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 . . .
nursing 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