Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Autumn 2007, vol 5 no 3

Baubles, Bangles & Beads
by Amelia Fielden
A Review by Robert D. Wilson


from Europe
your daytime calling
my deep night,
our voices making love
along the seabed

I was heartened to learn that Amelia Fielden had published another book of her tanka poetry. A well known translator and writer, her poetry harbors a deep respect for the genre and the mindset that developed it. Tanka is a demanding, though delicate art-form; a concatenation between right and left brains, incorporating a way of seeing life that's often at odds with Occidental thought patterns; where the unsaid is as important and vital to the poem as is the said.

"I am hoping my tanka -- written in five lines with flexible short/long/short/long/long rhythm patterns in honor of the 1,300-year-old Japanese traditions -- will increase appreciation and exploration of the possibilities of this lyric form." Amelia Fielden

I won't burden you with praise and pontification. Fielden's tanka speak for themselves and need no advertisements.

Take for instance,

to attract me
he once ran a marathon
not knowing
I wanted him to
stumble into my arms

I like the confessional ambiance this tanka exudes. Translator/poet Sanford Goldstein of Japan believes the essence of a tanka is autobiographical, dealing with "the personal life of the poet." Fielden writes in the tradition of Japanese waka, eschewing pretentiousness. She invites readers into her world, and does so with lyrical quality conspicuously absent from a lot of English-language tanka. Too much of what I read today sounds like a condensed prose poem more indigenous to Beat poetics than to the Japanese heritage and poetic style given to us by Japan. Adds Goldstein, "tanka is being dissected eternally (and I find that bad--for we murder to dissect, to quote Wordsworth) we are going deeper into the logic of creativity." Fielden harbors a deep respect for the tanka genre and heritage, and refuses to dissect the genre in order to make it conform to her own poetic perspective. Innovation is good, but only after one has done their homework, paid their dues, and does so out of respect.

poet Kawano had
so much more than I
literary fame
a lump in her breast

Kawano Yuko is a one of Japan's premier female tanka poets. She's published several books and essays, and is a popular lecturer. Fielden knows the poet well and has translated books of her poetry; yet, instead of succumbing to the temptation to name drop in a way that will boost her credibility in the poetic world, Fielden portrays a deeper portrait of Yuko in this tanka, revealing to readers Yuko's battle with breast cancer and stripping away the glitz one associates with fame. It takes great skill to capture the essence of a subject of this nature with an economy of words. This is the kind of tanka that separates children from adults, amateurs from seasoned poets. Anyone can write a 5 line poem but to write one that is memorable, lingering, lyrical, and cuts to the chase, takes years of practice, study, and an ability to step into another's sandals, sans ego.

Baubles, Bangles, & Beads differs from usual volumes of tanka poetry, presenting poems in thematic sets, clusters, sequences, and strings. Says Fielden, "I see these poems as beads threaded into different lengths by my mind and pen." One can categorize her poems as this and that but to do so, embodies what is wrong today with a lot of English-language tanka.

Read her tanka, don't analyze them. Let them breathe in your mind, sing to your heart, and take you where you haven't gone before, in life or in dream.

Aichi Summer

firefly sparks
in the night rice field
remind him
of childhood summers
I can only imagine

hour after hour
in new blue pajamas
I listen
to the river running
away through the village

two doors down
even the tiger-lilies
grow freer
than the labrador pup
kept in a parrot-cage

kids skip off
into the sunbeam mists
of morning,
my heart following them
faster than my feet

Each tanka in this series is a separate poem, but the poems flow, breathe, and complement one another symbiotically. Some poets in the English-language tanka world disguise long prose poems as tanka strings, calling to mind the influence of imagistic poetry influenced by Amy Lowell, William Carlos Williams, and Ezra Pound. Fielden owes much of her influence to the Japanese who developed tanka (waka) yet paints them with her own cultural memory and sphere of experience. Tanka is tanka and should never be used as a mask for another genre, even if similar in nature. It is when we let go of the need to make it conform to our own comfort zone and see the genre as a walk that never ends, that tanka will truly blossom into the flower it's meant to become in the Occidental world.

light and shade
my life my poetry ---
I drive past
a gaggle of bright cyclists
swooping out from the forest

Baubles, Bangles & Beads
by Amelia Fielden
Ginninderra Press
ISBN 978-1-74027-409-8