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Winter 2006, vol 4 no 4

Fire Pearls: Short Masterpieces of the Human Heart
Edited by M. Kei
A Review by Johnye Strickland


According to the preface, this book consists of five line poems, including tanka, kyoka, cinquains, free verse "and more." The editor points out that in addition to love poems, tanka also "embraces nature, philosophy, humor, and just about anything else."

The book is divided into five seasons, each introduced by a five line poem—some of which are tanka—appropriate to the season. For example, Spring:

between sun and shade
a butterfly pauses
like none I've seen—
who ever falls in love
with someone they know?

       Michael McClintock, USA

This tanka reflects the tone of many of the poems in this book. It is gentle, evocative, and gives the reader not only the sensual pleasure of sounds and images, but also something to think about.

Not all the poems use images from nature. This is especially true of the Autumn section, where I was drawn repeatedly toward poems presenting a human scene—a slice of life, in miniature:

you knew i
wouldn't come back;
your eyes a
neon light blinking
too late! too late!

       Robert D. Wilson, USA/Philippines

I spoke above about the gentle quality of many of the poems in the book. In fact, I was beginning to wonder at the absence of sauciness, which is what first attracted me to tanka in The Tanka Anthology (2003, Red Moon Press). Many of the same poets appear in both books. Why, then, did their poems in Fire Pearls seem almost bland by comparison? Where were the zingers, the lines so clever you wish you had written them?

And now I know. Editor Kei bundled them into his enigmatic "Fifth Season," not to be confused with the New Year in Japan. When I got to this part, I knew it was what I had been hoping for. Poems that made me sit up and take notice, such as this one:

looking up
from the mini-manifesto
on her t-shirt,
I get this loathing look – "hey!
I'm a slow reader, okay?"

       Larry Kimmel, USA

And this one:

after our smiles
all in a flash;
I'm too old, she's too young
and furthermore
I'm married

       Tom Clausen, USA

Yet another:

my lips always tingled
when I kissed her—
true love, she whispered
I didn't say
cat allergy

       Michael Dylan Welch, USA

And my favorite in this vein:

the handle
of this racket,
these green
and this celibate me!

       Sanford Goldstein, Japan

Lest you think it is only the men who can pack a wallop into five lines, here are my favorites from
the Fifth Season women:

after the break-up
writing his name
in the dust . . .
outside my neighbor
dismembers a clinging vine

       Pamela A. Babusci, USA

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

       Margaret Chula, USA

The one that I most relate to, the story of my life:

shall I find myself
in the love of this man
or in leaving him
or in nothing but these poems
written on airline napkins?

       Laura Maffei, USA

In short, I recommend this book, for you. For a friend, or lover—present or future. It would make a good Christmas gift. And perhaps serve as inspiration, should you need it, to find your own napkins.

Fire Pearls: Short Masterpieces of the Human Heart
M. Kei, Editor
Published 2006 by M. Kei
PO Box 1118
Elkton, MD 21922-1118

Available from
Lulu Enterprises, Inc.
3131 RDU Center
Suite 210
Morrisville, North Carolina 27560
Paperback 160 pages $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-4303-0999-4