Friday, July 4, 2014

Poetic Musings: Dog Talk, A "Found Tanka Prose" by Mary Oliver

Bear is small and white with a curly tail. He was meant to be idle and pretty but learned instead to love the world, and to romp roughly with the big dogs. The brotherliness of the two, Ben and Bear, increases with each year. They have their separate habits, their own favorite sleeping places, for example, yet each worries without letup if the other is missing. They both bark rapturously and in support of each other. They both sneeze to express pleasure, and yawn in humorous admittance of embarrassment. In the car, when we are getting close to home and the smell of the ocean begins to surround them, they both sit bolt upright and hum.

With what rigor
and intention to please himself
the little white dog
flings himself into every puddle
on the muddy road.

-- excerpted from "Dog Talk" (Mary Oliver, Dog Songs, Penguin Press, 2013, pp. 111-3)

Structurally speaking, there is no form of tanka prose composition that we as readers will encounter more frequently than the one above by Mary Oliver. This observation can be verified by a casual survey of any tanka/tanka prose journal, in print or online, and historically speaking, this basic unit of one paragraph and one tanka was the dominant form of  tanka prose in the Japanese poetic tradition. It is mainly because of  the functional role of the prefatory paragraph, a sketch that provides a compositional or thematic context and/or visual detail for its significance to the motif.

In the case of “Dog Talk,” a "found tanka prose" by Mary Oliver, the prefatory prose opens with a simple, succinct yet vivid account (functioning as a thesis statement, "He was meant to be idle and pretty but learned instead to love the world, and to romp roughly with the big dogs," for Oliver’s dog talk) of the main character, a small white dog named Bear, and then Oliver proceeds to describe its brotherly relationship with a big dog named Ben. In the concluding tanka, she skillfully reveals Bear's ("the little white dog's") personality trait and enhances the thematic motif (Bear’s learning to love the world) through an eye-catching and emotionally powerful image portrayed in Ls 4&5.

1 comment:

  1. Below is excerpted from the Wikipedia entry, Found Poetry:

    Found poetry is a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning. The resulting poem can be defined as either treated: changed in a profound and systematic manner; or untreated: virtually unchanged from the order, syntax and meaning of the original. The concept of found poetry is closely connected to the revision of the concept of authorship in the 20th century: as John Hollander put it, 'anyone may "find" a text; the poet is he who names it, "Text"'.