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Spring 2007, vol 5 no 1

The Five-Hole Flute
Edited by Denis M. Garrison & Michael McClintock
A Review by Johnye Strickland


Each of us needs to find in tanka the resources
to say those things that are in our hearts and
minds and really, seriously, want out!

                                      Denis M. Garrison

The subtitle of this book is Modern English Tanka in Sequences and Sets. If you are the type of reader who enjoys the challenge of figuring out which is which, and what the differences are between them, this book is for you!

On the other hand, if you prefer to have your poems—especially those which are experimental in form—identified by sub-genre, this book will satisfy that yen too, at least in part. It contains tanka sonnets (14 lines: 3,3,5,3) by Denis Garrison; a tanka cluster and string by Sanford Goldstein; and a tanka sequence merged with the tan renga form to produce a tan rengay "designed to establish the viability of keeping the tan renga intact such that each verse could stand alone as tan renga but at the same time having the sequence form an integrated structure that holds together a common theme rather than the link and shift motion inherent in renku . . ." The tan rengay form was apparently devised by Pamela A. Babusci and Jeffry Witkin. The Notes contain a brief essay on the form by Witkin.

So now you know—you can spend a number of evenings investigating the variety of forms the sequences and sets take in this book, while at the same time stopping to appreciate single stanzas within each grouping. Some of my favorite singles are:

at the point
of parting forever
I hold still
trying to keep my father
from eternity

"After Fifty-Eight Years", Amelia Fielden

We feed the ducks
you & I
the laughing little boy you
have begun to become.

"Alzheimer's Waltz", in "Limbs of the Gingko", Pamela Miller Ness

In these two poems, which begin each author's chronicle of a parent's passing, I was struck with the similarity in my own life of this very personal, yet universal experience. And I wanted to read more, to share their journey. In this way, I began to understand the difference between having a single tanka and a developing sequence to express one's feelings.

Other favorite stanzas include:

this body discarded
leaves a hollow shell
     the darkness
    adds yet another
    layer of doubt

"A Hollow Shell", Pamela A. Babusci & Jeff Witkin (the tan rengay)

As a renku junkie who has just recently discovered the joys of rengay, I find this form of collaborative verse intriguing.

The story of Jonah—
       narrow my bed in the belly
       of this iron lung
               yet wide enough for the dreams
               any child would chase

"Learning Not to Walk". Carol Purington

This sequence demonstrates not only the capabilities of the form to perform a narrative function, but also the beauty of the human spirit in coming to terms with reality—an inspiration to the reader on both levels.

peaceable men say
"war solves nothing"
one wonders
whose ashes still silt
the rivers of Europe

"Peaceable Men", Michael McClintock

Michael reminds both reader and poet that tanka, single or plural, can help us make connections, literary and philosophical, with our own historical and cultural roots, something the Japanese have long been aware of.

unimpressed with your
fancy house . . .
just another
rock to sleep under

"August 2, 2006", Robert D. Wilson

Among myriad poems—tanka, haiku, senryu—depicting moons and melons, and space between the stars, Robert finds time to notice with Issa-like care the smallest creatures sharing his space.

And finally, two stanzas among others by the same authors, that beg to be read aloud—for the sounds, the rhythms, the pauses, the sense of being in a rural, or urban, environment; of the aloneness of contemporary existence:

see, Basho,
I too can stop,
can notice
this something
blooming beneath a hedge

"ephemerality: a tanka cluster", Sanford Goldstein

at the violet edge of a long day
traffic terrific
that sense
of being released like a virus
into the neon night

"long years    long struggle", Larry Kimmel

Other poets whose work is no less compelling though it has not been quoted herein include Kirsty Karkow, Hortensia Anderson, Melissa Dixon, and Denis M. Garrison.

This is an attractive volume, inside and out. It is pleasing to the eye, and to the hand. In short, I can highly recommend this book. Every time I go back to it, I find something else to think about; to explore; to enjoy; to try. A different voice; a new form; a way of connecting the past with the here and now. A way of looking at my own writing, and finding subjects and styles I hadn't thought of using. These poets not only inspire, they give permission.

One more thing: there is one positive ID of a tanka sequence, in case you need a starting place for your puzzle solving. It appears in "Something to Realize", by Larry Kimmel. Thanks for the clue, Larry.

The Five-Hole Flute
Edited by Denis M. Garrison & Michael McClintock
Baltimore, Maryland USA
Modern English Tanka Press (2006)
Paperback. Perfect bound. 100 pages.
Color cover. Cover art by Karen J. Harlow
ISBN 978-0-6151-3794-0
$13.95 USD