Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Autumn chill

autumn chill
and the tug of past lives . . . 
blissfully I arrive
at this, my latest state
of imperfection

Simply Haiku, Winter 2009

photo copyright of Robert Curtis

Friday, October 26, 2012

Autumn wind

I rarely write haiku—the tanka form seems to fit me better—but every now and then I guess I want to say a little less.

photo copyright of Robert Curtis

autumn wind
the whole earth woven
into my hair

—Lyrical Passion Poetry E-Zine, 2011

Monday, October 22, 2012

What in the world are tanka?

A few weeks ago, a fellow writer-blogger asked me what a tanka is. For those perusing this blog who may be unfamiliar with the term, and also wondering what it is that I've been posting, a tanka is a "short poem" with a long, interesting history. The word is used in both the singular and plural (poem and poems) and applies to both genre and form. Its Japanese origins and relationship with waka, translating to "Japanese song," go back around 1300 years or so; the more-familiar haiku is several centuries younger.

In English, tanka consist of five fairly brief lines. There have been some colorful discussions, maybe small wars, in the English-language tanka (ELT) community over the exact particulars of the ELT form. An ELT isn't just any five-line poem, that's for sure, but it's tough to define in a meant-to-be-brief blog post. There are certain characteristics, to do with both structure and flavor, that seem to make it what it is. By the way, a 31-syllable poem is not a good or accurate description; the use of as many as 31 English syllables can result in fairly cumbersome tanka. Japanese tanka cannot simply be mimicked in other languages. Perhaps "we" shouldn't even call our non-Japanese versions "tanka," but here we are. To learn more, as well as read lots of examples, check out several of the sidebar links I've provided in this blog. 

Current ELT writing styles are all over the place. Myself, I'm most drawn to those poems that are lithe, concise yet lyrical, deceptively simple, and fresh, and that make use of natural contemporary speech. I attempt to write the bulk of my own in a "traditional" short-long-short-long-long line-length pattern, though my subject matter and approach may not always be thought of as traditional.

At any rate, the worldwide ELT community seems to have expanded fairly rapidly over the past several years. Composing tanka can be a challenging yet addictive pastime.

P.S. Quite a few small, quality journals exist that either are dedicated to ELT or otherwise feature it. Still, the time may be ripe for additional tanka-friendly 'zines, especially since one not long ago shut its doors and another one or two have been on hiatus. Anyone out there up for the task?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The outline

the outline
of its wounded body—
this fit of rain
not bold enough
to wash it from my mind

Modern English Tanka, Autumn 2008

I still can see it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Left alone

He will miss 
      the seasonal change,
      subtle as it will be:
      the first two waves of chill. 

He will leave
      when humid air still knocks
      against skin like angry beads
      and the jasmine draws in
      its final bees for the year— 

And will be gone
      while the oleander begin
      their hibernating droop
      and the hibiscus expose
      frameworks of thinning bones. 

He will not know
      the needle’s drill into
      tame, unsuspecting flesh,
      or the restive landscape
      of waiting for results— 

But will return
      in time to witness
      the expected conflagration:
      scarlet berries on the yaupon. 

Loch Raven Review, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2005

The berries on our city yaupon tree (pictured) would turn bright red during November. Here in this rustic place where we now live, the clump of native yaupon by our driveway already is loaded with red berries.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Being imperfect and unsafe: two essays

Something I've finally learned in life is to try a little less and stay a little mussed up (well, I may have gone overboard with the last part). I enjoy discovering beauty in the rustic or ramshackle, in plants some may call weeds, in things or even people discarded by others. And I'm drawn to poetry that may be a wee bit askew, while shedding light on our imperfect selves.

Thought I'd share this link to a lovely brief essay by Erin Coughlin Hollowell: "The Art of Imperfection in Poetry (and in life)" (with her permission). And here's another essay from her Being Poetry blog that I can identify with, about neat poems versus those with ragged edges: "Headfirst into the Picture Window—Risk in Writing."

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Roadside daisies; golden wings

roadside daisies
vibrant in my hand—
at home
this vase unable
to contain their wildness

golden wings
of a butterfly . . . 
it flees
after grazing
the edge of my shadow

—A Hundred Gourds, 1:4, Sept. 2012

They're not nearly as prolific as they were this summer, and the blooms are smaller. But it's early October, and still there are wild daisies at the edge of the woods.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

She warns me; I cringe

A couple more kyoka, or kyoka-like tanka, from Prune Juice:

she warns me
not to let the cat get out,
her old Persian
that barely even moves
an inch an hour

I cringe
at my reflection . . .
the charm
with which he offers
to bash out all our mirrors

Prune Juice, Issue 9, July 2012

See "Kyoka vs. Tanka - examples" by M. Kei at his Kujaku Poetry & Ships blog.