Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
Contents Archives About Simply Haiku Submissions Search
Winter 2007, vol 5 no 4

The Scent of Jasmine and Brine
by Linda Jeannette Ward
A Review by Margaret Chula


The Scent of Jasmine and Brine, Linda Jeannette Ward's second book of tanka, opens with an epigraph by E.B. White: All writing is both a mask and an unveiling. This is especially true of haiku and tanka, which rely on nuance and imagery for their impact. The tanka poet's challenge is to invite the reader in with an evocative image, but to leave enough undefined space for individual interpretations:

a friend's tears
over his wife's
infidelity —
your fingers uncurl
from mine

The verb "uncurl" is a perfect choice for the dramatic turn in this tanka — that slow release of intimate connection. What's going on in these last two lines? We are left to unveil this intriguing scene as we like.

Ward's tanka epitomize the Japanese aesthetic of yugen, the mysterious beauty of the universe and the sadness of human suffering. She illustrates how our desires for immutability and eternal youth lead inevitably to suffering. In her opening poem

paint me blurred
like a Monet garden
where imperfections fade
into lilacs and lilies
and autumn leaves never fall

the speaker longs for a life like Monet's impressionistic painting, where all imperfections are blurred into something lasting and meaningful. This theme on transience continues with her bittersweet

whirlwinds of wisteria
among last fall's leaves…
my daughter's friends share a joke
I don't understand

The skillful alliteration of "whirlwinds of wisteria" mimics the sound of the wind, the shape of the flowers and the impetuosity of youth.

She also expresses the interconnectedness of all things with this tanka of compassion:

at the moment
of its disintegration
is the peony aware
of the delicate touch
of the butterfly?

As tanka poet Pamela Miller Ness states in her perceptive Introduction, "…through her choice of disparate images, the poet makes us aware of striking juxtapositions." For juxtaposition to be successful, the two elements must resonate with each other. Who would have imagined combining such incongruent images in the following tanka? Yet, Ward has pulled it off, creating a powerful impact:

dolphin on the beach
its mouth
frozen slightly open —
if only I'd held back
those wounding words

Like the dolphin's mouth frozen in death, the speaker's words are irreversible.

candling goose eggs
in the warmth of his hands
Daddy once stood
in a B-17
and dropped bombs

This seemingly unrelated pairing of goose eggs and bombs makes sense when you think about those bombs nestled in the belly of the plane, potent and full of potential. But unlike the fresh eggs, which will give nourishment, their bursting will cause destruction and death. The father is portrayed with gentleness and acceptance.

Ward's title, The Scent of Jasmine and Brine, serves as a metaphor for life: the sweet, the bitter, and also the bittersweet — those moments of feeling sadness and happiness at the same time.

from our final
seaside rendezvous
only this:
scent of jasmine and brine
I cannot brush from my hair

We too are left with the lingering scents of these evocative poems about temporality, spirit, loss and love.


The Scent of Jasmine and Brine
by Linda Jeannette Ward
Introduction by Pamela Miller Ness
Inkling Press (2007)
Perfect bound; 104 pages
ISBN 978-0-9737674-3-8
$25.00 (including S&H)