Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Winter 2006, vol 4 no 4

Always Filling, Always Full
by Margaret Chula
A Review by Johnye Strickland


The first poems I remember reading by Margaret Chula appeared in The Tanka Anthology, edited by Michael McClintock, Pamela Miller Ness, and Jim Kacian (Red Moon Press, 2003). I have given several reviews of this anthology for local church groups, and this poem by Maggie is always a favorite:

the black negligee
that I bought for your return
hangs in my closet
    day by day plums ripen
    and are picked clean by birds

It is this poem that opens her first book of tanka, Always Filling, Always Full. This is the kind of opening every book needs, a hook to pull the reader in. And having entered, even the reader who is unfamiliar with the genre is rewarded with a good read. These tanka are accessible. Furthermore, they might well encourage the reader to think of personal experience, and to consider the possibility of trying to write his/her own poem in this seemingly easy form.

Chula's strengths include the ability to create an atmosphere and tell a story in five lines:

chattering squirrels
split open the chestnut burrs
first chill
     my sister calls again
     and asks me for money

Another strength is the ability to combine real life drama with dramatic sounds:

drum of the Noh play
thrums again that night
in the rain bucket
    on the sheet between us
    another woman's hair

The ability to reflect the simple, yet poignant, merging of human history and the natural order:

after the cease fire
refugees from Chechnya
return to rubble
sparrows weave the hair of children
into their spring nests

And last but not least, the ability to create memorable lines—the kind that make me as reader stop to think about how apt they are, even as I visualize the images they invoke:

after months of rain
I place a vase of red tulips
on the windowsill--
shrill cry of the peacock
ignites the darkness

returned manuscript
like a stillborn child

the padded envelope
shreds all over
       my dark sweater

This book would make a good Christmas gift. Not just for a fellow poet, but also for a friend who likes to read but is not necessarily experienced in the intricacies of contemporary mainstream poetry.

Always Filling, Always Full
By Margaret Chula
Illustrations by Jef Gunn
White Pine Press
Buffalo, New York (2001). $14
ISBN 1-893996-11-5