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 9, 2023
My own self
All my life, I have felt myself to be of known and also hidden parts. I have written poems down the decades about the male and female sides of my self.
I think we are all like this. That splitting at the dawn of time makes us long for wholeness, to search for our 'other half'.
All things have a dark side and a light side and we are no different. We too hold night and day within us.
he has dark skin
even his nature
the poems he writes
are of passages
when we dance
there is space
I will not let
him take my hand
to be dark too
but I am light
from my skin
to my bones
which burn him black
and go out
when my pale tears fall
light on her feet
the anima dances
through my days
through my nights
through my dreams
she is a watcher
of bees and falling leaves
of people passing,
a pale-eyed bystander
the weaver of hope
the bringer of water
her white hand
on my shoulder
into the hidden places
where honesty grows
the songs of the hills
of the great grey stones,
of the four wild winds
and the clear streams
she will not
listen to lies
she holds the truth
in the palm of her hand
As Polonius said to his son Laertes in Shakespeare's Hamlet -
This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Joy McCall thinks she knows who she is, having lived through enough life and pain. She is probably wrong.
(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 two:
Q TTH: How did you get started as a poet? What was it about tanka that inspired you to embrace this ancient form of poetry? In short, why do you keep writing tanka.
Joy: I began writing tanka, and other forms about the age of nine. I didn’t like the poetry they taught us in school – mostly Shakespeare and Shelley and such. But one day I was wandering in the school library and found a book of Japanese poems – and I fell in love with tanka and tried to find out as much as I could about Japan. It wasn’t so easy in those days, with no internet, but my Swedish grandpa helped me. Ryokan was (and is) my favourite poet. Tanka became my habit, the way I found a way to write daily the meaning in my life. It still does that for me.
3. TTH: How do you develop a tanka? Please guide us through the stages of a poem.
Joy: Who knows? I never think about what I write. I think there is some kind of inner muse that shapes poetry. I just sense when a poem needs to be written and I begin and it happens. If I think about poems, they are never any good.
Often it is something outside that begins the poem – something I see or hear or notice that touches something inside of me.
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:
What an unusual and simply stunning tanka-prose. If you google animus and anima, it will throw up some interesting theories by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist. Joy has taken that and made it something so beautiful. What do you think? Where does your mind go? Wander into the depths of the world within you. What do you find? Write about it. That is your challenge for this week. But like always, you're free to write outside this challenge. 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.
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.