Belonging

The following is my introduction to Still Blue Water, a collection of one hundred and fourteen tanka by Saskatchewan poet Marje A. Dyck (Saskatoon: Calisto Press, 2012). I first wrote this introduction in April of 2012. Please see book ordering information at the end.

 

 

“To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,

One clover, and a bee,

And revery.

The revery alone will do,

If bees are few.”

 

        —Emily Dickinson

 

 

Not many Canadian poets have paid their dues in writing tanka for as long as Marje Dyck. In the following poems, a collection of her best tanka written over two decades of exploring the genre, we discover the poet’s reverie, and the inspiration she finds in her prairie world—usually gentle but at times turbulent. Japanese tanka poet Takuboku once said, in Sanford Goldstein’s translation, that “Poetry must not be what is usually called poetry. It must be an exact report, an honest diary, of the changes in a man’s emotional life.” Marje Dyck’s poems expand on this idea to provide a subtle sense of place. She was born in Hanley, Saskatchewan, and grew up on a farm nearby. “From roaming the wide prairies,” she has told me, “I gained a love of nature.” Marje has lived all her life in Saskatchewan, the breadbasket of Canada, a vast prairie spotted with thousands of lakes, each of which provides boundless recreation and serene natural beauty.

        Most of the poems in this collection are set in the summer, Saskatchewan’s idyllic season, and they frequently revel in a sense of joy and an appreciation for everything that surrounds the poet. This includes the many birds that visit or migrate overhead, or the region’s countless lakes and their trees and beaches—especially at Dore Lake, several hours’ drive north of where she now lives in Saskatoon. The author has a vacation home at Dore Lake, and has spent summers there for forty years. She’s also a snowbird and spends part of each winter in Arizona or California—hence the desert poems in this book’s winter section—but the Canadian prairie continues to be home. As Saskatchewan writer John Chaput once put it, “People here want to prove that they belong. . . . Saskatchewan’s greatest export has not been wheat, but people. People here want to show they are as good—and can achieve as much—as anyone in any part of the country or the world.” Certainly, for tanka poetry, Marje Dyck proves that she belongs.

        I used to live in Manitoba, next to Saskatchewan, and I know well the land that Marje loves. Here the sky is big, the sunsets grand, and you can always see the weather coming. Yet the landscape is typically quiet in its changes. This is not a land of glaciers and jagged mountains, or rugged coasts and seething oceans, but a land of subtlety and restraint—a trait we often find in her tanka. The poems turn inward at times, sometimes with a sense of mortality, but also focus outward on the world around the poet, or deftly combine both inner and outer.

 

beach grasses

sway in synch

attached by a fragile web

you avoid my eyes

during the argument

 

Here we feel that honest emotional context that Takuboku celebrated. This perspective is also tied to nature, and we instinctively know that just as the spider web connects the beach grasses, so too does a different kind of web connect Marje and whoever she argued with.

 

after meditating

I notice

a small grey hawk

in a tall tree

such perfect stillness

 

Observe the subtlety of landscape—just a tree and a quiet raptor, and the plainly honest report of noticing the bird and its stillness. Perhaps the bird would have gone unnoticed if she herself had not been meditating.

 

mid November

leaves still falling

not wanting

to think of their destiny

nor mine

 

The poem and the poet’s destiny are tinged, like coloured leaves, with duende. The leaves are not merely falling leaves, but symbols for Marje herself. The landscape is still quiet, and perhaps the observation is quiet, too, but its reverberations linger on in a disquieting way.

 

with swooping cries

two wild geese

settle on the creek bottom

I’ve come here to forget—

but geese mate for life

 

What is the untold story in this tanka? Is some aspect of her life as dry as the creek bed? Perhaps this is true only for this moment, a moment of personal self-reflection, perhaps of sadness or regret.

 

a few inches

above the water

new reed stems—

how I have learned

to bend with the years

 

Here we have redemption, and understand that Marje has learned to adapt, in ways more compelling than young reeds bending over water. We can dwell in this poem to wonder about her relationships and tribulations. Somehow the poem conveys a mild sense of triumph.

 

winding road

bordered with gold

can’t still these thoughts

can’t hold back

the moon

 

Whatever the poet’s life story, whatever her ups and downs, the beauty of the natural world around her inspires much reverie. She shows us that she belongs, not just in the world of tanka poetry, but in her home and in her land. These poems swell and surge as delicately as waving wheat or the ripples on a prairie lake. Just as nothing can stop the moon from shining, nothing can hold back Marje Dyck and her gently undulating tanka.

 

wind sighing

through the trees

that first night—

knowing this

I belong here

 

Michael Dylan Welch

Founder, Tanka Society of America

 

 

Ordering Information

 

Still Blue Water by Marje A. Dyck. Saskatoon: Calisto Press, 2012. Perfectbound, 5x8 inches, 52 pages, 114 tanka, introduction by Michael Dylan Welch, cover photograph by the author, ISBN: 978-0-9739249-1-6. Available for $10 (in U.S. or Canadian dollars) from the author at Calisto Press, 7 Richmond Place North, Saskatoon, SK, S7K 1A6 Canada. You can also order by email from mauvejazz@sasktel.net.