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Summer 2007, vol 5 no 2

The Pie In Pieces: Thirty-three Songs from the Midwest
by Andrew Riutta
A Review by Robert D. Wilson


I very rarely do a review of a chapbook. Everyone seems to have written one these days and most, though important to the writer and his circle of friends, are simply not memorable. This one is an exception. Contained in its small, minimalist format, are some of the finest English language tanka I have read for a long while. The author, Andrew Riutta, a Native American poet living in rural Michigan, breathes the spirit of Japanese tanka into his English language poems. He unveils his feelings and intuitions, the inner self too few today are willing to bare.

Compare this waka (tanka) written during Japan's Heian Era

Watching the moon
at dawn, solitary, mid-sky,
I knew myself completely,
no part left out

Izumi Shikibu
born around 974 A.D.
translated by Jane Hirshfield

to Riutta's tanka:

turning over
the same compost pile,
day after day,
again and again,
until I smell like the earth

Like Shikibu's poem, Riutta's verse is introspective, providing readers a glimpse into the poet's emotional make-up, without being trite or overly sentimental. And like good Japanese tanka, the poem has a nice lyrical quality.

Like Shōtetsu's poignant, sad tanka,

No one remains now
for me to spend my time with ---
I who in the past
was known to spurn the company
of those who had grown old.

Shōtetsu (1381-1459)
Translated by Steven D. Carter

Riutta too can pull the reader into his world, with essence, makoto (truth and beauty), painting with words the unsaid as well as the said:

In the fender
of this shiny antique car
I can see myself
looking over my shoulder
at what's behind me.

I like the way Riutta puts himself into his daughter, Issabella's world, via his inner child: "Some days it's even bigger than us . . ." And the way he ties it into the reader's psyche without being trite or cutesy ". . . my daughter and I reel in from the dust . . . "

Some days
it's even bigger than us,
the imaginary fish
my daughter and I
reel in from the dust.

And this tanka--innovative, fresh, and evocative. He takes something that is a common event for a lot of us and, with the magic of a few short words ("Everywhere, at once, the wind"), transforms it into a word painting eloquently stating the unsaid:

due by tomorrow.
all at once,
the wind.

Andrew Riutta, as Michael McClintock points out in the chapbook's forward, "brings a fresh voice to the short poem in American Literature, finding redemption in the way his wife turns 'last night's leftovers/into casserole.' It's a table where we all might find a place, eat, and celebrate the day."

So here it is,
our piece of the pie:
a single wide
just big enough
to accumulate the years

The Pie In Pieces: Thirty-three Songs from the Midwest
by Andrew Riutta
River Man Publishing
$6 (plus shipping: $2 within USA)
ISBN 91-976430-3-3