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A GARNERED LIFE
Heavenly Maiden Tanka by Akiko Baba, translated by Hatsue Kawamura and Jane Reichhold. AHA Books, 1999. Perfect bound, 128 pp., with romaji and kanji versions, bibliography. $10.00 ppd.
One of the more important ideas of T. S. Eliot concerns his theory of Auditory Imagination, i.e., "the feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling, invigorating every word; sinking to the most primitive and forgotten, returning to the origin and bringing something back, seeking the beginning and the end." From the beginning of Akiko Baba's collection Heavenly Maiden Tanka to the end, my awareness of the magic of Auditory Imagination has been enhanced. It is as if her tanka were, in essence, a forgotten fragrance just remembered after its scent is released, then carried to you on wind. Her images can be understood more deeply if you recite each tanka out loud – with closed eyes. Her poetry sinks into the depths like a stone fleeing from the surface of a pond. The rhythm and sound of each word placed in its appropriate and most telling position reveal the precision of the translators, Hatsue Kawamura and Jane Reichhold.
The tanka form is a perfect medium for the thought-provoking and emotionally perceptive poetry of Akiko Baba. This collection (the first one translated into English) spans the period of time between 1955-1998.
The "grief of love" (p. 3) which might be "the secret / of the carver of sacred images," might also be the secret ingredient in many of Baba's tanka. This perceptive and insightful awareness may carry us beyond the borders of the living into the depths of the dream world, or the world of the unborn or dead. Baba's past relationship with her mother and grandmother is tainted by the pain of losing them too soon:
never knowing my mother
I did not become a mother
in a sunny place
a faceless creature
and I exchange smiles
died long, long ago
in my hometown
when I shut my eyes
snow is always falling
And, still, love lives on – in a different form, yes, but still viable, still green; and we partake of its essence every day:
has become a vegetable
as still as death
just a green heart
in her clear eyes
Perhaps this loss of a role model while growing up can explain many of the poems that explore the difficulties of redefining oneself, of garnering, with grace, one's life – especially as an independent woman – in a traditional, role-confining culture:having sharpened
ah! it is June
for that kind of work
I am called just a wife
unaware of such a thing
as an ID card
I go so very lightly
out and come back
I don't plant
as I do not plow
nor have a baby
only by seeing everything
do I garner my life
These tanka are superb examples of Baba at her very best. Other beautifully written poems reveal a redemptive grace which ultimately saves, quenching a thirsty soul: "leaving here / I will go drifting about
/ without a path / I knelt down at a low place / and drank some water" and "cherry blossoms / how many springs by passing / have grown old? / in
a body of flowing water / such a sound echoes!"
Although this is the first collection of tanka translated into English, hopefully it will not be the last; Akiko Baba's tanka is too wonderful to not read, again and again:
waking at midnight
even then when I look out
white upon white
cherry blossoms falling
forever never stopping
THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE
Geography Lens by Jane Reichhold. AHA Books: 1999. Hardcover, 8.5 x 5.5", 128 pages, $12.00 postpaid. AHA Books, pob 1250, Gualala, CA 95445.
The process of creativity is a mysterious one as are the various reasons for writing; what inspires us to explore the depths and heights of our creative being, then relate what we have found, has always been a complex activity. What we bring back from those depths – the pure sound of poetry, that pearl of great price, can either destroy us or save us.
Memory is a palpable thing when exploring the boundaries of the soul; we try to remember, we try to name the terrors and fears which may haunt us, stalk us. To name those fears, to remember those terrors are all a part of the creative process and, ultimately, it is the most harrowing and the most heroic act anyone can do – i.e., to enter the belly of the whale and survive, stronger and more alive than ever before. We have confronted the monster, the daemon which has devoured us, and we have made it our own. We have shook it until it has melted in our very own hands.
Jane Reichhold, in her new book of tanka Geography Lens, has explored those depths and looked at her devouring monster straight in the eye. She has conquered the entrapment of negative and unregenerative emotions which might have imprisoned her. Instead, those memories and her shattering pain have, in fact, given her the courage to create beyond the pain, beyond the suffering.
In Geography Lens, the lens itself which Reichhold uses is not only for visualizing a painful past, but, essentially, for envisioning a painless future. As the Hindus have said, memory is therapeutic; all understanding which results from delving into memory leads to enlightenment. The individual who can recollect, as Eliade has stated in Myth and Reality, "possesses an even more precious magico-religious power than he who knows the origin of things."
There are some disturbing yet hauntingly powerful tanka in this collection:
why did not the windows
which watched in the lamp light
explode – shatter
weapons to be my defense
without mother or guardian?
Her complex imagery and lyrical eloquence echo in the mind and heart:
the river I enter each day
shaped from a face
traveling spring to delta
shallow to deep and gone
There are moments of pure, sweet poetry which leave the reader breathless – shaken and light:
in the inches of pond water
souls of swans
carried aloft by darkness
streams running from the earth
Finally, reading Geography Lens by Jane Reichhold has deepened my appreciation of the richness, the rare and complex quality of her creative spirit; the depth and clarity of her tanka is truly a pearl of great price.
getting older now
the sun rises so much later
in winter's approach
yet this glorious day fills
with my thankfulness in it
in my old age
I am raised by the tides
propelled by the winds
guided by constellations
cocky with sheer joy
against the sea that
swallows the sun
the ache of being diminished
by one marvelous day
RENGA / COLLABORATIVE HAIBUN
Shadow Lines by Margaret Chula and Rich Youmans, Katsura Press, P.O. Box 275, Lake Oswego, OR 97034, 1999. Perfect bound, 5.5 x 8.5, 50 pp., $12.00.
With a collaboration like Shadow Lines, the reader is guided into areas one can't get to through other literary forms. It's a multi-layered experience reaching out far beyond what a single writer can achieve. Similar to specific old and new renga forms, the linkage inside and between prose and poetry touches dimensions one is just stunned by the inspirations making their spaces inside of one.
Christopher Herold's Introduction can be seen as a prose piece itself participating in an overall collaboration together with the brushwork Michael Hofmann contributed. (With a little editorial trick, the 'commentator's voice', Herold's introduction could have been enhanced as a third partner's integrated power.) Herold mobilized a lot of poetic fantasy for the good of the reader getting into deeper levels of what is really created here. One more word to the illustrations: the reader may realize the ties with Japan Margaret Chula wants to maintain. In technique and content Michael Hofmann's drawings fulfill those aspects.
Margaret Chula's article Beginnings helps to imagine how the collaboration has come to develop and what she and Rich Youmans had in mind to do when they started and why they successfully were able to work on Shadow Lines as it finally appears to us. To quote excerpts wouldn't help the reader here since only the whole of a symbiotic work really moves us as wished by the authors.
There seems to be a growing approach between writers using so far only a form as small as a 3-liner to bundle up the temporary non-existent countless floating moments in life and rebuilding them into a stream of the past meeting the stream of the future. It's kind of exciting watching writers rushing into story telling + haiku, tanka, sijo, ghazal and free verse. With linked verse and linked prose + verse techniques, there is a path open to enlarge one's concept considerably.
There's an urgency to deal with the inevitable conflicts in life using prose for reaching out into areas where a short verse alone doesn't do it. Slowly but surely writers are moving into the hot fields of an open poetry scene with all of its varieties, its competitions.
In Shadow Lines, the reader is faced with the naturally occurring discrepancies when different sexes share work on a single piece of literature. Right here, the readers themselves have their chance to participate in the process of continuously linking. What we're watching is a growing trend for collaborations to enrich English language literary forms.
Shadow Lines includes an article by Christopher Herold titled "Linked Verse and Haibun", in which he states:" Poets struggling to grasp the intricate and highly complicated Japanese rules for linking are only now beginning to enjoy some success." One hopes, the author reveals only his lack of information. One may say ahem- and keep quiet. But Herold's article doesn't take in consideration what has been done in the US in respect to the history of renga and the over six hundred collaborations written by over two hundred writers. Besides renga sporadically appearing in other magazines, it was Jane Reichhold's initiative first in Mirrors, 1987, and later with Lynx that sponsored the traditional form of renga and, at the same time opened any amount of space to new developments, each representing their own sensibilities, their singular way of linking and leaping, entirely relevant to our kind of life and to the spirits we're out for in contemporary poetry.
Herold's view of haibun suggests that it is the only form offering prose and poetry. That's not so at all. Please spend some time studying the Persian, Central European, Indian and Chinese literature, and if you like to, click into AHApoetry.com web site. There, through the last 3 years, some thirteen thousand poems appeared – many done as linked work. It's a joy to look back and see what happened in the fields of symbiotic writings with their boundless poetical, social and political consequences.
HANDER FLOATS, COULD BOXY
Mailer Leaves Ham, John M. Bennett, Pantograph Press 1999. 174 pages, perfect bound. ISBN: 1-880766-18-3. Distributed by: Small Press Distribution, 1341 7th St., Berkeley CA 95710, USA.
"Unconscious activity", as John Bennett calls it himself, is what the author wants to share with his readers. He offers hundred and fifty-nine short prose pieces written in twelve to eighteen lines interspersed with pre-formatted book-graphics (kind of Ex Libris style) into which he puts his artistically developed handwriting. Each of the parts is linked into a multi-layered sequence of sound connections, echoing the in-and-out, the over-and-under occurrences of what he feels can be transported into a poetical adventure. Bennett puts writing into artwork and artwork into writing, both supporting his concept essentially.
The commentators Jim Leftwich, Peter Ganick, Sheila E. Murphy, Bob Grumman, Blaster Ackerman and F.A. Nettelbeck, all prolific writers themselves, give precise answers to questions occurring to those having difficulties to overcome the habitual way of thinking. They remind the reader for what else is writing if not to produce a new form of literature.
The articles do not point to the history of linguistic / artistic work, first known as part of the DADA movement, done in this century, which started out with Stéphane Mallarmé around 1900, went on with Gertrude Stein, followed in the 1930s by the French writer André Masson, who called his work L' écriture Automatique (automatic writing.) With them, we all learned from Arp, Ernst, Soupoult, Eluard, Ball, Hausmann, Ray and Schwitters. Then, in the 1980s, a renaissance started with Hanne Darboven in Germany, who exhibited her handwritten works in 1980 in galleries showing merely visual signs of the floating hand leaving waves of lines.
In the company of those deep into 'language poetry', one now finds the poet John M. Bennett. His work, published since many years in the magazine Lost and Found Times by Luna Brisonte Prods. and many other publications, asks the viewers /readers if they want to stay with the solely consciously thinkable /conceivable, or do they allow themselves to dive into areas that stimulate the mind what in deeper layers of the unconscious happens and what can be of help to get closer to what is the subject in avant-garde contemporary literature, artwork and music.
Bound by Red Clay by Neca Stoller. DeeMar Communications, 6325-9 Falls of Neuse Rd, Suite 320, Raleigh, NC 27615. Perfect bound, 5.5 x 8.5, 75 pp., $14.95 ppd.
Neca Stoller, whose work is familiar to Lynx readers, has become the newest voice in the southern tradition of bringing a special way of life into the experience of a wider audience. This book of her poems brings the life of a girl of the south closer to the memories of each person in a way that at once shows the continuity of childhood and the differences that country imprint on the similarities.
Most of the poems are in the 'free verse' style, yet Stoller is very aware of alliteration and rhythm which give the reader the feeling of being competent hands. These poems have enough variation to make the reader eager to see where the poet leads the mind in the next line.
However, a number of the poems in Bound by Red Clay, have as their form the tanka. I may be prejudiced, but to my mind, these poems stand head and shoulders above the free verse work. Stoller understands and wisely uses the pivot and leaps in the tanka-related poems to pull the poem out of the simple narrative into the realms of spirits where the depths add luster and shine to her words.
My favorite poem (agreed to by others with whom I have discussed Neca's book) is "The Gopher Tortoise" which begins:
It begins with a movement,
that fire harrow,
whether a gopher tortoise
or limestone boulder.
Perhaps the field itself shifts
like the sky left by Phaetom
when he sheared
his immolating spiral,
and this son, too, spins
a blaze of thick thatch.
See how she combines her tanka knowledge into sentences lifted out of the ordinary by her new-gained sense of poetry? It is exciting to see how poets, confirmed in Western poetry, take up an Eastern form to bend and twist it into a new being. So many promises this book, Bound by Red Clay brings to the poetry scene.
The publisher, DeeMar Communications, has done an excellent job of making this book with creamy parchment cover with a conté crayon drawing in a warm rust (also by Neca Stoller) of a barn – perhaps from the farm in Georgia where, for a while she and her family raised cattle. The promotion for the book has been outstanding, as well it should be.
Alzheimer's Waltz by Pamela Miller Ness. Hand-tied, gated cover, letterpress printed by Swamp Press, 4.5 x 5.5, 16 pp., colored ink illustrations, $6.00 ppd. from Pamela Miller Ness, 33 Riverside Drive, 4-G, New York, NY 10023.
Alzheimer's Waltz is a series of ten tanka Pamela Miller Ness has written about her father's waltz with Alzheimer's disease. Edwin himself referred to his walks by this term which adds a gentle touch of humor to this very agonizing condition of senility. After his release from life Ness was able to commemorate his battle in this beautifully made booklet. With one poem to a page, carefully placed among the line drawings of leaves the booklet gives an autumn feeling which is further enhanced by the warm brown and ochre of papers and cover.
chokes the photographs
of your dictionary
a splash of pressed crimson
Copyright © Designated Authors 1999.
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