Saturday, April 12, 2014

Flight Feathers

David Rice, Editor of Ribbons, the journal of the American Tanka Society, asked readers to send him their thoughts on how they write tanka.  "Flight Feathers" is my response:

It begins with a flicker of wings across the landscape, inner or outer—the translucent wing of  memory, the distant drumming of a thought, a blind sparrow.  I have to be paying attention or I will miss it altogether.  If the impulse arises from within, I search the outer landscape for images to give it voice. If it comes from without, I muse on why this moment caught my eye . . . where does it connect to my inner landscape? 

the cry
of a kingfisher—
I seize
from the blue lake of morning
this nameless bounty

 Sometimes words arrive like mayflies in the slipstream, but that is rare. More often, I need to free-write in prose just to discover what I mean. Then it takes days of tinkering for the poem to find its shape. I search for clarity and simplicity, metaphor and dreaming room, shapeliness and music. Walking or driving—especially if I am alone—may set the words flowing. The poem simmers in the back of my mind while I peel potatoes or wash dishes. I grab the grocery list and scribble five lines down.  No, it doesn’t work. I throw the whole thing out and go to bed grumpy, only to wake long before dawn . . .  

a baby not my own
in a dream
she signs to me
the words of a poem

Finally I push the fledgling tanka out of the nest for the kind and critical scrutiny of friends, without whom far fewer of my poems would ever find their wings. 

a gathering
of swallows’ voices
on the wire . . .
how five lines bind
friends who’ve never met

                      ~Ribbons 10:1, Winter 2014


  1. A wonderful writeup and set of poems, which I also enjoyed in Ribbons. Gorgeous photo too.


  2. Thanks, Janet! You are, of course, among those mentioned in the last poem!