hosts: Firdaus Parvez, Kala Ramesh, Priti Aisola & Suraja Menon Roychowdhury
Introducing a new perspective to our Wednesday Feature!
poet of the month: Autumn Noelle Hall
We saved the best for the last:
That Road is Narrow*
I read Traveling through the Dark again and again, horror mounting steadily in stratified layers. Living as I do, beside that mountain road, I realize I should hesitate. But the wilderness, ever mute and doomed to listen, entreats me to speak
of that doe sitting
dog-like on the roadside
hind end too ruined
for her to stand and run
from the cops drawing their guns
of the saw they took
to the antlers of that buck
a truck-hit prize
trickling blood red as mine
from his soft and speechless mouth
Because I believe that road is narrow between man and beast, I ask: were the heap left dead on the edge a girl—a runaway, perhaps? illegal immigrant?—hitchhiking alone in the dark; were she large in the belly, her side...warm, would push yet come to shove, sinking her in that river grave, her child alive, still, never to be born?
I ask, who dares think for us all, divining deer from girl, one life more precious than another?
the drunk driver
the teen texting his ex
does not stop to tweet:
to swerve might make more dead
does not stop at all
to think, or if he thinks, it’s
‘best to roll
with the punches, dodging
what is right for what is easy
Tell me—there rides his car, the steady engine, purring, its warm exhaust turning red—does aiming ahead its lowered parking lights make it somehow more reverent, more minister than machine?
with Spring’s green
the wilderness yields
our group dooms itself
by virtue of dominion
after a deer
traveling through the dark
nips every last bud
twice as many columbines thrive
beside that roiled river
—Autumn Noelle Hall
*Note: all italicized text extracted from William E. Stafford’s poem, Traveling through the Dark and reimagined in this tanka prose rebuttal in accordance with U.S. Fair Use standards. Stafford’s original poem can be found here
We had the pleasure of asking Autumn Noelle Hall a few questions, and she graciously took the time to answer them.
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?
Autumn: Any poet who has ever corresponded with me will no doubt recognize my best advice: READ, READ, READ. Read widely and read deeply. Read daily. Read across journals and genres and time. Read things you love and things you hate, and ask yourself what about the writing makes you feel either way. Read with empathy, actively and bodily—enter into the work and allow it to enter you. Read with a notebook and pencil beside you, and when you are moved to, write in response to what you are reading. And absolutely read as many tanka by as many poets as you possibly can—support tanka journals by subscribing and tanka poets by buying their books if you are able; read online journals, ebooks and blogs if you are not. Reading far more tanka than you write will help you to grasp the indescribable essence of the form intuitively.
As both an editor and a reader, first and foremost, I am looking for authenticity. Quite often, no matter how elegantly or expertly written, a a contrived poem has a different energetic quality than a lived poem. Richard Hugo wrote in The Triggering Town about the way true poets imbue certain words with the resonance of their own intimate, personal associations. An astute reader essentially unlocks that resonant energy when they encounter those words. It’s a kind of palpable alchemical magic that evades formulaic construction. Think of it as the difference between weaving a basket with your own hands versus buying one Made-in-China at The Dollar Store; sure, both will carry your shopping, but the handmade basket holds so much more. Next, I am looking for exceptional connections—unusual perspectives, unexpected links, unique insights. If you really want to write about cherry blossoms, fine; just do it differently than the thundering herd that ran those pretty pink petals into the ground before you. Craft is important, and skillful writing is a plus; but both can be taught. I am more than willing to spend the time helping a poet learn to polish their genuine, essential experience into a well-crafted poem. Finally, I am looking for emotion. I want to feel something when I read a tanka, be it grief or anger, joy or peace. I have come across some pristinely described imagistic poems that leave me with an empty sense of, “So what?” By the time I get through line five, I want to care deeply about both the poem and the poet. I think that requires a level of sensitivity as well as vulnerability on the poet’s part. So, my final advice is to be open and brave.
More about Autumn:
For over a decade, Colorado writer Autumn Noelle Hall’s short form poetry has appeared internationally in distinguished literary journals and anthologies, garnering her a reputation for self-aware autobiography, unsparing socio-political commentary, and environmental activism. Living and writing in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, she draws on her natural surroundings and daily interactions with the native flora and fauna—columbine, ponderosa pine, black bears, and mountain lions have all found their way into her poems. From 2016-2018, Hall served as the inaugural Tanka Prose Editor for the Tanka Society of America’s print journal, Ribbons. In 2019, Atlas Poetica published her Special Feature, Turn the Other Cheek: Nonviolent Resistance and Peaceful Protest Tanka. In 2020, her tanka observing the global Covid crisis won first place in Japan’s Fujisan Taisho competition. Her collaborative book, Tanka Quartets, co-authored with long-time Ribbons Editor, David C. Rice, debuted in August of 2020. In 2021, she was honored to serve as co-judge with Don Miller for the annual Sanford Goldstein International Tanka Contest. Hall currently serves as editor of Ribbons’ Tanka Studio, a member-only-feature following in the 20-year-long tradition of Michael McClintock’s Tanka Cafe, where she places the highest value on authentic, inventive, empowering work.
Challenge for this week: Autumn's tanka-prose evoked an array of emotions, from anger to despair to tears and I read it again and again; each time finding something new. I could feel 'horror mounting steadily in stratified layers' too as I read Stafford's poem. And what a fantastic rebuttal by Autumn.
This week's challenge is to write about anger. I'll leave it at that and let you interpret it in your own unique voices.
And remember – tanka, because of those two extra lines, lends itself most beautifully when revealing a story. 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 this theme too. An essay on how to write tanka: Tanka Flights PLEASE NOTE 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. 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.