Member’s Choice Tanka Commentary

First published in the Tanka Society of America Newsletter 5:4, December 2004, page 8. A tanka of mine was selected as the Member’s Choice poem in the previous issue, which meant that I had the opportunity to pick my favourite poem from that issue.

        summer’s end:

        meeting you

        for the last time

        I notice your clothes are

        less casual


                —Doreen King


Some tanka are overtly emotional or subjective, whereas this one by Doreen King, while still subjective, takes a more subtle approach. We are immediately placed in a seasonal setting, but with a tinge of melancholy at summer’s ending. The meeting could be anywhere, though I picture an outdoor café. The poem can expand for each reader as we supply our own setting and enter into the mystery and restraint of this poem.

        We do not know if this last meeting is with a lover or a friend, or if the person’s change to wearing more formal clothes is a reflection on the change in the relationship or the change in weather. Surely the poem means all of these things, with the seasonal change echoing the relationship change and vice versa.

        I also like the careful placement of the word “are” in the fourth line rather than the fifth. This placement creates a lilt of anticipation that resolves in the last line, and also shifts the focus from the objective clothes to the subjective interpretation of those clothes, thus lending an emotional rather than imagistic emphasis to the poem. Likely it is this very emphasis that sets tanka apart from haiku.

        One more personal comment: I am grateful to Michael Blaine for selecting my poem in the previous issue, and to the anonymous donor of the award money—not just for the prize money but for the greater gift of engaging me more profoundly in reading and re-reading each of the poems, creating, for me, a deeper sense of personal connection with other Tanka Society of America members through your poems. Numerous other tanka struck me for their clear and immediate images, the reality of their emotional landscapes, and the breadth and depth of expression.

        My short list of poems included those by Karma Tenzing Wangchuk, Leslie Giddens, Dorothy McLaughlin, Elizabeth Howard, Melissa Dixon, Kozue Uzawa, Thelma Mariano, Beverley George, and F. Matthew Blaine (in order of appearance). My congratulations to these poets and others whose poems took me with them on the theme of personal reflection, and to Peggy Heinrich whose “and yet” simultaneously alludes to the famous Issa “world of dew” poem and gives her own poem connectedness, and to Amelia Fielden, whose personal commemoration speaks powerfully despite—and even because of—its restraint.

Commended Tanka

For the first time                                                              in my longing

I find myself                                                                       to hold grandchildren

alone                                                                                     remembrance

and yet . . .                                                                          of the three babies

winter sun                                                                          who died inside me

        —Peggy Heinrich                                                             —Amelia Fielden