All About Love

First published in Ribbons 17:2, spring/summer 2021, pages 216–129 (I also have a tanka in this anthology). Originally written in January of 2021.

Love: The British Haiku Society 30th Anniversary Members’ Tanka Anthology, edited by A. A. Marcoff. Barking, England: British Haiku Society, 2020. ISBN 978-1-906333-13-3. 36 pages. £4.00 plus shipping from the British Haiku Society.

In introducing this collection, the editor reports, “When I was walking by the famous shrine at Kashima in 1980, I asked my friend Mr. Kudo which he preferred—haiku or tanka?—and he answered without hesitation, ‘tanka, because they are more romantic.’” And this may well be why this pleasing anthology has a theme of love. The British Haiku Society has always included tanka as part of its haiku journal, Blithe Spirit, but as a gift to its members in celebration of the society’s 30th anniversary the society decided to publish first-time anthologies for tanka and haibun in addition to its usual haiku/senryu members’ anthology—and this is the tanka collection.
        Editor A. A. Marcoff notes that tanka “are perhaps closer to western poetry than haiku are,” and adds that “tanka may divide into two parts—‘the poet sees,’ and ‘the poet reflects.’” The book features 85 poets, chiefly from the United Kingdom, but with surprises from around the world. Poems are arranged alphabetically by each poet’s first name.
        As a sampling, here is every tenth poem, illustrating the varieties of love in our lives:

                what once was
                must still be there
                in our hearts
                the whisper of wind
                voiced by trees
                                Bob Lucky (Saudi Arabia)

                the way the berths
                of his sailboat curve
                inward at the bow:
                all night your breath
                cool on my forehead
                                Dee Evetts (UK)

                two herons
                circle the lake
                wartime romance
                he clears away grass
                from her grave
                                Graham Duff (UK)

                my son shows me
                a caterpillar cloud
                in autumn-blue sky . . .
                the way things change
                in unexpected ways
                                John Barlow (UK)

                along my spine
                the touch of his piano
                floats me to a place where
                silence becomes butterflies
                when the world’s hinge swings shut
                                Linda Jeannette Ward (USA)

                his wife in a nursing home,
                he lingers
                over a cappuccino . . .
                perusing lonely hearts page
                                Mary Gunn (Ireland)

                by the old bridge
                two lovers pause
                lost innocence
                play Pooh Sticks
                                Peter Morriss (UK)

                enough now
                just to know
                you are here . . .
                my fingertips seek
                your night-warm skin
                                Susan King (UK)

Although the poems submitted for this collection were intended to be about love (without mentioning the word), it seems true that tanka itself is frequently a love poem. Love has been the most common theme in ancient Japanese tanka, and here we can see the theme’s continuing vitality in the book’s joyous, heartwarming, yet occasionally heart-wrenching poems. Here’s one more selection from this recommended book, about a kind of love at the end of life:

                growing old
                in a corner of my garden
                her favourite flowers
                seeds scattered with the ashes
                and the evening breeze
                                Susan Spooner (Canada)