hosts: Firdaus Parvez, Kala Ramesh, Priti Aisola & Suraja Menon Roychowdhury
Introducing a new perspective to our Wednesday Feature!
poet of the month: Joy McCall
August 16, 2023
Bats and Vespers
It was an old convent just outside Toronto - the Sisters of Saint Joseph - standing in vast grounds; a quiet place away from the city noise and lights; tall trees, wide lawns, curving driveways, heavy gates.
One of the wings of the building was set aside as a hospice for old, ill, and dying nuns and monks. I worked as the night nurse there. Monks and nuns, just like Ryokan, like all of us, need loving human care when they grow frail.
There was a high-roofed chapel next to the sick bay and I would hear the chanting of vespers, of late compline, of vigils, of lauds.
of chanted prayers
hung on the air
the holiness, the quietness
the gentle peace
When a patient was dying I would wake a young monk or a nun to come and sit at the bedside to pray until the last breath, and a while after.
Sometimes the patients had old age dementia and all the years of strict daily discipline would be lost.
There was a sweet kind of humanity in those folk.
One old nun loved to dance in the moonlight.
out on the lawn
under the moon
her long white gown
brushing the grass
A little while of dancing and I would take her hand for a few more turns and then dance her indoors to her bed and she would sleep, content.
There were a few nights when the patients all slept (no tiresome bureaucracy and form-filling in those days) and I would sit and read between making rounds - usually poetry, sometimes old novels.
of long-dead monks
slipping through the trees
there - and then gone
Bats would fly up and down the corridors, with that uncanny sense of direction they have, hearing echoes of their own voices.
just above my head
ruffling my hair
that eerie feeling
something primal, ancient
I wonder why a person would choose to be a nun or a monk. There seem to be many reasons, not just for the religion.
It is a safe and secure way of living, among like-minded people, sheltered from the outside world with all its beauty and despair.
It would not be my way.
I like my life
in all the colours
of the rainbow
not for me the monochrome
of holy orders
As Oodgeroo of the Nunuccal tribe wrote in her poem 'Song' -
Grief is not in vain
It's for our completeness.
If the fates ordain
Love to bring life sweetness,
Welcome too its pain.
Joy McCall lives again where she was born in old Norwich, Norfolk, a place of ancient history, full of bones and ghosts.
(All the tanka-prose we'll be featuring have been published in Atlas Poetica down the years)
We are delighted to share Joy's poems and thank her for taking the time to answer our questions. Here're the next:
Q TTH: Who are your favourite tanka poets? In addition to tanka what other genres of poetry do you write or read? Tell us about some of the books you've enjoyed.
Joy: Always, every day, monk Ryokan. And other Japanese tanka poets. I like Frances Cornford as she comes from these parts. I like Shiki, Langston Hughes, Rumi, Rilke, Yeats, Sam Hamill. There are too many to list, probably hundreds, and I would no doubt leave out favourites if I tried to remember them all. There’s always a poem or a song playing in my head.
I like my friend Tom Sexton’s work a lot. He is the ex-poet-laureate of Alaska.
I like a lot of living poets too, especially in the tanka world and outside. Bob Kinsley is a great favourite.
Every time a new journal comes along I find more poets I like; of course, my old friend Sandy Goldstein. He has probably inspired me more than anyone. Also Michael McClintock, M.Kei, Jenny Angyal, Gerry Jacobson and … oh there are so many fine tanka poets in the journals and many have become friends and sometimes we have written strings and pairs and books together.
I can’t start telling about books, there are too many. Reading has been much of my life, apart from nursing and my family and nature and motorbiking.
Joy McCall was born in Norwich, England at the end of World War II. Her father served as a chaplain in the British air force in India and Burma. After marrying a Canadian, Joy raised her two daughters in Canada. Later, she moved back to Norwich, where she worked as a nurse to be close to her parents until their passing. Life took a heartbreaking turn when Joy's younger daughter, Wendy, a psychologist, tragically succumbed to Multiple Sclerosis in 2021, leaving a profound void in her mother's heart.
Despite facing tremendous challenges, Joy remains resilient. She suffered a life-altering accident 21 years ago, leaving her paraplegic and amputated, confining her to a bed. Throughout it all, her devoted husband, Andy, has been her unwavering support and rock.
In the face of adversity, Joy finds solace in poetry and the beauty of nature. She has channeled her passion for writing and has authored several books of tanka, available on Amazon.
Joy began writing tanka when she was nine years old, after discovering Ryokan's poems in the school library. The sense of the outside world and how it relates to her inner world fascinates her. Poems just come to Joy; she doesn't actively "think" about them. Often, they arrive at night or after she observes something in nature that deeply moves her.
While Joy admires the works of old poets, she also believes that there are many wonderful tanka poets in the present age. She refrains from naming them, fearing she might inadvertently leave out someone who matters. Her knowledge of tanka expanded not just from studying Ryokan, Shiki, and Saigyo, but also from the teachings of modern poets like Sandy Goldstein, Denis Garrison, M. Kei, and numerous others.
The challenge for this week:
Joy's poems are breathtaking, I'm a little in awe and I don't have any challenge for you this week. Just write what this tanka-prose inspires in you. Where does it take you? How does it make you feel? Take us to another world of bones and ghosts perhaps, or wherever the heart leads. Have fun!
And remember – tanka, because of those two extra lines, lends itself most beautifully when revealing a story. And tanka-prose is storytelling.
Give these ideas some thought and share your tanka and tanka-prose with us here. Keep your senses open, observe things that happen around you and write. You can post tanka and tanka-prose outside these themes too.
An essay on how to write tanka: Tanka Flights here
1. Post only one poem at a time, only one per day.
2. Only 2 tanka and two tanka-prose per poet per prompt.
Tanka art of course if you want to.
3. Share your best-polished pieces.
4. Please do not post something in a hurry or something you have just written. Let it simmer for a while.
5. Post your final edited version on top of your original verse.
6. Don't forget to give feedback on others' poems.
7. All TANKA ART must have the photo source written clearly.
Otherwise it won't be accepted.
We are delighted to open the comment thread for you to share your unpublished tanka and tanka-prose (within 250 words) to be considered for inclusion in the haikuKATHA monthly magazine.