A Favorite Tanka: George Swede

First published in the Tanka Society of America Newsletter (need to confirm which issue), 2004. It was later my pleasure to write a blurb for First Light, First Shadows, a book of George’s tanka (Snapshot Press, 2006).

I’ve written previously (Tanka Society of America Newsletter, Vol. III, No. 4) that tanka often exhibit introspectiveness, a subtle sort of subjectivity that doesn’t necessarily use overt metaphor, simile, or other rhetorical devices. Here’s another example of this gentle self-awareness, this time by George Swede (from American Tanka #5, Fall 1998):


With the promotion

a corner office—

two window reflections

now vie for

my attention


The poet becomes introspective upon receiving a promotion—a moment in life when one naturally takes stock of oneself, in this case with understandable self-satisfaction. The corner office is a common reward for longevity or success in one’s job, and here the poet is aware not only of the reward but of how he now has two windows that return his reflection. The poet is almost self-deprecating in being aware of his self-satisfaction, thus the poem points out the foibles of the self, the temptation to feed one’s Narcissus ego. We are left to conclude whether the poet realizes his own puffery and is poking fun at himself, or whether he thinks he really deserves the extra attention. On the other hand, one can best see one’s reflection in a window when it is dark outside, and if it is dark outside, maybe it is because one is working hard, after hours, and the reward of the corner office is deserved. In either case, we see human nature in this poem more clearly because of the poet’s introspectiveness.