Sunday, November 9, 2014

Dark Wings of Night: Brian Zimmer's View of Tanka and His Tanka

In memory of my friend, Brian Zimmer who passed away on November 5th.

                                                                                      by day
                                                                                      I carry you in my heart
                                                                                      by night
                                                                                      on indigo mala beads
                                                                                      I pray you in my hands

                                                                                      Gusts, 19, Spring/Summer 2014
                                                                                      Brian Zimmer

Below is excerpted from Brian Zimmer's "The Tanka Sequence & Tanka-Prose as Introduction to Tanka," which was first published in Skylark,1:1,  Summer 2013:

Despite efforts by English writers like Amy Lowell and the first Japanese-American tanka poet, Jun Fujita, it was the Beat Poets who provided the most successful introduction of Eastern poetic forms to the West. Their impetus stemmed largely from an interest in Eastern religion, particularly the Zen Buddhism of Japan. However, the Beat’s eye was trained mostly on haiku.

The slowly growing popularity of tanka may be regarded as a more or less indirect result of the Beat-inspired impulse. There was also a general interest in all things Japanese resulting from the post-war Occupation.

I believe there is no getting around the fact that the tanka’s brevity has worked against it where English readership is concerned. English tanka rarely enters into discussions of contemporary poetics except among its practitioners. Yet many who have come to appreciate the richness of the translated ancient texts and many beautiful examples of English tanka, remain bewildered by the lack of interest generated beyond its community.

Tanka requires learning a special set of reading skills. One must be willing to slow down and pay attention to every line, caesura, and image. This type of reading is essential to all poetry but more so for the concentrated English tanka. Read too quickly tanka can appear easy, sometimes banal, and often not very poetic. We in the tanka community hear the lyrical in the best example while those new to the genre often do not without consistent exposure. There is more than one reason for this but brevity takes a major place among them.

I am convinced the Tanka Sequence and Tanka-Prose are meaningful forms for introducing tanka in general to English readers. This has to do with the preeminence of the narrative poem in English. These two tanka forms possess the essential narrative “hook” that keeps the western reader interested.

The Tanka Sequence and Tanka-Prose both allow tanka to rise naturally from their narratives, but they do so differently and offer unique reading opportunities for the uninitiated.

The best examples of both genres always prompt reader return. Upon further reading, the tanka become more recognizably contextualized and intrinsic to the work, increasing the reader’s aesthetic pleasure. In this way, readers are trained how to read and enjoy tanka in a natural and familiar manner; the reader learns to slow down without stopping and is impelled to return and ruminate... (note: you can read the full text here, pp84-9.)

Selected Tanka:

blue eggs
beneath a hen
of skies

Skylark, 1:2, Winter 2013

first to rise
under fading stars
the robin
rouses a choir
to sing-up the sun

Skylark, 1:2, Winter 2013

when the sun burns hot
I find shade to write
five lines on the sea
to wash-up at your feet

Skylark, 1:2, Winter 2013

only memory
their embrace
locked forever
in its youthful hour

Gusts, 14, Fall/Winter 2011

this hour
of clarity each day
before dawn
and the dark wing
casts its shadow

Gusts, 18, Fall/Winter 2013

the oracle spoken
from the prison of her chair
now empty decades:
the days drag by slowly
but how the years fly

Ash Moon Anthology:Poems on Aging in Modern English Tanka, 2008

the half-moon’s
fitful dreams
this sweltering night
on half
a sleeping pill

Lyrical Passion Poetry E-Zine

the habit
of his madness
boys follow
their raving father
to the harbour’s edge

Atlas Poetica, 3, Spring 2009

pine needles
gentle the forest floor
another boy
in a place we could
trust to be safe

Atlas Poetica, 3, Spring 2009

Note: On the morning of November 6th, shortly after I sent Brian his contributor's copy of One Man's Maple Moon: 66 Selected English-Chinese Bilingual Tanka, Volume One 2014, I received an email from our mutual friend, in which she told me, "Brian passed away last night..."  I was totally shocked by this shocking news ...

Brian was the first poet to submit his tanka below for my translation project, NeverEnding Story:

no abacus
for the task
where the mists part
I begin counting stars

Excellent Tanka, 7th International Tanka Festival Competition, 2012.

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