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Winter 2007, vol 5 no 4

Landfall: Poetry of Place in Modern English Tanka
edited by Denis M. Garrison and Michael McClintock
A Review by Johnye Strickland


In the preface the editors describe the poems contained in this book as "'poetry of place,' specifically, nature-centered tanka in contemporary non-urban settings . . . idylls describing rustic life, natural, rural or pastoral scenes, set in the farms and fields, forests, swamps, prairies, mountains, seaside and countryside, at sea, on lakes and rivers, where the poets live, work and play" (pp. 7-8).

Most of the poems are individual tanka, but a few sets and sequences, some of chapbook length, are also included. Organized geographically, the poems move "in a general, meandering, eastward flow" from the American West toward the rising sun in New Zealand (p. 8)

After a quick read through to get a sense of what to expect, I decided to try to envision the setting of each poem in the locale where the poet lives (if there was no definitive place mentioned in the work itself). I was rewarded with a deeper appreciation of the poems, even the ones I had met before. I suspect the editors may have found a way of presenting tanka that will take root and flourish in the developing English-language tradition.

Here are a few of my favorites, following the geographic order of appearance, more or less:

         a cabin
   deep in the woods
each day
  my hermitage dream
     is clear-cut and paved

                  CarrieAnn Thunell (Olympic Peninsula)

on the beach
our horses
keep pace
with leaping dolphins

                  Margarita Engle (California)

Petrified Forest . . .
the friendly park ranger
rests one hand
on the butt
of his gun

                  Joanne Morcom (Arizona)

I invent mountains
only to find
another loneliness
above the tree line

                  Jeanne Emrich (Minnesota)

even when
I'm hopelessly drunk
on aloneness
the world still pulls up a chair
and asks for the bottle

                  Gary LeBel (Georgia)

The snowed-in barn warm
with the breath of chewing cows
and summer hay
I write milk-white poems
wait for the cream to rise

                  Carol Purington (Massachusetts)

gusty winds
growling all day
all night
I miss cherry blossoms
in my home country

                  Kozue Uzawa (Canada)

mountain ravens
scour the village tip . . .
just what was it
I had hoped to find
up here

                  John Barlow (United Kingdom)

Bridge Over a Gorge*

After their defeat
    the Heike hid in the hills
        in the 12th century
Even now their descendants
    weave bridges from heavy vines.

                  Harold Wright (Japan)
*From Travel Tanka: Shikoku [a tanka sequence]

in the tree fork
eating eucalyptus

                  Barbara A. Taylor (Australia)

watching the sunset
over the Tasman Sea
a strange green light
flashes across the horizon
years later we still talk about it

                  André Surridge (New Zealand)

This is just a sampling of the rich diversity of topics and styles of the English language tanka appearing in this volume. Of the 225 pages (plus end pages with advertisements, reminiscent of earlier times), 191 pages contain tanka, usually four to a page. This is a book you can come back to often, with a sense of enrichment each time you recognize a place, or share an experience or musing with the poet. I recommend it as one you will want to keep, and keep handy.

The response from poets to the call for submissions to this volume was so heavy the editors have established a new biannual journal entitled Atlas Poetica: A Journal of Poetry of Place in Modern English Tanka, which will be edited by M. Kei.


Landfall: Poetry of Place in Modern English Tanka
edited by Denis M. Garrison and Michael McClintock
Modern English Tanka Press (2007)
Hard cover edition $29.95 US dollars.
Also available in Soft Cover.
Modern English Tanka Press
PO Box 43717
Baltimore, Maryland 21236 USA