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Autumn 2008, vol 6 no 3

Slow Motion: The Log of a Chesapeake Bay Skipjack
by M. Kei
A Review by Robert D. Wilson


in the mouth
of the North East River,
lines of crab pots
and the low silhouettes
of crab boats at work

M. Kei has written a book of tanka and haiku about life on a skipjack fishing vessel in the Atlantic Seaboard's Chesapeake Bay. He takes readers on a journey reminiscent of Bashô, allowing them to feel a semblance of place, the tanka and haiku therein giving a vivid picture of life as a skipjack crew member. It's also a rare book in that the majority of the poems are all well sculpted. It displays the author's solid understanding of poetry. Kei is not a traditionalist, and his use of meter and syllabication in many of the tanka is more akin in some ways to free verse and, perhaps, should be categorized as short tanka-like poems. Take the following poem, for example. It is five lines; it appears to be a tanka; but it doesn't adhere to the short long short long long format indigenous to Japanese tanka:

coming up 3 short
on Whorton Creek, 4 long
another flock 4 short
of sailboats 3 short
with white wings 3 short

Using an economy of words, Kei has painted a picture for readers enhanced by beautiful imagery: a "flock of sailboats/with white wings."

I have seen sailboats clustered together off the California coast from afar and it does in a way look like a flock of seagulls, the boat's sails billowing in the ocean breeze.

Kei's poems, whatever one wants to label them, make up a wonderful collection of poetry. The syllable count and what to label them are unimportant. The poems in his book are well written, a memorable read, utilizing excellent imagery and meter, and successfully helping readers to experience the sea on a skipjack via short poems through a crew member's eyes.

Here is a sampling of the poetry from Slow Motion:

black arrows diving
into the other world

an Eastern Shore
waterman's town:
rising before
Orion and his hounds
have gone to bed

on the Chesapeake:
an encyclopedia of grey

black waterman---
it feels like
we are living
in parallel universes

Kei ends the book's journey eloquently:

watching the boat
sail away without me,
somebody else
going to adventure
this autumn morning

"As she dwindled in the distance, I reminded the people on the dock, 'Don't watch her out of sight. If you do, she won't come back.' That's an old Irish superstition I learned from my mother."

It's a wonderful book.


Slow Motion: The Log of a Chesapeake Bay Skipjack
by M. Kei
Modern English Tanka Press ©2008
ISBN: 978-0-6152-1265-4