Saturday, August 05, 2006

Catching Up

I hardly know what to write. So it's been a month since I posted, enit? It hardly seems a minute. I've been hard at work and broiling in the heat. July wasn't such a good month, only 80 poems. A good month is 200+ and they come as easily as joy. My accomplishments have been scholarly rather than poetic, though I haven't any finished work to show for them.

I'm working on a large article about Tanka Structure, describing and explaining the various kinds of structures that have been used in the past and present, Japanese and English tanka, with examples culled from old masters and modern poets. Hopefully it will appear in the Winter issue of Modern English Tanka. I have to say, the more I learn, the more appalled I am at the general lack of knowledge about tanka in English. Oh, there are people who think they know about it, and there are even a few who do know something about it, but there are also some extremely well-known and respected names who have appalled me by revealing gaps in knowledge the size of the Grand Canyon.

In other places I have ranted about what I call 'American mannerism,' which is formulaic poetry whose predictably drives me up the wall. There is actually nothing wrong with the formula, what's wrong is that it is used over and over again and taken as the standard of what tanka should be. With the exception of Sanford Goldstein's entry, the winners in the 2006 Tanka Society of American Contest are all examples of this. Good examples, but mannered all the same. It's like watching a dog and pony show that only has one dog and it only knows one trick. It was clever the first time, but by the forty-seventh time the audience is filled with a desire to shoot the dog.

I have become a great admirer of Sanford Goldstein's poetry. His 1992 book, At the Hut of the Small Mind, can be read online at: He has published five books of tanka, the first in 1977, the most recent in 2005. Over all these years his work is decidedly unmannered, direct, fresh, original, and honest. Influenced by Takonobu who said that tanka should be a record of the poet's emotional life, Goldstein's work is profoundly human. He stretches in all directions, attempting things that few poets try. Often he succeeds, sometimes he doesn't. But he never settles for what's easy.

I struck up a conversation with him when he submitted poetry to the anthology Fire Pearls: Short Masterpieces of the Human Heart, which I am editing. It was a heady moment, me, the unknown upstart, editing the Grand Old Man of Tanka! After an initial difference of opinion, we found we shared many views on tanka and editing and he very kindly sent me four of his books as a gift all the way from Japan. I admire his largeness of spirit that enables him to encompass all subjects; even eccentric me.

I have also been participating in the Tanka Roundtable. I seem to have talked myself into another scholarly article; Denis M. Garrison has been compiling bibliographic information. Being the kind of person who doesn't just surf the net, I spelunk it, I have been sending him quite a bit of bibliography for the bibliographies. I have set myself the goal of getting my hands on all the pre-1990 tanka ever published, the explosion of tanka after 1990 is a rather large task. But anyhow, I was in a position to contribute some historical information. Getting curious, I decided to organize the tanka in English bibliographic information into chronological order to see what could be seen.

Tanka Books in English (omits journals and websites)

pre-1915 0
1915-19 3
1920-24 1
1920-29 1
1930-34 0
1935-39 0
1940-44 1
1945-49 0
1950-54 0
1955-59 2
1960-64 1
1965-69 0
1970-74 3
1975-79 3
1980-84 2
1985-89 0
1990-94 11
1995-99 44
2000-04 59
2005-09 36 -- as of August 2006

Some very interesting trends emerged, prior to 1970, tanka was dominated by Japanese Americans, but in the 1970s and 1980s a transition occurred in which more Westerners started writing tanka. Then, as the figures show, tanka took off in the 1990s, and is going full tilt in the 21st century. Denis has asked for a full article about the history of tanka for the Spring issue of Modern English Tanka. Naturally, I said yes.

All this during a time of hardship. I don't make much money, and things have happened this summer to make things even harder. I'm surviving, but I fell into some gloomy moods. I was feeling quite gloomy today when a certain young man wrote me a challenge: he dared me to played at homoerotic linked verse with him. How could I refuse a request that began with 'Hi there handsome...' But the resulting poems are private for the time being. Suffice to say, some of this poet's work will be appearing in Fire Pearls .

August is off to a decent start poetically, already 36 poems written. I am not feeling the suppleness of June, but I'm doing better than July. In June I could sit down and write 50 good tanka in a single sitting. How I envy Sandy Goldstein going to his tanka cafe to write 30 poems and drink coffee to relax! But the man's retired. I'm still obliged to make a living.


1 comment:

  1. K.

    I look forward to reading your article on tanka structure. I have just recently come to explore your blog and I am picking up and examining some nice nuggets here. Thanks for the link to Sanford's 'Hut'. I am brand new to tanks and running hard to catch up. You have been a big help.


    Mike G.