Four Favourite Tanka

First published in Gusts #4, Fall/Winter 2006, page 10. Originally written in March and May of 2006.

White Flowers in the Sky is a book by Anna Holley and Aya Yuhki, tanka poets who live in the United States and Japan, respectively. For those interested in the book, it was published in 2005 by Banraisya, Inc. in Japan (paperback, 164 pages, 5 by 6.5 inches, ISBN 4-901221-15-9), and is available at or through Kinokuniya Bookstores if America for $25.00. This is not a review of White Flowers in the Sky, but a commentary on two pairs of poems from the book.

                if only there are

                for a single day white, pink, and violet

                in the color morning glories,

                of a morning-glory I would like to be

                I would like to bloom cerulean blue

                        —Anna Holley                                                        —Aya Yuhki

In the call-and-response poems that make up White Flowers in the Sky, these two poems are among my favourite. The poet James Wright once wrote “Suddenly I realize that if I stepped out of my body I would break into blossom.” In these poems, Anna and Aya do step out of their bodies and become morning glories. This is each poet’s mind at play, taking fresh leaps of delight, and it is the reader’s delight, too, to break into the same blue blossoms.

                my dog and wild pigeons with no word

                share the same sunny spot spoken between us,

                a day when sitting together

                I am grieving under the autumn sky

                over racial conflict a cat and I

                        —Aya Yuhki                                                           —Anna Holley

This pairing of poems, also from White Flowers in the Sky, shows how tanka can be extended into a form of collaboration. One poem extends the other yet shifts away, like the verses in a renku or the two parts of a tan-renga, creating its own energy. We are not told the nature of the racial conflict in Aya’s poem, but we take solace from the dog and pigeons that remain at peace with each other. Anna shows the unspoken harmony between herself and a cat—not her cat, but a cat, one that she presumably did not already have a relationship with. Whereas Aya observes harmony between a dog and birds, external to herself, Anna’s response poem takes that vision a step further and presents harmony between herself and an animal, making the lesson one that she has internalized. Though an autumn sky adds a tinge of somberness, we are still touched by the poem’s hope.