BOOK REVIEW

(Condensed version published in ATPO spring 2015)

(Copy of this publication is in the National Library of Australia)


Tanka Tree Rings, by an’ya (translations by Saeko Ogi in Australia), published POD by fea press, POB 332, Westfir, OR 97492 USA. Hand-sewn, 11 x 8 1/2” on heavy archival bond with hand-made paper inserts and bamboo spine, n.p. ISBN 0-9727130-5-0, price $39.95 plus postage, order from fea Press (sold out)) 

This collection of 50 of an’ya’s tanka is a gleaning from dozens of print journals and anthologies where they first appeared over the years. The book is, quite simply, a treasure-a delight to eye, mind and heart: a treasure, not only because the tanka themselves are each a window into this poet’s fecund thought and spirit and keenly crafted, but also because the poems are in an attractive script font centered on a single page accompanied by an’ya’s arresting and evocative artwork. an'ya writes from a background echoing the poems of the great waka poets of medieval Japan, yet her voice is distinctly modern. Her style is unforced and natural, deceptively simple, with layers of meaning revealing themselves upon repeating readings, the sign of true mastery. 

A word further about her artwork: the images are sometimes representational such as a bird or a goat, or more abstract such as what appears to be a zen enso, or even nondescript impressionistic shapes created spontaneously. The interplay between the artwork and the tanka is a third dimension that fulfills the dictum, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. One simply cannot experience the tanka in this collection as poems alone, but as true haiga, with poetry enhancing art and art enhancing poetry. The interplay is often stunning, as only having and reading this book can reveal.

 

As an added feature in this collection, each of an'ya's tanka is translated into Japanese (kanji/kana) by Saeko Ogi, herself an accomplished tanka poet of long standing and repute in Japan. Hopefully the translations will encourage the spread of this book into the Asian market.

The cover displays one of an’ya’s tanka with her artwork, along with its Japanese rendering, a heart-warming metaphor of tree rings as her place in the human life-cycle:


already
three-quarters around
life’s circle
from this point forward
just counting tree rings


The interior of the book opens with a historical/aesthetic note about Waka/Tanka, followed by the author’s Prologue and an enthusiastic Foreword by Michael McClintock. The section of tanka is set off by inserts of beautiful hand-made paper, followed by a page of Credits where the poems first appeared. Biographies of an’ya and Saeko Ogi appear on the back cover. I will not attempt to raise a paean to an’ya’s genius and her accomplishments, which are prolific and widely honoured. Instead, a few tanka from this collation are offered to illustrate its flavour. Prominent is the multi-faceted theme of love:
 

a love poem
will I ever compose it
one with words
as sweet as the song
from this nightingale’s beak


Perhaps the tentativeness of emerging love is felt in:


between us

and warm summer sun
white lilac buds
on the very brink
of becoming scent


Deepening love and joys of developing relationship in:


if only I could
capture the essence of fog
in a pretty jar
to leave on your doorstep
and watch while you open it

Yet loss, and even bitterness are evident in this tanka: 


if we cannot
be together anymore
let no songbirds sing
except above my casket
among cemetery trees


which is on a par with the tanka of the great Heian poetess Izumi Shikibu. And the book closes on a detached, almost meditative note suggestive of Eastern (Buddhist?) spirituality:


the symmetry
of a common moth
makes me think
about how I am
unremarkable


And each poem/page is imprinted with an’ya’s personal “chop”, a red moth. To quote an’ya’s Prologue: “May this book enrich and entertain you, materially and spiritually.” For the present writer, she has succeeded admirably and in so many ways.--Richard St. Clair, Poet, Composer