the hill with my mother to clear oak leaves from the spring.A frog leaps in. The water in the cold stone
box rises out of the earth and flows down to our house through a copper pipe. Clearing the spring—that is tanka, but I will not discover it for half a
I grew up immersed in the worlds of
nature and of books. Stones and streams and sky were my childhood
companions.I listened to my mother
recite Alfred Noyes’ "The Highwayman" and read aloud from Edna St. Vincent
Millay, and in time I discovered Yeats and Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson and
e.e. cummings.My own first composition
is penciled on brown paper in my brother’s
hand because I was too young to print the letters myself.
continued to write throughout high school and college, but while I pursued marriage,
further education, two successive careers, and raised two children—one
with significant, multiple disabilities—it often came as a relief to ignore
the naggings of the muse. For long periods she fell silent, though she never
left me.I wrote factual educational
materials about biology, but the poetry in that had to stay deeply hidden. I
taught nonverbal children how to communicate, but their means of expression
were more often pictures than words. I struggled to understand my younger son’s
disordered communication, and sometimes I found poetry there.
life expanded when my disabled son, now grown, at last found a safe, caring
home away from home, and it expanded again a few years later when I retired.
During this period I began writing more than I had in decades.I published a fistful of poems, and won a
couple of awards from my state poetry society. I wrote mostly free verse, but I
entertained the niggling suspicion that—as
Robert Frost put it—“writing
free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.”I
experimented with form—sestina, sonnet, villanelle, ghazal—and
even tried my hand at a few haiku.Although I intuitively understood the benefits of having a flexible form
to push against, I did not discover “my”form
until I stumbled upon tanka.
that I thank Jane Reichhold.I had never
heard of tanka until I read her little book, Writing and Enjoying Haiku: AHands-on Guide.Immediately I
thought I could do that and began experimenting.Curiously, my first published tanka
comprised an entire sequence, “The Rosewood Bird,”which,
to my amazement, was one of three winning sequences in the twentieth (and
final) Tanka Splendor Contest sponsored by AHA Books.Writing that sequence about my father showed
me the uncanny power of tanka to give voice even to a complex grief muffled for
the next several years I made a gradual transition to writing tanka pretty much
exclusively.In 2012, I joined the
AHAPoetry Forum (more thanks to Jane Reichhold), which has provided invaluable companionship
and help on my journey.The chance to read
and comment on other poets’works-in-progress sharpens the eye and
ear; and my own tanka receive just the friendly drubbing they often need.
recently, I have taken on the role of Reviews and Features Editor for Claire
Everett’s Skylark:A Tanka Journal, and in that capacity I look forward to reading and sharing
some of the many fine tanka collections currently being published. Although I have not yet put together a
collection of my own, I hope to do so eventually, and in the meanwhile I
maintain this blog as a repository for my poems.
why tanka?Friends, family, and even “mainstream”poets
are often mystified by my enchantment with the form.
clears the spring. The need for compression forces the
writer to select only the most telling details—there
can be no muddying the water with abstract maundering. Simple, concrete images
laid side-by-side transmogrify into metaphor as if by magic, like an image
coming clear in the rippled surface of a pool.
Stafford, in Writing the Australian Crawl, says that "A writer is
not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a
process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had
not started to say them."For me,
tanka is that process.Often, I go to sleep
frustrated by the elusive whisper of a thought, by a compelling image whose
significance I cannot grasp, by a strong but inarticulate feeling.And often I wake to a flow of words forming
themselves into tanka, arising from some mysterious inner wellspring.
rain on the roof
curtain between worlds
five lines, tanka affords the writer just enough space to explore the
subterranean passageways that connect subjective and objective realms, psyche
while tanka may have a bit more room than haiku for the lyrical expression of
emotions and imagination, it is still a vessel small enough to catch and hold
the elusive stream of nows that flow through our lives like mist
on the wind.
tanka’s brevity allows me to compose and
revise whole poems in my head, so an undercurrent of poetry flows through nearly
everything I do—an
enriching way to live. I hope to keep following that current back toward its source.