hard to take. But when one feels (still) a certain responsibility for the bombing of Japan, one forces oneself to at least read (how neat and antiseptic this becomes and yet how ghastly) the individual stories. Strong, strong, strong. Nothing is held back. As in the flash that destroyed so much, everything is illuminated, and Kirkup looks at it directly and tells us what he sees.
I admit I have not yet read the complete book which arrived in January. Yet out of all the poetry books which have been published in the last half of this ending century, Pikadon seems the only important one. These stories must be saved, and Kirkup has used every poetic trick in his long years of writing to carry the images to the top. There is nothing to gripe about in Pikadon. Kirkup gave himself and his poetic powers to such a high need there is no error.
It is not tanka, but Kirkup's ballad set to the tune of "Away in the Manger" is such a tour de force that I am hoping it will convince you to get this book as no words of mine could do.
Our New Baby: A Nativity for Now
Away in brown paper
a monster is born:
his bones black with strontium
his bowels all torn,
A test in the unclean sky
showered dust where he lay –
no nuclear deterrent
keeps leukemia at bay.
His heart is inhuman
his sex is obscure –
the ox and the ass
are six-headed for sure.
The little boy Jesus
no crying he makes –
but the ox and the ass
frighten him when he wakes.
A star in the bright sky
made his gold halo melt,
radiated the shepherds
and kings as they knelt.
His bald head inflated
with fallout so free –
he's as radioactive
as an H-babe can be.
His mother's womb withered
and she burst with his birth,
who was born blind to save us
from this hell here on earth.
Kirkup has envisioned Pikadon as a stage production with certain parts indicating "film" or "ballet" and surely the above is meant to be sung by a choir. Who will take this work in hand and give it the driving force it needs to be seen by the numbers of people who should see it whether they really want to or not? It deserves a wider audience. The question is whether we have all become too complacent about the bombs, the devastation – and forgetting there are still victims.
As Fumiko Miura's tanka reminds us:
Since I was informed
of my fatal illness, I
have endured eight times
the surgeon's knife, I turn now
to tanka, as proof of life.
TURNING MY CHAIR. Pat Shelley. Press Here, 1997. Perfect bound with special papers, 7 x 10", 64 pp., $15.00. Press Here, 248 Beach Park Blvd., Foster City, CA 94044.
Pat Shelley died on December 28th, 1997, in Saratoga, California after a short illness. For her memorial service, Turning My Chair was made available. But this is not the hasty gathering of some of her tanka to ease the pain of parting, but an admirable addition to her other three fine books of poetry and her artwork which she had in preparation.
Pat Shelley had a vibrant inner glow that expanded outward from her tiny being to embrace the listener with the feeling that whatever Pat was saying was filled with love and joy of living. I cannot accept the idea that she is dead because she is not gone. For me, she remains in her books, in her words, in her gentle smiling observations. Maybe she understood this, because the preamble to Turning My Chair prophetically begins with:
My tanka have no order in terms of linear time. They are little parts of my life. They start where they start and drift along as if time were all of a piece, and I don't know what comes first – young days, old days, sorrow, joy, the present moment. What comes next may have already happened, and I haven't got there yet.
Surely it was such thinking that gave us the title poem from the collection.
if I just turn my chair
the forms of things are not
as they were a moment ago
As one comes to the end of Turning My Chair, you realize Pat knew this was her last book for us. Why else would she leave us with:
I leave these poems
that I was here
also these white roses
azaleas and chrysanthemum
SASSY: A Collection of Linked Poems. Alexis K. Rotella and Carlos Colón. Tragg Publications, Shreveport, LA, 1998, iii + 29 pages, paper, saddle-stapled, 8.5 x 11", $11.00 ppd. Order from Carlos Colón, 185 Lynn Ave., Shreveport, LA 71105-3523.
Regular readers of Lynx are familiar with the linked verse of this very talented duo. But reading a whole book of their various types of linked works, watching these word acrobats perform their magic, seeing mind set off mind in rapid fire is an experience well worth the ten bucks this book costs. You may think you know their work but until you see the breadth and width of their wit and jabbing satire you have not totally experienced the human condition as viewed by razor-sharp repartee.
Reading the book, I kept having the feeling, "finally these two have met their perfect linking partners." They are on the same wave-length but enough different that you can usually tell who wrote what even without the italics. Some people are afraid of collaborative work. They fear "the other person will dilute their own (great) works" or that "they don't want to be influenced by someone else – they just want to be pure". This duo proves that when two well-matched writers play off of each other's intuition and inventiveness, the new work can be raised to an even higher level.
Both Alexis Rotella, who has been writing and publishing since the late 70s, and Carlos Colón, who came to the scene about 10 years ago, are experienced enough to know when to follow traditional renga rules and when to give the poem the freedom it needs to become a new and exciting expression.
The title of Sassy and the saucy yellow cover set the scene. The artwork on the cover by Marlene Rudginsky, though from The Flower Speaks Deck, published by U.S. Games, could be a portrait of Alexis herself as she speeds off to acupuncture school and praxis. The book is dedicated to Nasira Alma – another linking partner who worked well with Alexis. Carlos Colón is Head of the Shreveport Memorial Library to support his writing habits.
Wolf Walk. Bob Gray. Limitedition, 675 E Road #218, Warminster, PA 18974. Staple bound, 5.5" x 8.5, 20 pp. Ask and you shall receive. Send money, too.
One benefit of getting a copy of Wolf Walk is having the only perfect version of Bob Gray's Montmartre: April, which I thoroughly mangled in Lynx a couple years ago. In addition to the couple of works previously in Lynx, it was good to read more of Gray's very stylish haibun and sequences. One tanka, ripped out of Tumanaraming: July, (not as unfeelingly as that sounds) to show my favorite tanka in the whole book.
with cars passing
on the wet street . . .
wash me and I shall
be whiter than snow
Such a poem fits, I think, the bright gold pages with the black cover of the booklet. There is an edge – a gutsiness of Gray's writing that we need in the tanka scene to keep us from getting too sweet, too saccharine. His poems are a night on the town and the bittersweet memories in the morning. Honest. American. Male.
HOW SKY HOLDS THE SUN by Edward J. Rielly. AHA Books Online.
Rielly takes a low-key approach to tanka, making his poems from special feelings that pass across the heart in a normal day. He takes the time to capture the sensation and then to carefully craft his thoughts into poetry. The work gives the reader the impression of the importance of this daily commitment to working with words.
Edward J. Rielly chairs the English Department at Saint Joseph's College in Maine, where, among other courses, he teaches Creative Writing. He moved to Maine from the Midwest about twenty years ago with his wife, Jeanne, and their children, Brendan and Brigid. Edward Rielly has published six previous chapbooks of poetry, including four collections of haiku. His most recent book prior to How Sky Holds the Sun is Anniversary Haiku, published by Brooks Books in 1997.
beyond the stadium
foul ball floating
out of sight –
my friend and I discuss
windshields and childhood
Aside from reviewing new books, I just want to say how excited I am to bring such auspicious writers as Edward Rielly and Randy Brooks as new online AHA Books. Online books can never, and never should, replace paper books, but I also feel that we should make room in our hearts to appreciate and enjoy *books* in this new way. It is not the same, but in some ways, online books have other advantages paper books lack. To prove this to yourself, check out the next item:
BLACK ANT'S JOURNEY TO JAPAN: A MODERN TANKA SEQUENCE by Randy Brooks. AHA Books Online.
Randy Brooks directs the writing majors at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois where he also teaches computer sciences. If you know the retro-pages of AHA!Poetry, you are in for a big surprise to see Randy's book come alive in color with real photos on your screen.
A year ago April, Randy Brooks was one of the Haiku Society of America's delegates to the Haiku International Meeting in Tokyo and the resulting tour of Japan. He kept his memories in tanka, and this book records his journey. Day by day, station by station, photo by photo you go with him through the ups and downs of travel. At the end of the book is Randy's e-mail so you can instantly write to him with your comments. Our world is truly amazing. Don't miss this trip!
the airport runway,
my narrow road
THE WAY OF THE HAWK. Journal in the form of haibun: A year in the lives of the celebrated red-tailed hawks of Central Park. Doris Heitmeyer, 315 East 88th Street, Apt. 1F, New York, NY 10128-4922 (U.S.A). 1998, 21 pages, 5.5 x 8.5, paper, saddle-stapled. $5.00 U.S. currency ppd., from author.
Great bird stories made even better for being told with heart and infinite care. Crafted and inspired. Personal and universal. Even bird-haters would find Doris's haiku a pleasure. Don't miss getting this book. Highly recommended.
FIELD: A Circle of Haiku. Don Eulert. AHA Books, POB 767, Gualala, Ca 95445. Perfect bound, 5 x 8, two-color cover, illustrated by Marci Brealey, 120 pp., $15.00 ppd.
Don Eulert who co-edited the very first magazine for haiku in America (American Haiku with James Bull), returns after all these years (30!) with 366 haiku, one for each day of his year, while living on a ranch in Southern California. Firmly rooted in place, Eulert's haiku are timeless. Each a polished gemstone. Rejoice in his return to our small community.
AT THE EDGE OF THE WOODS: Selected Haiku, Senryu, and Sequences, 1980 - 1997. Adele Kenny. Yorkshire House Books with Muse-Pie Press, R. G. Rader, 73 Pennington Ave., Passaic, New Jersey 07055. Perfect bound, tradecover with color, 8.5" x 11", ¾ " thick with unnumbered pages, long – good and marvelous! – preface by Sister Adele Kenny, lots of book for $13.95.
So glad to see this haiku-vet back in action, to share her lovely haiku (printed one to a page for mediation and appreciation). The sequences are splendid – we have much to learn from her.
Pink Light, Sleeping. Panela Miller Ness. Small Poetry Press, pob 5342, Concord, California: 1998. Staple-bound, 5.5" x 4.5", 34 pp., full-color cover, $6.00 ppd.
Beautifully made booklet with one haiku perfectly placed per page. Poems well-done in the Shiki "sketches" style.
SNAPSHOTS: Haiku Magazine. One. Edited by John Barlow, POB 35, Sefton Park, Liverpool, L17 3EG, England. Printed by Snapshot Press. Quarterly: Overseas subscription surface mail = £14 / airmail = £16. Perfect bound, a handy 4 x 6" format, glossy full color cover, 38 pages, bios of authors. Haiku, senryu and tanka accepted.
I loved the photo on the cover. A perfect visual haiku. Many very good poems, beautifully presented. It would be a pleasure to be included in this new zine. When one compares how a haiku magazine twenty years ago made its debut and this professional presentation, one can see how far we have come.
Speaking of beautiful beginnings – a new press in Croatia – Ceres is making a big impression with its Biblioteka poezije series. Just seeing two of their books has opened my eyes to better ways of publishing books. Gated trade paper back covers, prized papers, quiet mien – such a professional job. Any poet would be glad to have their book done by Ceres. But these first two haiku poets to be so honored are Vladimir Devidé with Trenutak / The Moment and Robert Bebek with Oblici Praznine / The Shapes of Emptiness.
As you can guess from the titles, both books are bilingual in Croatian and English. Both authors are accomplished haiku writers doing what they do at their very best. Contact Robert Bebek, Franje Mladenica 6A, 51000 Rijeka, Croatia.
Another European publisher making first-rate books of haiku is Berdel Editions edited by Barbara Spiess, Lange Strasse 157, 59379 Selm, Switzerland. The twelfth in the series is by Verena Lang's hayaku - hayaku: Japanese Telegramme is in German, tastefully illustrated. Haiku are closer to English haiku methods than the German style – which can be seen as being a compliment. Worthy of being on any bookstore shelf.
Regardless of your religious orientation, you will be deeply moved by the latest novel by Danny Lliteras – The Thieves of Golgatha – given a gorgeous hard cover with full color dust jacket treatment by Hampton Roads. Danny relates the "true" story of the two thieves Jesus meets when thrown into prison before going to Golgatha for the crucifixion. Inspired writing! Truly. The best work Danny has ever done. Get The Thieves of Golgatha from your bookstore now – ISBN: 1-57174-085-6. If you read two pages you will not be able to put this book down and you will never be the same after reading it. This is the book you will buy and then get a copy for everyone you value. Promise.
Received in the mail: Hallard Press proudly introduces the first Australasian multi-author anthology of haibun – shadow-patches by Janice M. Bostok, Bernard Gadd, Catherine Mair; art by Janice M. Bostok $NZ14.95 + economy air postage. Haibun’s imagistic prose and haiku-like verse connect in the reader’s imagination and memory events or details encountered as part of a real or mind journey. Like haiku, haibun aim at insight. Janice Bostok, an Australian, has a world-wide reputation in haiku, haibun and other poetic forms. Catherine Mair and Bernard Gadd are New Zealanders widely published in their own country and overseas. (The above arrived from Bernard Gadd, without an address. The only address I have is Janice Bostok's, Campbell's Rd., Dungay, NSW 2484, Australia. Surely she will help you.)
ONE HUNDRED POETS, ONE HUNDRED POEMS. Translated by Toshi Ishihara & Linda Reinfeld. Hardcover book with illustrations, romaji and English. (taken from the e-mail) ...there's revived interest in our translation of Hyakunin Isshu: The Game of 100 Poems. We're selling them for $21.00 a box (that includes the cost of mailing in the USA): there are not many left, so if you want me to save you a set, please let me know by email ASAP. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Our translation is now available in book form as well. Kansai University Press published it last year, a very nicely done bilingual edition, hardback, with some of our own photographs. You can order it from me for $11.00 (again, cost of mailing included). Cash or checks made out to me, Linda Reinfeld, 50 Oakdale Drive, Rochester, NY 14618.
I got both cards (fantastic - modern - unconventional) and the book, which is beautifully done. The ordering by email worked smoothly and getting to know Linda was a pleasure. This project was a labor of love and shows it! Highly unusual, but a must for collectors!
Book Reviews Copyright © Jane Reichhold 1998.
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