HISTORY OF TANKA
|Five Years of Tanka History in America - Jane Reichhold|
|Tanka for the Memory - Jane Reichhold|
|Tanka Article in FEELINGS - Jane Reichhold|
ON WRITING TANKA
|What is a Tanka? - Richard MacDonald|
|Come Pivot with Me - Jane Reichhold|
Tanka Vs. Haiku - Jane Reichhold
Tanka Techniques - Jane Reichhold
REVIEWS OF BOOKS ON TANKA
|Book Review of The Ink Dark Moon trs. by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani.|
|Book Review of Wind Five Folded - Elizabeth St Jacques|
SAMPLES OF TANKA
|Tanka Published in LYNX|
|Tanka Winners in Tanka Splendor 1992|
BOOKS TO READ ABOUT TANKA
|For Further Reading :|
LINKS TO OTHER SITES WITH TANKA
|John Craven has written the Psalms in tanka. Beautiful work!|
|Tanka Poet's Club of Japan|
|Denno Tanka Yellow Pages.|
TANKA VS. HAIKU
In the Winter '90 issue of Mirrors, I wrote in the essay "Tanka for the Memory" that not many rules for tanka had been written in English. That's still true, but in the meantime I've searched the longer bookshelves of Berkeley stores. What is also true is if you look long enough -- anything can be found.
Knowing any of the following will probably not change or improve your writing of poems one iota, but may cast in quick-setting concrete some sindications of what you -- or someone else is writing. What I found was a comparison of haiku to tanka in editor Marie Philomene's preface of The New Year's Poetry Party at the Imperial Court -- Two Decades in Postwar Years: 1960-1979. By shortening her remarks and adding those of others, I've arranged the comparisons in the following brief form.
traditionally no violence
traditionally no war images
13 centuries-----------------------3 centuries
31 onji / syllables -----------------17 onji/syllables
courtly ----------------------------merchants and lower class
literary-----------------------------part of a game
to savor beauty --------------------to open the heart
contemplation----------------------quick and direct
emotional ---------------------------aim to have no emotion
uses imagination--------------------senses with concrete images
written to assigned themes -------based on an experience
five parts/five images --------------three images - max.
exclusion of the ugly ---------------write beautifully of the common
written to be a chanted song ------spoken crisply
use of symbolic images -------------use of Zen subjects
Kyoka /mad poem--satirical -------senryu
traditional uses a limited ------------speaks of common things
accepted vocabulary of images -----with common language
that are agreed to be elegant --------to reveal uncommon ideas
holds a mirror reflecting -------------just as it is
nature and humanity ------------------also
For Further Reading :
|Anthology of Japanese Literature, From the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Compiled and Edited by Donald Keene. New York: Grove Press, 1955.|
|From the Country of Eight Islands, An Anthology of Japanese Poetry. Edited and Translated by Hiroaki Sato and Burton Watson. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1981.|
|Japanese Court Poetry. Earl Miner and Robert H. Brower. Standford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1961.|
|One Hundred Poems from the Japanese. Kenneth Rexroth. New Directions Paperbook, 1964.|
|Poems to Eat. Ishikawa Takuboku. Carl Sesar, Translator. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1966.|
|Sad Toys. Ishikawa Takuboku. Translated by Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University, 1977.|
|Tangled Hair. Akiko Yosano. Translated and edited by Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Tsunoda. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1971.|
|The Haiku Hand Book, How to Write, Share and Teach Haiku. William J. Higginson with Penny Harter. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985.|
|The Ink Dark Moon, Love Poems by Ono No Komachi & Isumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan. Translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1986, 1987, 1988.|
|The Penquin Book of Japanese Verse. Translated and introduced by Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite. Middlesex, England: Penquin Books, 1964.|
|The Shin Kokinshu, The 13th-Century Anthology Edited by Imperial Edict. Translated by H. H. Honda. Japan: The Hokuseido Press, 1970.|
|Tale of Genji. Shikibu Murasaki. Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964.|
|The Ten Thousand Leaves, A Translation of the Man'yoshu, Volume One. Ian Hideo Levy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Library of Asian Translations, 1981.|
|Women Poets of Japan. Translated and edited by Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi. New York: New Direction Books, 1977.|
|Wind Five Folded: An Anthology of English-Language Tanka. Edited by Jane and Werner Reichhold. AHA Books, 1994. See the AHA Book List.|
Tanka for the Memory
From tanka's long history - over 1300 years recorded in Japan- the most famous use of the poetry form of tanka was as secret messages between lovers. Arriving home in the morning, after having dallied with a lover all night, it became the custom of well-mannered persons to write an immediate thank-you note for the pleasures of the hospitality. Stylized into a convenient five lines of 5-7-5-7-7 onji, the little poem expressing one's feelings were sent in special paper containers, written on a fan, or knotted on a branch or stem of a single blossom. These were delivered to the lover by personal messenger who then was given something to drink along with his chance to flirt with the household staff. During this interval a responding tanka was to be written in reply to the first note which the messanger would return to his master.
Usually under some pressure - the writer had probably been either awake or engaged in strenuous activities all night - to write a verse that related, in some manner, to the previous note, that expressed (carefully) one's feelings, and which titillated enough to cause the sender to want to return again was not an easy task. Added to this dilemma was the need to get the personal messenger on his way with a note so written that he couldn't know exactly what was what but that the beloved would understand and appreciate. Then the giggling servants would get back to work.
In a society that accepted the fact that married men could, would and will dally, the chore of writing those morning-after notes was raised to an acceptable art. A woman who could cope, after being wakened from a well-deserved sleep, with pen, ink and words was assured of more lovers (and hence, more financial support) than the gymnatist on the mattress. So revered became tanka - and so eager were men and women to improve their own works - that contests were regularly held for the purpose of writing and reading of tanka. So necessary was a body of esteemed works to which one could refer (and be inspired) that the emperors decreed the collection of anthologies beginning around 700 AD.
Thus, there are preserved in Japanese, more tanka than any other poetry form in the world. Yet, here in North America, the interest has only begun to gather momentum.
If you've enjoyed reading and writing haiku, you will probably luxuriate in tanka. Here the writer gets two extra lines - and long ones at that! - plus the go-ahead to write about one's feelings! For a society such as ours, where people are encouraged to express and explore their feelings, tanka seems better fitting as a poetry form than the more popular haiku.
Okay you say, let's try it. What are the rules? There aren't many at this point which have been given to us in English. We've seen the syllable and line count. Over the centuries there have been changes in styles regarding where the line breaks should be. For a while it was after the second line, later after the third line. Capitalization and punctuation have been at the mercy of translators; so the rules one follows with haiku are a starting point.
For nearly a thousand years there has been only a little written about the use of the "pivotal image." The idea was that somewhere in the third line would be an image that could relate - or link - to both the upper two lines , which were to be on one subject and the lower two lines written on another subject. Haiku writers will recognize this concept and be quickly able to use it to add the best two last lines. Haiku writers will also probably find in their published as such, but which, make great beginnings for a tanka. By linking the images in the lower two lines with the first two over the understanding radiated by the third line, it is possible to find a new way of thinking of all three (or more) images.
We have a translation of Fujiwara no Teika's admonishment believed to have been prepared for a prince in 1222, "In emotion, newness is foremost: look for sentiments others have yet to sing, and sing them. In diction, use the old: don't go further back than the Three Anthologies..." (meaning the Kokinshu, the Gosenshu - 951 AD, and the Shuisbu - 1005 AD).
Anna Holley, whose tanka were published in MIRRORS II:2, is the classic example of a writer who follows this advice. As you read Holley's work you will feel as if it was written in Japanese a thousand years ago, and yet her ideas and linkages are completely modern.
If you don't write haiku in 5-7-5, you probably won't write tanka in 5-7-5-7-7. Though, in a recent letter on the subject, George Ralph, who has a set of tanka in this issue, wrote that he enjoys the discipline of the syllable count and tries, as much as he is able, to stick with it. We have to admit that the factor of wits (trying to say something within a prescribed manner) is the half of the poem that balances inspiration (those glorious streams of words falling on our ears). If one does not or cannot give the inspiration a form it comes out either in gibberish or the next easiest step, everyday narrative often labeled free verse. There is challenge in fitting our ideas to a form and admiration when another person is able to do it better than we have.
An adaptation of the haiku rule of short-long-short lines extended with the two long-long lines is possible. There are those who begin the tanka with the long-long lines.
Everything will be tried and we will gratious allow it to be called tanka until someone gives it a better name. We aren't Japanese and we come from the land of songs, sonnets and limericks (as well as longer forms of poetry). Tanka is new to us and we will never write a real tanka as we cannot write, even in kanji, a real haiku. The best we can do is to be ourselves under the influence of the tanka genre. Some persons will very soon appear on the scene saying, "It isn't a tanka unless it has...!"
At this stage, I can only say I would prefer that each writer adopt some rules to begin with. As you write you may discard one or more and adopt others. The important issue is not the form you use or the fact that you have used a form (whether it comes from the Japanese, experts or yourself), but what you are able to do within some kind of limits.
Looking at tanka history it seems that the only infallible way of writing great tanka is to have an affair. Go ahead! Do it now. But that doesn't mean that it must be a behind-the-bushes affair in the no-tell motel. Let yourself fall in love with anything or anyone you want to. It can be nature, a scene, a place, an activity, persons; your own kids, grandkids or even - your mate, or just life itself. Whatever feels good and right for you.
Because of their original use as a way of privately expressing emotion and especially between friends and lovers unhappy because they are separated, the feelings expressed in traditional tanka were usually either longing for better time, more faithful lovers, younger years or grief because of old age, lack of lovers, or hard times. You get the picture. When reading a great many tanka you realize you are hearing a lot of bitching. For some writers this is just the outlet for which they have been looking.
It is so easy to complain in poetry. I know the world is not perfect. I know every poet has the right to write what he/she wants to. Conditions that need to be changed get my letters to congressmen, donations to worthy causes and a helping hand wherever I can reach. I can't resist saying here that I would hope the progress we humans try to believe we are making is expressed in our poetry. I want to make a plea for tanka that stream from the love we can find no other way to express. It could be our thanks to the universe. Thanks for the memory.
Tanka Winners in Tanka Splendor 1992
A Selection of
from the Mirrors Third International Tanka Award 1992
judged by Jane Hirshfield.
the cold walk,
the creek running
Ithaca, New York
hazy autumn moon
the sound of chestnuts dropping
from an empty sky
I gather your belongings
into boxes for the poor
night cries . . .
wild geese leaving winter
bring winter --
I wear remembrance
in a necklace of shells
Washington, D. C.
watching her sweep up
November's fallen leaves
I am love shaken . . .
her body moving almost
as it did when we were young
the border guards
carelessly let them cross
the Rio Grande
Kenneth C. Leibman
outside my back door
big iced boot marks
i throw bird seed
try to take his place
sally l nichols
we said farewell
I stare at this
New Year's Eve --
on a ladder
a moon-faced man
washes the face
of a clock.
Mountain Lakes, New Jersey
Tanka Published in LYNX
The age of gold --
Cranach's swaggering Venus
dressed in carcanet
and cestus, her splendor
invading the world's black edge
the icy arches on fire
tomorrow soon enough
to pull it down
these two caterpillars
chewing the same hedge
only by intercession
will they ever meet
Map of the World too large
for the space
we trim off everything
south of the Sandwiches
painting the toenails
of her right foot
my wife in black bikini
beyond her, curved shadows
of white herons
Lenard D. Moore
The night is long
A tavern just off the road
With only one car,
But the man and woman hug
To the song on the jukebox
Lenard D. Moore
in the check-out line
a worn face ahead of me
turns tentatively. . .
realities of desire
fade in final reckoning
When the cello
for your bow --
I am the autumn wind
Traveling. . .
I put a curb bit
in the mouth of time
and a cloud-saddle
on the wind
a robin sings
as we pack
soon your voice
will be the only
in both our gardens
I praise mine
more than my neighbor's
though they look the same
that morning seaside
flower of lustrous orange
I cannot penetrate --
tonight I wrap my tanka
in a shroud
I open the flap
Chopin's on my CD,
and the rice is almost done
the meal brought to my door
and I bow the usual
and shut out the world
to chopstick my way
into Japanese slivers, Japanese squares
in swirling fog
in front of me
man swearing in surprise
Warblers May by May
singing continents together
-- each note necessary
to the stars' circling
Bear-grease to ease
the old ache of old muscles
As I rub
she pulls us all to tension
with tales of bears who walk as men
Strong on the south wind
the odor of drying fish
Yet I still can taste
the Hunger Moon of snow-time
that floated in my cooking pot
Come Pivot with Me
This is an excerpt from an article which was previously published in Larry Gross' HWUP! and Brian Tasker's Bare Bones, in England.
The use of a pivot word is a beloved technique from tanka, still being used after 1,300 years, in that form and its much younger grandchild -- haiku.
One of the trademarks of a tanka (besides the traditional five lines of 5-7-5-7-7 onji -- syllables) is a short poetic statement depicting nature (here it may seem much like something you could call a haiku) which is linked to a designated feeling or emotional attitude of the author. This latter aspect is a basic one dividing the two forms today.
By expressing emotional feelings tanka affirms a connectedness between something unseen but real -- our feelings -- with the observable world around us. Tanka gives the mind a picture which can, if it is successful, joins for and evokes a felt emotional state.
During the development of tanka, writers became very sensitive to the bridge --the word, or words -- leading the reader from the nature image to the statement of emotion. They found in their language, as we have in ours, words which can apply or add to the description of both nature and human feelings. For example, a classic tanka by Anonymous from the Kokinshu translated by Donald Keene:
Because there was a seed
A pine has grown even here
On these barren rocks:
If we really love our love
What can keep us from meeting?
Here the phrase "on barren rocks" refers to both the ground where a seed fell and grew while at the same it is describing the feeling of lack of love because of the couple's not being able to meet. One test of the effectiveness of this technique is to cover the bottom two lines to see if they read as a unit with one meaning. If you cover the top two lines, reusing the third line, this unit gives the pivot phrase another meaning.
You have just witnessed the jewel of fascination which is the basis of renga writing. Many haiku writers use the second line as a pivot point.
In both tanka and haiku the pivot can (not always, ever!) occur in the short third line. Thus, if you begin your tanka with a nature image using a short line (five syllables if you are counting) plus a long line (7 syllables), the pivot gains importance by standing alone. The hemstitch or emotional message can be given the expanse of two long (7,7 syllable lines) for telling how you feel right now! Try it out. The world at the end of your nose is connected to the world behind your nose; who knows what the pivot point will be.
Book Review of Wind Five Folded
Elizabeth St. Jacques
Wind Five Folded: An Anthology of English-Language Tanka, compiled and edited by Jane and Werner Reichhold, 1994, AHABooks, POB 767, Gualala, CA 95445. ISBN: 0-0944676-21-9, hardcover, 230 pp. $15.00
This handsome rust-colored hardcover, with sparkling gold letters on its spine and dustjacket in rust and white, celebrates almost 600 tanka from 156 poets in seventeen countries. No small accomplishment when you consider the Reichhold's sifted through, studied and analyzed over 2,100 tanka in a period of four years to select the ones for this collection.
If you have longed to know more about tanka or even if unfamiliar with the form, Jane Reichhold's nineteen page Introduction is bound to satisfy. Not only are you provided with a wide landscape of background history that leads up to experimentation of the form as written by contemporary poets, but you are shown how to write tanka. Written in clear, understandable language, even the most casual reader will benefit from this reading. Although an Index of Authors is provided, poets are presented in alphabetical order, which makes for quick and easy reference when flipping through this collection. Each poet's personal quote that heads off most work here is very appealing as it gives the reader a one-to-one feeling. Also, learning a little more about favorite or unfamiliar authors is appreciated.
How were selections made for this collection? From the Introduction: 'Poems were not expected to conform to 5-7-5-7-7 syllable count and neither were they disregarded for adhering to the rule. The greater desire was to demonstrate the many possibilities of tanka forms and techniques in English. The editors placed prime importance on matching style and form. Experiments, as well as frank imitations of traditional Japanese form, have been equally considered.' Indeed, if you're trying to discover your own special tanka voice, you'll find a variety of styles to help you find the way.
Considering the number of tanka here, it's rewarding to find such a large proportion very well-written. Also interesting is the discovery of work by familiar and/or established tanka poets along with that of newer voices.
As the form dictates, the majority of poems here contain an element of human emotion, most of which deal with gentle, passionate, wistful, new or lost love. In the following examples, note the differences in subject matter, tone and style. Also note that the top poem opens with a haiku before addressing an emotional response while the latter uses a reverse technique:
Blossoms floating down
Through the tangled canopy
Treetops wave unseen;
Jade green ricebowls, his and hers
On the petal tatami.
How could I be anything
but a swan
on a day like this -
radiant blue sky, white clouds
and the earth cover with snow!
Poems of intense pain and sadness are here as well:
over the heads
of the shopping crowd
a red balloon -
as elusive as you
that remained unborn
For the most part, tanka here contain long stretching lines that produce a pleasing rhythm and help to delay the emotional impact. Some appear with a blank line between the third and fourth lines for added emphasis, however, more than one per page tends to distract the reader. Visually different are the extremely lean tanka. The rabbit-punch finale of these seems doubly effective. Two examples:
even now spoil
on a stoop
To balance this collection of weightier subjects and love poems, a little refreshing humor:
the border guards
carelessly let them cross
the Rio Grande
Kenneth C. Leibman
Numerous excellent tanka await your discovery in Wind Five Folded, a valuable contribution to the tanka movement and literary world. A must-read for the tanka enthusiast. Highly recommended.
Book Review of The Ink Dark Moon
The Ink Dark Moon, Love Poems by Ono no Komachi & Izumi Shikibu; Women of the Ancient Court of Japan. Translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, Macmillan Publishing Co., 116 pp, hardcover, $14.95. ISBN 0-684-18971-2.
Basho has been quoted as saying, "If I don't read the works of Old Masters every few days, my mouth gets all thorny." Reading and writing haiku can have that effect on one. Soon it feels as if everything written or said is short, to the point...and a bit too pointed; at least it seems lacking in emotion.
To open The Ink Dark Moon at random, to read a waka or two by either Ono no Komachi or Izumi Shikibu, brings the same soothing calmness Basho found in the works he admired. Perhaps it's the perfection of an explicit expression of an age-old emotion that permits the reader to feel the poems were written about a happening today, not a thousand years ago.
Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu were women writers of the Court in [now] Kyoto of the Imperial Japanese Emperor at the turn of the century; both were declared literary geniuses. Even though only about 100 of Ono no Komachi's poems and 1,000 of Izumi Shikibu's have been saved, they give the reader an excellent example of writing from the heart within the discipline of tanka.
Why haven't I
thought of it before?.
is the keepsake you left.
My longing for you -
too strong to keep
At least no one can blame me,
when I go to you at night,
along the road of dreams
Ono no Komachi
The Ink Dark Moon, the result of a collaboration by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani, provides us with some of the best translations of these waka that are to be found. Natural, full of life, accessible for today's reader, these 111 poems present waka that immediately speaks to the heart.
Is it the translations, the original works of Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, or the finely produced edition that so greatly touches one? It's probably the combination that transports one across time, into days and nights of passion, to become more sensitive to the pleasures in one's own life. That's where poetry begins.
Five Years of Tanka History in America
For five years now, Mirrors International Tanka Awards has served as a gathering point for examples of the changes, similarities and differences in the tanka poems of people around the world. Perhaps we should take a few moments to examine the process as well as the current position of this phenomenon.
First, a backward glance through my eyes. As I read the entries spilling out of envelopes in 1990, I was thrilled. Each packet of poems seemed as good or better than the last one. I was pleased to see how well English writers had adopted so many of the Japanese tricks and techniques of the form. It seemed we Anglos had learned quickly; we were being good students.
The fact that the first judge, Sanford Goldstein, had close ties to Japan through his years living there, as well as his translations of the tanka of Akiko Yosano and Ishikawa Takuboku had prepared him to be able to select the best poems which reflected our assimilation of the oldest Japanese poetry form. In making his choices, Professor Goldstein was careful to include a wide variety of writing styles, subject matter, and different techniques of pivoting.
When the entries for the 1991 contest arrived I was shocked and dismayed. For days I asked myself, "What went wrong?" "Why are these poems less successful than last year's?" "Was I personally bored, now, with the form?" No. "Were others less interested in tanka and therefore their poems seemed flat and less well-written?"
When George Swede returned the small packet of winning cards he had selected and we had matched them up with the numbers to find the authors, I gathered together the pile of poems which were not chosen. I read them through and then reread the award tanka.
It took a few days but finally I realized what had happened. In the first year most writers were following the examples of the famous Japanese tanka and thus, were able to write some very good imitations. But already in one year a large number of authors had written enough tanka so that they had thrown off their Japanese training wheels and were wobbling, but now on their own way to writing non-Japanese tanka! What a surprise. What a gift! This was better than I had ever dreamed or hoped. The writers, by listening to their hearts, were showing us the best ways to assimilate a new poetry genre.
By rereading Professor Swede's selection, I could see he was aware of this and had given a balanced picture of the different stages these 90 writers were experiencing.
In 1992, when Jane Hirshfield agreed to judge the Mirrors International Tanka Awards I wondered how she would view the fledgling efforts of English writers. Jane had just finished revising her translations of two of Japan's most famous tanka writers -- Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikabu -- for her book, The Ink Dark Moon, which was going into a second printing for a paperback. Would Jane automatically place the contest entries next to these famous tanka still swirling in her mind? If so, I feared she'd find ours very different.
While Jane was judging the nameless set of cards, I closely read the set of poems I had. I marked the ones I felt were the best. And because I could see the names, I judged each person's work on the basis of what I knew the author had done previously (when this was the case) and where the innovations were and how the poet's own voice was coming through.
Jane Hirshfield judged the contest from a completely different angle -- as she revealed in her excellent essay for Tanka Splendor 1992. She judged from her heart. How well did the poem use images, techniques, and sounds to bring her to feel what the author was feeling? She wasn't looking for Japanesque poems, although her own tanka are deeply dyed from the shining examples of the old waka-tanka. The contest entries were permitted to come to her as modern poems (which most of Hirshfield's poetry is as seen in her books, Gravity of Angles and Alaya) and it was on this basis she judged them.
It was gratifying then, to see how many of the poems she selected were ones I had marked as outstanding.
One of the reasons for asking George Ralph to judge in 1993 was his ability to capture several wins in the Nippon Poetry Society's tanka contests. The other reason was that I had been reading George's work in the many pages of his tanka published in Mirrors since 1990. I could see his changes from the longer, almost 31 English syllable tanka to his present much shorter ones. He had wide experiences with his own tanka writing and I felt I could trust this.
As I studied the box of poems sent in that year, I felt I could more quickly spot where a writer was in his/her progress with tanka. Was one in the first euphoria of trying to do a great Japanese tanka? Struggling to put the feelings in the best possible way regardless of what one had learned? Or was one more practiced so he/she could use the form and its limits to an advantage in an almost effortless gesture? An ever-larger growing group now had acquired their own "voice" -- recognizable in a crowd of unsigned cards.
One indication of the English independence from the Japanese form is the ability to accurately reflect our Western ideals of philosophy, our standards of art and poetry as well as the use of concrete images which are meaningful to us.
Though many poets and a certain number of Westerners have studied and even adopted Zen Buddhism, many authors --from childhood reading or education <197> first absorbed Western thinking unconsciously through delight in the great resounding lines such as "And death shall have no dominion..." or "I am the captain of my soul...". It takes an acrobatic mind to admire -- and we do sincerely --certain lines of Japanese poetry when the feelings they express are not the ones we value for our selves.
An example is in our divergent ideals for love. A thousand years ago in Japan the aspect of love which was accepted as literature was one of longing. For the class writing at that time -- members of the emperor's court -- the works were a reflection of what society taught them to think about themselves. Even a modern Japanese couple view their love differently than did their ancestors in the same way we do not view love as did the Europeans in the "Dark Ages".
Yes, we are all humans and we do share many of the same feelings regarding love. However, how we view our love or what we deem important to share with others is not all the same.
To the reader of contemporary poetry, the many Japanese (and English) poems based on longing can, at some point, be seen as "adolescent". The love-sick lamentations of a teenager are rarely the "ideal" love motive of a modern poet. A look in Exquisite Corpse or the Paris Review exposes one to graphic descriptions of parts and positions. One cannot simply look backwards or on the newsstand for that aspect of loving to share in a poem. One must decide for oneself what is to be seen as most vital, interesting and enlightening. This is a part of the development of one's voice.
When Japanese poems are translated into English we learn of words that are meaningful in another culture but not to us. When I hear the word "haze" I think of the yellow-brown cloud of choke-smoke over Los Angeles or I remember "green week" of college initiation. I have never forgotten the tiny young girl helping me with translations who, when she read the word for haze in Japanese, began to weep.
I am not saying we cannot be sensitive and appreciate new awareness, we can and we should, but every poetry fashion looks at the world through a narrow slit. Images, feelings and ideas which are "acceptable" in that genre consistute only a small percentage of what is happening. One of the miracles of bringing a new genre into another culture is not only that the tiny slit is pointed in a new direction but the combination often widens the slit at the same time. We cannot write only of cherry blossoms when the apple is such an important part of our pool of archetypes.
Well, I've digressed. We left George Ralph back in Holland, Michigan, on the Christmas break from his job as Head of the Department of Theatre at Hope College studying the entries. Not only was he thorough, he was extremely fair. Among the winners that year were examples of the more "modern" styles as well as many representatives from the "school of older tanka." I respect his care as it is not easy to have an appreciation for a style which one has "written through" to get to a new and what one considers more "challenging" set of limits.
Occurring between these four years of the contest and this year's results was, for me, a huge event. In the winter months of 1993, Werner and I read and reread through all the poems ever submitted to Mirrors International Tanka Awards to search for the poems to be included in the book Wind Five Folded.
We worked it three ways. First we each read the poems individually. If we felt the poem was a good example of tanka, or if the poem touched us with its ways and words, we put our initial on the back of the card.
When we both had finished, all the cards which had both names on the backs were put aside in one pile. Another pile had all of Werner's marks and one had my marks. A fourth pile was of those cards which had no mark. In the evenings we'd read to each other poems we had marked saying why we had picked it. After discussing it we'd agree (or agree to disagree) and the card was given another mark and added to the pile with two marks.
Then all the cards, even the ones with no marks, were sorted out again into all the entries sent by each author. Again we went through the cards looking at each author's entered works. This time we judged the author's individual poems against his/her collected entries. Which were the best examples of this poet's voice or vision? At this point, some of the unmarked or one-mark cards were tagged as "in" because even if an author didn't agree with all our ideals of the form, the genre was being used in an unusual way that deserved exposure.
It was interesting to observe as I typeset and proof-read, and proofed and proofed again, how the poems with each reading were viewed differently. Each time certain poems would "blaze forth" to thrill and excite me. Now when I can read Wind Five Folded for the pleasure, I love to enter the book where the pages open themselves to me, to dip in to capture a gem which can resonate through my mind in my idle moments.
All of which brings us to this year's Mirrors International Tanka Awards. By choosing the judge the contest is, at some level, already judged; I thought. Though Geraldine C. Little has been one of the early members and president of the Haiku Society of America, she has probably given more of her time and talents to writing in European literature genres.
As one who wishes to promote the assimilation of new genres (Japanese and Chinese) into English poetry, I felt her choices would reflect her interests and experiences. Her own book of tanka, More Light, Larger Vision (AHA Books, 1992) is an interesting experiment of combining ideas of a new way to write a tanka (using enjambment, and 5-7-5-7-7 syllable lines incorporating punctuation within the lines) while adhering to the Oriental subject matter set into 20th century America. Her marriage of ideas was validated by the HSA awarding her book, More Light, Larger Vision, First Place in their 1993 Merit Book Awards.
Geraldine Little has been true to her personal vision in her choices for award tanka. This year, more than ever, the winners are those who come to tanka outside of the haiku scene. Yet within her choices for poems are also some of the short, almost haiku-like ones. The rhythms are varied; not so classic. With Ms. Little's choices, I feel the whole tanka "scene" has been moved a step in a new and important direction.
I am eager for next year's entries to arrive to see where you, the poets, have taken us as your understanding of new ideas for the form has increased.
With the termination of Mirrors magazine in March, 1995, we have given the tanka contest a new name -- one which some people had inadvertently begun to use --Tanka Splendor Awards as this booklet has grown to become the connective link between the contests.
One other change should be mentioned. Each year we'd receive a set or two of linked sequences or a series of tanka. Having no way to compare such works, we had to let the links be judged on an individual basis. However, since we want to reflect what authors are doing, and because we felt Tanka Splendor would benefit from the addition of some sequences, we have added another category for entries: tanka sequences of 3 - 7 five-line tanka. Whether the poem has one or more authors is up to you.
Though the majority of these "after words" have centered on the judges of Mirrors International Tanka Awards this is not entirely fair. When I try to think of the number of hours each author has spent reading, studying, thinking, writing andring for his/her tanka, the amount of time is so overwhelming one mind cannot grasp the majesty of it. It is all the authors who didn't win, who keep working, who keep up their enthusiasm, who keep hoping their work will find acceptance: it is you who are most vital!
Again a deep bow of thanks to each and every person who has contributed to these tanka exchanges. You have certainly made my world a livelier, lovelier place to be.
Copyright © Jane Reichhold 1990, 1992, 1995, 2007.
Rights have returned to authors.