Sunday, April 29, 2007 Doesn't Deliver

It's now been over a month since Lulu promised to send out replacement books, but nada. Zilch. Nothing. A big fat zero.

On the upside, one person that had not receive her order from Lulu finally received it. This was an order from Australia. The customer service manager told me that many Lulu shipments are lost in the international mail. I asked him point blank if international customers should order direct from Lulu, or should they order from He said

The rest of us who are waiting for replacement books haven't received them and haven't heard from Lulu. I doubt we ever will.

Lulu is the shoddiest out fit I have ever dealt with. I will never publish a book with them again.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Tanka and Duende, II

Denis Garrison, editor of Modern English Tanka, asked me to expand my remarks about Tanka and Duende into a full-fledged article, so I did. You can read it at Modern English Tanka, 1:4 at the link above.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Romanticism in Tanka

I have decided to post some of the essays I have written in discussions on email lists to my blog because I think they contain useful information and it makes sense to have my writings together in one place.

While media res (in the middle of things) is a good technique, it isn't the only one. A person could just as well begin at the beginning and omit the end, or present the end and let us guess the beginning and middle. It depends on the nature of the scene presented. Likewise, a narrative can be complete. When we talk about these techniques what we are really talking about is multivalency, which is to say, the ability of the poem to evoke more than it depicts. I would hate to pin the poet down to one particular technique for doing this.

With regards to romanticism, it is Romanticism (not romance) that I object to, and I do think there is a difference. Romanticism is not the only means by which the natural world can be appreciated;
Romanticism is a particular method, which, while engaging the natural world, also insulates us from it. There are various useful analyses of Romanticism online. Wikipedia provides a useful introduction:; while pulls material from various standard references, including the Encyclopedia of American History at: Emerson and Poe are examples of American Romantics, Byron and Scott were a couple of English ones.

At their best Romantics introduced us to subject matter and points of view that had been invisible before; Gericault's 'The Raft of the Medusa' is a singularly Romantic and horrific view of an actual
tragedy that stunned the world (see:éodore_Géricault). Surely we must appreciate Gericault for connecting us with the suffering of the survivors of a shipwreck who were abandoned by their captain to save his own skin, but do we really think that his highly charged picture is an accurate representation of what actually happened? No, the picture engages us with its emotional intensity which tells us a truth we need to see, but it is not an accurate reproduction of the tragedy itself.

Romanticism is powerful stuff and has had an effect on modern Western culture and how we experience it. while Denis made an earlier point about the 21st century being exposed to much that is brutal, as we can see, horror has never been exempted from the Romantic view; 'The Fall of the House of Usher' is as much a part of the tradition as is 'On Walden Pond.' To the extent that we allow Romanticism to sanitize nature and our interaction with it, it is as much a disservice as ignoring nature completely.

Since people are reluctant to critique poetry by fellow poets, I shall offer some verses of my own that I regard as embodying Romanticism to illustrate my points.

At the water's edge
trees rustle in a cool breeze
not yet felt in town;
sloops at anchor turns their heads
to face the gathering storm

her screw
still turning as she
went down,
the Sarah C. Conway,
dead at 114

what spirit flew
out of this hole
in winter’s snow?
on the other side
a flock of geese

A storm, a shipwreck, and a spirit, all deeply grounded in the traditional culture/folk art of the Chesapeake Bay. If that's not Romanticism, I don't know what is.

I was already familiar with Romanticism in various forms; like many I read the novels of Walter Scott and the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe, looked at art and even did some art history study, but it was not until I was reviewing article about Romanticism online that it came into focus and I saw exactly how I was participating in, insulated by, and using Romanticism in my own work, most especially my poetry of place. It's very hard to articulate to others what it is that makes the Chesapeake Bay and its traditional culture so special; Romanticism, with its appreciation for folk art and the common man. With its emphasis on nature, and its vivid, emotional images, makes an excellent tool for depicting my subject matter.

But it certainly isn't the only tool. I don't think it's the best tool, either. I don't know what the best tool is, but I know that it is thoroughly grounded in plain, unadorned reality. Yet Realism
( is an inadequate tool for what I am doing as well. There are many valid critiques of Realism, not the least is that Realism cannot include everything, therefore Realism makes selections, and by the selections made, shapes our perceptions. This is why the camera is a liar, it presents only what the photographer wanted us to see. Don't believe me? If you stand at the same vantage point from which the picture was taken, can you see what is behind you? Of course not. You can't see around corners, either.

Is it possible to see behind the photographer in a poem as short as tanka? I think that it is. Denis calls it 'dreaming room,' I have called it the 'labyrinth of the poem.' What we are both trying to
describe is the ability of a tanka to serve as a sort of lens gathering both visible and invisible light to illuminate our experience. The best tanka do indeed see around corners. The absolutely fascinating thing about them is that the scenes are not static, but change depending on the viewer's perspective.

Looking at Gericault's 'The Raft of the Medusa,' the artist's view of the scene is overwhelming; there is no room for any other way of seeing it. The artist has drawn us into his reality and made us experience something that we wouldn't have otherwise. This is powerful stuff, and by no means bad -- but it isn't what tanka is about. A person looking at 'Medusa' would never think to turn around and try to imagine what _isn't_ depicted in the painting.

At first glance, my treatment of the wreck of the Sarah C. Conway appears 'realistic,' but it isn't. It is pure Romanticism. My treatment is deliberately stripped of emotional language; it is the
opposite of how Gericault treated his shipwreck. I used the language of obituaries (dead at 114) to personify the ship and represent drowned seamen everywhere. My particular choice of details evokes the ancient age of the vessel, likewise my choice of the colloquial, nearly archaic term 'screw' situates the vessel as originating in a much older but defined period of time, and by depicting its death, symbolizing the death of the traditional Chesapeake Bay culture associated with the same time frame.

Does the poem work? Reluctantly, I am obliged to think that it will succeed with only a very narrow segment of the readership, namely, those who know about the Sarah C. Conway. Alas, not even Google knows her story. By contrast, Gericault's painting, precisely because it tells us how to experience the event, succeeds with just about everyone. Very little exterior knowledge is necessary to grasp the meaning of 'The Raft of the Medusa,' but without considerable exterior knowledge, my tanka on the wreck of the Sarah C. Conway means little.

My effort in this particular poem was to apply the trope of Romanticism but strip it of its authorial authority in order to provide dreaming reader for the reader. I think this approach offers possibilities and will continue to study and experiment with it. The older poem, 'water's edge' (notice the 5-7-5-7-7 form) I think is a more successful blending of techniques, but seems to have failed to capture an audience. I don't know if that's because the poem fails, or if the subject matter is simply not appealing to the audience.

By contrast, 'what spirit flew' is more overtly Romantic, the language is not realistic even though it invokes real and ordinary images. Snow does not have 'holes' and spirits do not fly through them, but this tanka evokes mythology to create an emotional truth even though it is not an accurate description of physical reality. The disconnection between physical reality and the poem is more obvious here than in the superficially realistic depictions of the other two poems; of the three poems I think it works the best as poetry but is furtherest away from my personal goals for artistic


Tanka and Duende

I read with interest Michael McClintock's article, 'Tanka in Collage and Montage Sets: Multivalence, Duende, and Beyond,' in the Summer, 2007, issue of Modern English Tanka with considerable interest. His thoughts about multivalency, building on an earlier article by Denis Garrison, are thoughtful and thought-provoking, but I confess to being startled by his evocation of the Spanish concept of 'duende' in reference to tanka. 

I have to say, I think that tanka spirit and the Spanish duende are polar opposites in manifestation, although I grant that they both come from the same numinous root -- as all creative energy does. From McClintock's article I went searching and learned that duende has recently entered the English lexicon of art vocabulary, but while I don't fully grasp the meaning English speakers apply to it, I do think I have an excellent grasp of its original Spanish significance. 

In North America, the tempestuous Gypsy girl stamping out her dance is our archetype of a creature possessed by duende; it is not for nothing that they are called enchantresses and witches. In English 'glamor' once had the same meaning; 'glamour' was the magical enthrallment of supernatural creatures that dazzled men's senses. We have lost the numinous meaning of glamour and now apply it to merely mortal men and women who happen to have the money and right facial bones to meet the current definition of 'beauty', yet true glamour doesn't require a particular face. It is the spirit that wells up inside and transforms the flesh that makes a woman beautiful or a man irresistible. 

The epitome of duende in Spanish culture is the bullfight. When the matador and bull enter the arena it is foreordained that one of them must die. The only question is which of them, and how much beauty the matador can imbue the spectacle with through his or her skill and courage.  When applied to the arts, most especially flamenco and related forms, duende is the embrace of self-annhilation that paradoxically grants life. To have duende is to have the power of the flame that devours all with its radiance. In short, if there is no death or darkness, there is no duende. It is only when we embrace of darkness that we have heat and light. 

While I don't doubt that there are English-language tanka that manifest duende, I think they are few and far between. Reading the various authors McClintock cited, 'duende' in the Spanish sense was not what came to mind. In tanka we expect the reader to bring his or her own experience into the poem so that the work is a co-creation of the poet and the reader, but this is not the case with duende. Duende engulfs the audience so that they lose their sense of self and become thralls of the performer for as long as the music lasts. Tanka has never and most likely never will cause stadiums full of people to roar for blood. 

The genres of Spanish art that manifest duende are very different from tanka as we know it; if we are going to go looking for tanka with duende we must start with the Spanish tanka poets. Our lack of knowledge of other culture's tanka traditions must not lead us into the hubris of thinking that we have discovered or invented something new.

Consider this tanka from Tigres de Oro, by Jorge Luis Borges. Borges is not merely a great Spanish poet, he is one of the great literary figures of the 20th century:

Bajo la luna
el tigre de oro y sombras
mira sus garras.
No sabe que en el alba
han destrozado un hombre.

~Jorge Luis Borges, Tigres de Oro/The Gold of the Tigers, 1976 [1972]. 

Under the moon
the tiger of gold and shadows
looks at his claws.
It doesn't know that in the dawn
a man was destroyed.

[trans. M. Kei] 

This poem gives the collection its Spanish title, the English translation of which is somewhat distorted. The phrase "tigres de oro" means "tigers of gold", not "gold of the tigers." The line "tigres de oro y sombras" is "tigers of gold and shadows". Perhaps it is a simple description of the coloration of a tiger, but it is an eminently suitable entry into the 'dreaming room' of this poem. 

While at first read it seems to be the tiger that has destroyed the man, that is not explicitly stated.  It is merely the juxtaposition of the two images that makes us think so. It is entirely possible that the man's destruction has no connection at all with the tiger. Likewise, it might be the moon, or the man himself, rather than the tiger who is unaware of the destruction -- dreaming room indeed. 

Even the word "tigre" is problematical. While it does indeed mean "tiger", in Latin America the same word is applied to the jaguar -- and I do believe that 'jaguar' is the creature Borges means here. Jaguars come in two colors: gold or black. The gold version has shadowy spots on it. The jaguar gods were gods of the earth and war, and their pelts were worn by powerful, high ranking men. The gold jaguars were the gods of the light, or the upper (living world), the black jaguars were the gods of the lower world (world of the dead). 

Jaguars are also associated with the Chacs, the gods of rain and thunder, and when I was young, horror stories about the Chac-Mool scared the bejeezus out of me. The statues so named were altars that received the hearts cut from the bodies of human sacrifices. Now the 'mool' stories have been discredited as the fabrications of an early anthropologist, but the resonances remain. 

There is more here, the image of the "tigre de oro" calls to mind the legend of Eldorado ("el dorado" - "the golden one"). For a Latin American like Borges, Eldorado cannot help but bring to mind the history of Spanish imperialism and its bloody conquest of the Americas in the quest for gold. 

The bloody claws of this tiger hold the whole lacerated history of the Americas. That, dear readers, is duende. And we can see that it has nothing in common with tanka as we know it. 

You can read Lorca's frequently excerpted article in full here:

You can read Borges in The Gold of the Tigers/Tigres de Oro in a bilingual edition published by E P Dutton, 1976. 

Google and can provide endless information about pre-Columbian religion.


Saturday, April 07, 2007

HERON SEA, Short Poems of the Chesapeake Bay

BOOK NOTE: Please Forward to All Appropriate Places


Available 9 April, 2007

“Poetry lovers, sailors, everyone in Bay country, and anyone who wants a powerful and beautiful read, should buy this book!”—Denis M. Garrison, editor, Modern English Tanka

March 15, 2007—Perryville, MD

Heron Sea, Short Poems of the Chesapeake Bay, is the first collection of poetry by M. Kei, editor of the critically acclaimed anthology, Fire Pearls, Short Masterpieces of the Human Heart.

M. Kei, an award-winning poet, is well-known on the Upper Bay for his volunteer service with the Skipjack Martha Lewis and the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum. In Heron Sea he has gathered together more than one hundred and fifty poems written while sailing the Bay, dredging for oysters, raising a family, and living on the green shores of Bay Country. All of his poems are true to life portraits of life—and loss—at the Head of the Bay.

Most of the poems are tanka, the five line lyric form originally from Japan, as well as haiku, tercets, and other short forms. All of the poems are immediately accessible, featuring places and scenes instantly recognizable to residents of Bay Country. Denis M. Garrison, editor of Modern English Tanka, said,

“[E]ach is a pleasure to read but all together they comprise a startlingly moving look into the heart of the poet and at the incomparable beauty of the Chesapeake Bay. A Bay dweller, myself, I can attest to the accuracy of M. Kei’s eye and pen. Kei has tapped into the magic of short verse and presented the reader with a collage of amazing depth and insight. Poetry lovers, sailors, everyone in Bay country, and anyone who wants a powerful and beautiful read, should buy this book!”

More praise of Heron Sea:

“Heron Sea is a rich word-tapestry of the Chesapeake Bay area. M. Kei’s attunement to environment and the life it engenders is remarkable. Here is a sensual experience so lovingly detailed that the reader is left with a sense of being there. Do visit the world of Heron Sea, see/feel for yourself.” —Larry Kimmel, editor of Winfred Press

“M. Kei’s collection is a gem. The personal anthologies of haiku/tanka that I think are best contain a sharp picture of the poet. He is never sentimental, and his poems have a special quality of honesty and integrity. The last section on ‘Threnody’ is totally moving. In other words, Kei has written a unique collection whose voice is like that of no one else. I admire it enormously. Kei is coming into his own, and should become one of the best haiku/tanka poets of the decade.” —Sanford Goldstein, co-translator of Midaregami, Tangled Hair

“In Heron Sea, M. Kei has crafted a poetry of place with lyrical intensity, placing the reader somewhere between the author's heart and the Chesapeake Bay. No cheap sentimentality here—the verse within these pages is filled with hard-earned love, adventure, tragic loss, and wry humor. Kei’s prose Introduction to the book is every bit as moving as the poems that follow. It’s hard not to read this collection without thinking, ever after, that you've been to the Chesapeake Bay area. An impressive achievement.” —Dave Bacharach, tanka poet


I write poetry
like the hills of Maryland,
slow, easy, green swells,
rolling from creek to vale,
with all the time in the world.

the great blue heron
the blue painted ship
the blue silence

no wind tonight
a puddle of silver
in the bay’s darkness,
a full moon
off the port bow

storm bells
the musical tones
of halyards
ringing in the
freshening breeze

she talks as she sails
this old wooden boat
of oyster days
and summer bays
and watermen grown old

these widowed boats,
the men who loved them
gone to their graves

the stone gristmill
broad on the starboard bow,
falling into the bay
from its motionless wheel

If only the leaves
were not so green,
this lover’s heart
might enjoy
a little emptiness.

give me an old dog
(his puppy years worn out)
content to lay his muzzle
on my knee while
I sit beside the fire

the earth is not forever
islands of the Chesapeake
slip into to memory

Link to Publication:

M. Kei is an award-winning poet and editor of short poems, specializing in the tanka genre. Heron Sea is his first collection. A poet of the Chesapeake Bay, he is the editor of the Chesapeake Bay Haiku Almanac as well as Fire Pearls, Short Masterpieces of the Human heart. His poetry appears in journals such as Modern English Tanka, Simply Haiku, American Tanka, Modern Haiku, and more. He is a winner of the Tanka Splendor 2006 contest and a Runner-up in the Lighthouse Poetry Contest. His poetry appears in the anthologies Haiku Miscellany (Croatia), To Find the Moon (USA), Sixty Sunflowers (forthcoming) and Landfall (forthcoming).