First published in Ribbons 16:2, Spring/Summer 2020, pages 6–9, the journal of the Tanka Society of America, of which I am founder and current president. The following text omits a few mundane elements in my original message.
In the world of men, nanigoto mo
everything has changed— kawarihatetaru
and changed utterly. yo no naka o
And yet, all unknowing, shirade ya yuki no
white snow keeps falling down. shiroku fururamu
Sassa Narimasa, from Taikōki
Even the crow karasu dani
is weary of the world. ukiyo itoite
Look, see his black robes! sumizome ni sometaru ya
Yes, he has put on mi wo sumizome ni
robes of black. sometari
Anonymous, from Kanginshū
As I muse alone, omou koto o
why does no one come to ask nado tou hito no
what is troubling me? nakaruramu
I look up, and in the sky augeba sora ni
the moon is shining bright. tsuki zo sayakeki
Chief Abbot Jien, from Shin Kokinshū
These three waka are from Steven D. Carter’s How to Read a Japanese Poem (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019, 73–74, 103, and 59). They speak from centuries ago to our troubled times, even if their original subjects are not the ones they suggest today. What a tumultuous year we have had thus far, with an unprecedented global pandemic, staggering economic upheaval, and widespread yet mostly necessary social unrest. Many of us have been sheltering at home, perhaps no longer employed. Many of us have had countless events and gatherings cancelled, and can no longer engage in activities, at least temporarily, that stave off loneliness and bring light to our lives. For months, we have been unable to get together with friends and loved ones, except in a substitute way through online video chats. Many of us are outraged regarding racial inequalities, and are doing what we can, despite stay-at-home mandates, to raise our voices in protest. Even so, and especially for those who have been quarantined at home, perhaps we feel, like Chief Abbot Jien, as if no one is coming to ask what is troubling us.
Tanka poetry, of course, can provide solace in these times. After September 11, North America and places elsewhere saw a surge of poetic expression from the general public, and we are seeing that surge again now. This sort of personal expression helps in our struggle to deal with the complex emotional strain of our overturned lives. In the pages of Ribbons, we can see through our poems what is troubling us, and see alternative subjects that we turn to at times, even of necessity, to minimize or even avoid our troubles. Never is poetry, tanka included, more important than in times of upheaval, as it helps us process our concerns and find a way through to the light—that moon that is always shining brightly in the sky above us, even if behind clouds.
Much has happened in the last few months. We had hoped to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Tanka Society of America this year with a conference in June, but that was not possible. We have chosen, instead, to celebrate in more modest ways. One of those has been the “Tanka Haiga” exhibit on Facebook for the month of April. Thank you to Susan Burch for her initiative in soliciting graphic images and artwork with tanka poems that she posted to our Facebook page. And thank you to Christine L. Villa for converting all the images into a pleasing four-minute video, featuring twenty poets, which you can see at https://youtu.be/5HjBTXiiddw.
A second celebration has been to make it free to enter this year’s Sanford Goldstein International Tanka Contest. This has resulted in by far the highest number of entries we’ve ever received—925 tanka by 160 poets from around the world. Thank you to Susan Burch for coordinating the contest. The poems are now in the hands of our two judges, Margaret Dornaus and Claire Everett, and we especially thank them for their extra work to make their selections this year.
A third celebration for our twentieth anniversary is to plan an online video conference via Zoom. We still need to work out what special readings and presentations we will have, but we do at least expect to include sharing and workshopping of poems, so that everyone can participate. Watch for more details, including a date and time. Although the coronavirus pandemic is motivating us to have an online gathering instead of meeting in person, the silver lining of this situation is that it may well inspire us to hold virtual meetings on a quarterly basis, or at least annually, even after the pandemic wanes.
Another change, which you’ve already seen in the previous issue of Ribbons, is having a new editor in Christine L. Villa, who did a tremendous job in producing her first issue under difficult circumstances. We also welcome new book review editor, Tamara K. Walker, who offers us much to contemplate with her more in-depth consideration of recent tanka books. And although it’s not a change to have James Won and Kathabela Wilson continue as treasurer and secretary, we thank them for their ongoing work, along with Michael McClintock who continues to coordinate the “Tanka Café” section of Ribbons, and Susan Weaver who edits tanka prose. A bow of thanks to Taura Scott and especially Susan Weaver for proofreading. We are grateful to these and other volunteers who contribute their time, expertise, and enthusiasm.
One new announcement is that I’ll be editing the Tanka Society of America membership anthology this year, and I hope to make it a celebration of our twentieth anniversary too. I edited the first TSA anthology in 2002, Castles in the Sand, and I look forward to considering your tanka this year until the submission deadline of August 31. The TSA website has submission details, and we’ll also send out email and Facebook reminders.
I would like to conclude with one more waka from Steven D. Carter’s How to Read a Japanese Poem (13), a poem that, despite despair, is one of hope:
From a past unseen minu mukashi
and on into a future mizaran nochi mo
I shall never see— kawaraji na
ever unchanging is the light nadataru aki no
of the renowned autumn moon. tsuki no hikari wa
Wife of Yoshimasa