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 23, 2023
Our pub landlady was expecting twins but sadly one died early in the pregnancy.
The doctors recommended aborting both little ones, but the landlady is made of strong stuff.
She chose to carry on to full term, carrying one living babe and one dead one.
She wanted the dead one to be allowed a proper burial, and not to be thrown in an incinerator, as is usual.
It was hard for her, knowing.
she sat behind the bar
every day till closing time
filling the glasses
with ale and cider
joking and smiling
When the time came, the two babes were born and the dead one had the good burial her mother and father wanted.
They chose not to tell the living one about her twin until she was much older, but when I sat by the pub fire -
the little one
sat on my lap
and whispered in my ear
don't tell, but
my sister is here
Time passed and school time came and the little girl struggled. She would faint in class and in the playground.
The doctor sent her to see a heart specialist who gave them grave news - her heart was in bad shape.
the small girl
who shared the womb
with her dead twin
sees the cardiologist
for her broken heart
next time I see her
she hugs me and says
my sister says
my heart has to beat
for the two of us now
I go to the ruined church near the pub and pray that her heart will keep on beating, steady and true.
- Norwich, England
Joy McCall is always moved and amazed by the courage of the people she meets, close to home and far away. The human race is mostly wonderful.
(All the tanka-prose we'll be featuring have been published in Atlas Poetica down the years. You can find Joy's books on amazon. So many wonderful ones.)
We are delighted to share Joy's poems and thank her for taking the time to answer our questions. Here's the next:
Q TTH: Can you give any advice to someone wanting to write and publish tanka? As an editor what are you looking for in a tanka that makes it most likely to get published?
Joy: That’s a tough one as I would hate to be an editor. Every poet knows how they want to write, and what is their own way. But I think when writing tanka we have to honour the Japanese waka roots and always include the old aesthetics that shaped the form so many centuries ago. I believe that tanka should always hold part inner/part outer worlds – what we see and hear and notice and how it makes us feel or what it makes us discover about ourselves and how we fit into the big picture. We’re all part of the Whole.
I think every poet’s journey is unique to themselves. Finding our own truth is what matters most.
I like the shape of tanka, the pivot in the middle; often the mystery, the thing Denis Garrison called ‘dreaming room’ where the reader chooses what they feel when they read.
5 lines, short-long-short-long-long and less than 22 syllables (Japanese syllables are different from the English) – but let the muse decide!
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:
Yet another moving tanka-prose by Joy. This made me tear up. I hope it inspires you to write about someone who has moved you and made you believe in the resilience of the human spirit. Let's celebrate that if you want or, anything else outside this challenge. Most of all 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.