TANKA COMMENTARIES

 

 

cold cemetery
the long sleeves of your old coat
warm my fingertips
even from beyond this grave
you manage to comfort me

 

 (Overall Winner of ahapoetry’s Tanka Splendor Contest in 2000)


"an’ya’s tanka “cold cemetery” has been published and reprinted in numerous places i.e. books, anthologies, journals, magazines, and online sites worldwide, ie: Editor’s Pick of the Week at Women On Writing 2002, etc. 2002, Featured at Reversal of Despair at studio58, etc. This tanka was firstly the Overall Winner of ahapoetry’s Tanka Splendor Contest in 2000. "Some statistics on this contest: there were 113 entries from 49 contestants. Of these, 26 were female and 23 were male. There were 17 female judges and 15 male judges. The range of points was from 70 points for an’ya’s tanka to 13 (which was a tie among 7 persons.) “The poems in Tanka Splendor show the best of what is being written in the tanka genre. They show where hearts are, where the poetry is coming from, what techniques are being used and the varied shapes of the poems. It seems this is the best ever view of what is being written and admired as tanka.”— Jane Reichhold, Editor of ahapoetry lynx


“an'ya is that rare poet who possesses an extraordinary gift for interweaving homespun images and everyday scenes to enrich our understanding of love, beauty, and eternity, as she does here in five short lines. The award winning tanka poet and respected editor of moonset has the great courage to investigate with poetic acumen, the places in human consciousness that others assiduously avoid. an'ya is not fearless, and doesn't need to be; her poetic spirit is fueled by a fierceness and fortitude that lead her into remote caves where only monks or misanthropes might dare to wander. But an'ya is no misanthrope! On the contrary, her heart is wide open and as vast as the inimitable blue sky of Santa Fe. The setting of this poignant tanka is a graveyard. Nothing is more barren than a cemetery in winter; yet a coat, belonging to one's lost love, not only protects the survivor from the elements, but enables her to transcend the searing winds of grief and sorrow, as well. With exquisite attention to detail, yet moving with the grace of a sumi­e brush painter, an'ya deftly zeros in on the long sleeves of this tattered coat belonging to the deceased that has not been discarded or packed off to Goodwill. No, the poet has saved the coat for this most special occasion— a visit to her father’s or spouse’s grave. She stands before the gravestone, her mind flooded with memories and longings, when she realizes that the too­ long sleeves are warming her exposed fingertips. Her heart cracks open again and, in that instant, a sacred truth is revealed to her: in undefended love there is no separation between life­ and ­death. The thread can never be lost or severed wherever true love lives. an’ya has returned from the cemetery with this holy truth and that would be comfort enough for most, but she is a poet above all else whose generosity impels her to share this consoling truth with the world. In doing so, an’ya has expanded the circle of immortality to include us all and for this I am eternally grateful."—Robert Epstein, Editor of Dreams Wander on: Contemporary Poems of Death Awareness, in press

 

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old memories
like tangled fish hooks
impossible
to pick up only one
without all the others


(1st place, Tanka Society of America Competition, 2008)

 

 

Appraisal by Carmel Summers given at the 5th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 19th September 2010, (Reprinted with permission from Eucalypt):


“When I first read this tanka, I thought ‘oh yes’ that’s just how it is, without even thinking through the full extent of the simile, and hoped that one day I might be able to write a tanka almost as good as this one. Over the years I’ve returned to it, each time coming away with a fresh insight into how the right words are used in the right place in the right number. I found that for me, this tanka has layers of suggestion, evoking layers of response. 

At the first layer, this is a visual tanka–you can SEE the tangled snarl of fish hooks and, like that old game of fiddle sticks, it would be almost impossible to gently extract one fish hook without disturbing the others. As a simile for memories it works well, you can imagine fishing in the storehouse of your mind to find a particular memory and savor it, only to find a flood of other memories that you can’t stop. I’m sure that everyone has experienced that. This is where the power of the simile works to enhance the impact of the tanka.

 

The first part of the simile is about the act of fishing. I get the sense that the poet is reaching for a very particular memory, just as you dangle a hook to catch a fish, where you choose not just the hook, but the bait and tackle to cope with a particular type of fish. At the same time, the tanka starts with a very general statement, “old memories”–not just any memories but “old” ones–deep buried and perhaps they’ve been buried for a reason. There is also a sense that having lurked below the surface for so long, these old memories have become interwined and perhaps confused. We don’t know for sure but there’s a possibility there.

 

The next layer is going into the particular side effects this shock of memories can yield. Fish hooks are barbed, treacherous objects, designed to trap the unwary. The poet implies that memory, too, is a risky business. Memories can be joyful, but often have painful edges so the experience can be bitter sweet–a mixture of pain and pleasure. Because you can’t be selective about the memories that surface–the “ambush” effect of them, the memories might represent something that you would much rather forget.

 

Finally I looked at the particular words in this tanka. It is a deceptively simple tanka simple language, many of the words just one syllable. Yet every word plays an important role. The key words to me were “old”, “only” and “all”. Very simple, basic words, not particularly poetic in their own right. I mentioned earlier the significance of “old memories. What is the significance of the word “only”? To me the poet is striving to reach a particular memory. If you remove the “only” and read the line as “impossible to pick up one”–the meaning is the same, but it isn’t as strong as “impossible to pick up only one”. The word “all” in the last line serves a similar function. The line has the same meaning without it: “without the others”–almost, but not quite as encompassing as “without all the others”. The “all” becomes slightly menacing–it suggests that “resistance is futile”–there is absolutely nothing the poet can do to stem the flow and deny some of these past memories.

 

This tanka was described by the judges of the TSA competition in the following words: 

 

First prize: "Aphoristic, to be sure, but appropriately so and a wonderfully apt choice of image and metaphor, an’ya’s poem caught and kept our attention. The poem’s imaginative leap from “old memories” to “tangled fish hooks” carries remarkable force; it may not be a pretty image but it is, without doubt, a psychologically valid one, conveying both the character of fish hooks and the mixture of pleasure and pain that is human memory. There is nothing fancy here; the tone is matter­ of­ fact. It’s a classic poem of the singular, durable image.” 

 

I agree with these comments, but to me, they underestimate the careful crafting of this poem that gives it its resonance and appeal".—Carmel Summers", Bowerbird Tanka Group, Australia

 

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midsummer's eve
underneath a rose moon
I'll wait for you
until my hands are bloodied
from holding back the dawn

 

(winner in the Sixteenth Annual Tanka Splendor Awards 2005 at ahapoetry)


This tanka of an’ya’s was a winner in the Sixteenth Annual TANKA SPLENDOR AWARDS 2005 at ahapoetry, was printed in Moonstruck, a Tanka Collection of hers pubslished by the natal * press in 2005, and reprinted in numerous other places).

 

From the Foreword of Moonstruck (in-­part): "I have often found in today's tanka poets, many of whom also write haiku, a forcing of nature imagery on the poem, for the image itself reminds the poet of some dilemma. That is, the nature image calls up "situatoni. However, an’ya quite often makes the nature connection an interalhttp://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/jared-bunch-rhythm-of-life/nuts-that-cut-your-heart-disease-risk/?pos=1ξd=nl_EverydayHealthManagingDiabetes_20150321 part of the actual situation, as in her "midsummer night." The woman in this tanka is a woman for whom love and nature are always crucial.”—Sanford Goldstein, Atellib House; Shibata, Japan

 

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Book Review from poeticportal.net:

 

“The name an'ya is synonymous in the Japanese form world with high quality poetry. There is no one who seriously writes haiku or tanka who does not know who an'ya is, and who has not felt her influence. Tanka is a type of poetry that is older than haiku. In its English form, tanka consists of five unrhymed lines of thirty­one or less syllables. Typically, after line two or three, a pivot occurs, which swings the reader into another direction, although all five lines must ultimately harmoniously combine to offer one complete poem. Sounds difficult, doesn't it? Yet an'ya, in Moonstruck, does just that with grace and poise. Her image­ driven observations of nature run through each work, yet somehow she leads us to her own personal emotions and experiences effortlessly. Moonstruck is a collection of love tanka. Love poetry is particularly hard to write well because the temptation to offer up cloying, clichéd images abound. Not so with an'ya's tanka. She neatly avoids any over­done sentimentality while still drawing upon powerful and time­tested topics with passion. an'ya's poetry is so visual, that I felt like I was holding a collection of art in my hands when I received this book. Each poem presents a perfect visual, an image th(Reprinted inat stays with the reader long after the five lines have been devoured. For example: a midsummer night underneath this rose moon I'll wait for you . . . until my hands are bloodied . . . from holding back the dawn. Moonstruck is a book for novices who want to learn the form, and for seasoned tanka writers who want to marvel at a craft well done. No matter how much tanka I read, I find myself always coming back to Moonstruck time and again for its beauty, skill, and art form. You will, too”.--Aurora Antonovic', Editor of Magna Poets Magazine

 

Note: (Reprinted in Cascade Arts & Entertainment Magazine Cascade Publications Inc. Volume 12, Issue 9, 2006);  this tanka was also printed in Moonstruck, a Tanka Collection by an’ya, published by the natal * press in 2005 and various other places.

 

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the love poem
will I ever compose it
one with words
that shall read like this song
from a nightingale's beak


(Honorable Mention The Saigyo Awards for Tanka 2008)

 

"Congratulations an'ya! for winning Honourable Mention for 'the love poem,' which so perfectly expresses a poet's self­ doubt in finding just the right words for so deep a subject as the love poem. —Carolyn Thomas, Judge and Editor

 

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on new­ fallen snow
the sight of a headless bird
makes my heart ache
what am I now without you
except also incomplete


(Published in Moonstruck) 

 

In­-part from a Book Review of Moonstruck in 2012 at the Poetic Portal:

 

"an'ya's poetry is so visual, that I felt like I was holding a collection of art in my hands when I received this book. Each poem presents a perfect visual, an image that stays with the reader long after the five lines have been devoured.—Aurora Antonovic', Editor of Magna Poets Magazine 

 

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you were lost
to the night as quick
as this moth
when midsummer haze
stole her compass moon


(Honorable Mention The Saigyo Awards for Tanka 2008)

 

"Congratulations an'ya! for winning Honorable Mention for 'you were lost'—there's music in this poem and I love the "compass moon".—Carolyn Thomas, Judge and Editor

 

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burning ban
love letters at the landfill
bear our names
as if it might matter
to a million maggots


(Published at Simply Haiku) (Reprinted in Streetlights: Poetry of Urban Life in Modern English Tanka)


"This tanka is not only compassionate, it aligns disease with the seasons, makes it part of the natural world (not that we welcome such sadness). Somehow I am able to surrender more to the situation after reading this. Many thanks."—Kathy Kituai, Australia

 

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


Translated into Polish by Grzegorz Sionkowki:


gdyby tylko by
sposob by zamknac tge mgle
w jakims sloiku
zostawic go u twych drzwi
i patrzyc jak otwierasz


(Commended Tanka 2006 Calendar Contest) 

 

(Reprinted in Mohammed H. Siddiqui's Seasons Greetings Leaflet, 2006), reprinted in Cascade Arts & Entertainment Magazine of Cascade Publications Inc. Volume 12, Issue 9, 2006 and other places)

 

(Reprinted in Moonstruck, a tanka collection by an'ya published by the natal * press in 2005) 

 

From a Book Review of Moonstruck: "My favorite poems are those that relate a playful, tender anecdote, and that surprise us with unexpected humor, this being one of the book's most charming and memorable. There is something about that magical image, and the look I imagine to be on that person's face, opening that jar of fog, that I do not ever wish to forget or get too far from in this life. I think such poems come straight from an'ya's own heart and character, from that place where she is most herself, and where pain and suffering, whether in love or in other aspects of life, have no chance at all of being the last word certainly not from this poet.—Michael McClintock, President of the Tanka Society of America

 

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gone are sail winds
that came in the night
same as you
I knew we would end
on a still day in time


(Tanka Society of America 2010 contest Honorable Mention)

 

"Here is remorse made eloquent with a nautical simile The last line is a powerful launch into meditation on this poem and all it suggests. Perhaps all such personal endings are a “still day in time”—where the present moment and life’s hectic activities seem to be suspended while a relationship comes to an end".--Judges Tom Clausen and Jeanne Emrich

 

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it’s here we built
sand palaces in my youth
each drip castle
shaped by supple fingers
the ones that fail me now 

 

"This extended metaphor captures the human condition at the point of a heightened awareness of encroaching age."--Jan Dean 


Christmas time
I remember the little
ice skaters
on a mirror pond
arranged mother's way


"tanka that struck a chord, situation evoking memory and emotion"--Eucalypt A Tanka Journal 2008, review by Margaret Bradstock for Mascara Literary Review

that final spring

we were together flying

our kite — until

you let loose the string

and heart from soul divided

 

(Ash Moon Anthology, 2008)

 

an'ya

 

Commentary by Chen-ou Liu: an'ya uses a flying kite to link the internal and external worlds. The midline break (a punctuation mark, "—") in L3 divides the tanka into "before/the past" and "after/the present" in a way that no word can do. The blankness of  "—" effectively severs the two parts of the tanka while simultaneously joining them ("Introduction," Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka, 2009, p 17). Structurally and thematically speaking, this is a fine example of using punctuation to enhance the emotionally suggestive power of a tanka. For more information about the effective use of punctuation, see my "To the Lighthouse" post, Strategic Placement of Punctuation Marks.

 

In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear you the way you want to be heard. -- Russell Baker