Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Summer 2009, vol 7 no 2

The Heart Takes Wing: Selected Poems from Straggling into Winter
By Kathy Kituai, music by Nitya Bernard Parker
A Review by Robert D. Wilson


Kathy Kituai, in her digital recording The Heart Takes Wing, takes the willing into the imperial Court of Japan, where tanka was a short song. Read with feeling, and well received by the listener, this is a digital journey enhanced by the ethereal music composed and played by Nitya Bernard Parker.

Kituai recites her tanka without gimmickry, the symbiotic mix of music and poetry, "a bowl of soup spiced with onions, garlic. time, and the outline of my face."

A diarist for 20 years, the Australian Poet instills into her tanka what she experiences in life on a day by day basis. Few English tanka poets do this today, reminding me of the children's story The Emperor Who Wore No Clothes. Writes Kituai in her Introduction:

It's not unusual for poets in Japan to keep a journal in tanka. Given that tanka themes in the main are on love, longing and loss, the spectrum of life as a diarist, it is quite natural to keep a journal this way. As a diarist for twenty years, it seemed appropriate for me to combine tanka and journal writing together.

Kathy Kituai writes traditional English language tanka and says she's indebted to Japan's gift of tanka to the world. Writes Kituai:

Thank God for the poets of Japan. Had they not created tanka 1300 years ago, contemporary poets world-wide wouldn't have known the joy of expressing the natural world around us whilst paralleling human behaviour in such a succinct, five line form as tanka. Although I'd dabbled with tanka before reading Japan's well-loved tanka poets like Hatsue Kawamura, Kawano Yuko, and Kuriki Kyoko, translated by Amelia Fielden, afterwards and because of the subtle nature of their poetry, I surrendered to the charm of this unique art form.

Whenever asked: "Why write in a form that's so un-Australia as tanka?" I'm thankful indeed that Hatsue Kawamura, provided me with this answer in the Introduction of her book, On Tsukuba Peak:

All human beings, irrespective of nationality or race, sing of the same emotions of joy and sorrow. Tanka is an ancient Japanese form, but we Japanese do not have a monopoly on it. As a useful, as a marvelous, art form, I would like tanka to be loved and shared by the people of the world.

Kathy Kituai's reading of her poetry allows listeners to visualize and understand tanka in a way the printed page cannot. As a short song, tanka was meant to be sung or read aloud with feeling by those who gave us the genre.

Some excerpts:

7th June 05

news that the cancer
growing in your uterus
must be pruned—
I write a requiem
for cut flowers

settling in the ward
she takes her medication—
Rose is facing surgery
I am safely in bed,
facing a blank wall

8th June 05

a thought I hold close
whenever necessary
and alone
on the darkest winter night—
storms gather behind mountains

11th June 05

burning this morning
the table remains ablaze
with sunlight till noon—
placed so a bowl of water
catches the moon at midnight

On a different subject:

11th March 06

no violin strings
or concertos required—
just yellowing leaves
and that chorus of poplars
against the greyest of skies

12th March 06

who would've thought
you could purchase jewels
at farmers' market
all those rubies I buy
ready to set into jam

13th March 06

the heart takes wing—
can you capture that feeling?
rosellas appear
as quickly as it takes her
to fill each bowl with water

I recommend this CD recording and digitalized text to anyone wanting to hear tanka read authentically as it was meant to be. You'll listen to it again and again. I have a copy on my iPod. It is playable on PCs and Macs. Enjoy!


The Heart Takes Wing: Selected Poems from Straggling into Winter
by Kathy Kituai, music by Nitya Bernard Parker
Kathy Kituai and Nitya Bernard Parker, 2008
IP Digital
an imprint of IP (Interactive Publications Pty Ltd)
Treetop Studio o 9 Kuhler Court
Carindale, Queensland, Australia 4152
First published by IP as text in 2007 as Straggling into Winter
Published by IP Digital as an Audio + Text CD in 2008 as The Heart Takes Wing