Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Few Poems from Slow Motion

Slow Motion contains 350 poems, most of which are tanka, but also including tercets, short verse, and prose. A few sample poems are below:

the black
and white diamonds
of Holland Island Bar Light—
this too
belongs to cormorants

southern breakfast
asparagus fresh from the garden,
eggs and bacon
served on broad china plates
in an old plantation house

a little white boat
always busy
never doing anything
always going somewhere
happy never to arrive

a few vague stars—
although drunk,
the sailors
gaze up
in reverence

mild weather—
yet the dark warning
of clouds
piling up
beyond the mast

a polydactyl cat
walks the bulwark—
he, too,
is the offspring
of sailors

with worn out
sailing gloves I pull
the torn leech,
me and the boat
both feeling our age

the leaning tower
of Sharp's Island Light . . .
all that remains
of a vanished island,
a vanished time

Slow Motion : The Log of a Chesapeake Bay Skipjack, can be ordered
from Modern English Tanka Press at:


  1. One of the things I love most in the haiku of Issa and some others is the skillful use of "mo," or "too." Neophyte readers in Japan and translators tend to pass right over it -- maybe because it may be used for mere emphasis -- but veteran readers slow down and ruminate. Your "a polydactyl cat /walks the bulwark— / he, too, / is the offspring / of sailors" is one of the best uses of that mo/too I have read in English. As is the case for most good things, the drawback to "mo/too" is that even slowing down to wonder may not help readers without the right background/reading/experience to enjoy the poem. I wonder if you essay such cats and sailors (which i only heard visiting the hemingway house)and maybe mention the old ballad "To hell with the keeper of the eddystone light" in your book.

    By the way, my father loved the Chesapeake and sent a copy of The Beautiful Swimmer with me to Japan. Unfortunately, he died before he could take advantage of it with the sharpie ketch he made in his backyard.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. thanks for your comments, robin.

    The polydactyl cat is indeed noted in the book. I know his story through word of mouth in the traditional way. Everything I know about skipjacks is learned the traditional way: living it.

    The book includes a foreword with information about skipjacks, some prose passages, and notes in the back regarding local terminology and places.

    I'm sorry your father didn't get to sail his sharpie; I'd love to have a wooden boat of my own, preferably a three-log sailing canoe. The Chesapeake Bay is the most beautiful place in the world and when I die they'll bury me in it.


  3. I enjoyed every one of these tanka, all of them excellent, with my favorites being "a few vague stars", "mild weather", and "a polydactyl cat".

    Thanks for posting this sample. I'm sure Slow Motion is an excellent book, one in which I'd like to read in it's entirety.

    Keep writing!

    Collin Barber