hosts: Firdaus Parvez, Kala Ramesh, Priti Aisola & Suraja Menon Roychowdhury
Introducing a new perspective to our Wednesday Feature!
poet of the month: Susan Weaver
in the helicopter
baptizing the newborn
with the water
of their tears
Ribbons, Winter 2017
in the sky
at sea bottom
how far our reach
red lights, June 2021
Susan, we thank you warmly for sharing your tanka and your thoughts.
TTH: How do you develop a tanka? Please guide us through the stages of a poem.
SW: I'd like to take you through the development of this one:
if I'd really listened
what might she have told me
in the wind
Ribbons Spring/Summer 2020
Some of my tanka take shape fairly quickly, and the finished version is not too unlike my first draft. Just as often, though, my poems end up very different from their first iteration.
An observation, often from nature, usually gets me started. Or I might be inspired by an art exhibit or by reading tanka by others. In this case, on a nearby college campus one night, I heard an owl call in the dark. I couldn't see it. So later as I began to write, I used sound imagery. I wanted to suggest too the owl's place in legend; I may have done some reading on that. And I wanted to juxtapose my response. Here's an early version:
scrapes another in the wind
an owl calls
messenger of secrets
I hold my breath
It didn't seem entirely successful, so I set it aside in a computer file. Sometime later, a prompt for “The Tanka Cafe” department in Ribbons was “curiosity.” This seemed to call for memoir. I tried to convey a funny experience when my curiosity got me in trouble, but that didn't work. I dug deeper. As an adult, I have revisited again and again conversations with my sister, who died suddenly, violently, unexpectedly about twenty years ago. I ask myself, what if . . .? Could I have made a difference? It's a much deeper feeling than curiosity, and these are answers I may never find.
I meditated on that and began: “if I'd really listened/ what might she have told me.” I didn't want to explain but to leave the poem open-ended, to let the reader help interpret the story. Besides, I think it's not unusual to have regrets like this when someone dies. So I decided to try adding lines from the owl poem to suggest my mood. To me, the boughs scraping with the wind suggested bleakness. The finished poem (see above) appeared in “The Tanka Cafe” and was chosen for an honorable mention in the next issue of Ribbons.
Biography: Susan Weaver became editor of Ribbons (journal of the Tanka Society of America) in 2021, after serving three years as tanka prose editor. She is a former feature writer and editor with special interests in cycling and active travel. Her eight years of staff experience at Bicycling magazine, where she became managing editor, were bookended with periods of freelancing. Between assignments, she taught as a poet in the schools, worked weekends at a shelter for victims of domestic violence, and explored local back roads on her bicycle. She also enjoyed bike travel in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. and wrote about it for Adventure Cyclist and other magazines. Much later, she discovered tanka and tanka prose. She lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania, with her artist/writer husband and two cats.
Challenge for this week:
The first tanka, seemingly simple and straightforward, mystified me. There is more to it than is apparent even after a few readings. Are those present in the helicopter ‘baptizing’ the new born with tears of joy? Perhaps also, tears that signify seeking forgiveness for something? Or, is it tears of relief and deep gratitude because they have managed to escape a trying situation and have finally found grace in the form of the new born? The reader is left to reflect on all this after reading this succinct tanka. Another thought: L 3 as a pivot is done skilfully here.
The second tanka uses words sparingly, but precisely. Is the ‘hole/ in the sky’ a hole in the ozone layer? Or, has a mountain been blasted for mining rocks, flattened down, thereby opening up a sad space in the sky where its peak once soared? The readers are left to create their own story.
In this tanka, the two images that tell a story are clear and potent in terms of their message. Both chastise the humans for polluting or causing far-reaching damage to the sky, the earth, with its seas and oceans. And L 5 carries this indictment in simple and effective words: ‘how far our reach’. This ‘reach’ can be creative and life-sustaining, or its contrary.
We invite you to write tanka, which is spare in form, but not ‘skinny’, and which has a strong message or a memorable L 5.
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
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.