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Word Play

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I have been learning a lot about tanka from Ribbons, the journal of the Tanka Society of America – too bad the acronym is in such heavy use elsewhere – and I have been experimenting with the form.  Sometimes, I know all I’ve got is a five line poem.  In the following two short pieces, the play of homonyms took over.

 

My thoughts coast toward
the California coast; others
shore up the Jersey shore.
Is it a fault to lie by omission
about where the fault lies?

 

My brother wanted
to coast down the mountain,
returning from the coast.
Papa said no, of course,
the road no sled or ski course.

Have fun with words.  You never know what might come of some word play.

 

Napa 3: Yes, There Was Writing Too

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P1000198My back yard has acquired its post-rain carpet of green.  When it first appears I can’t tell which plants will be weeds and which will be wildflowers.  I feel a bit that way about the results of my participation in the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.  I’m sorting out my drafts of poems and my new ideas and deciding which pieces have most potential.

Many of my poems centered on the past.  Perhaps this was because I was back in California where I grew up, though the Napa Valley wasn’t part of my home turf.  Perhaps it was because when one has 20 hours to produce a poem, one goes back to basics.  Here’s one piece which may be complete in itself, having taken the shape of a tanka.  The assignment was to show passage of time:

Almond blossoms in spring,
tiger lilies in summer.  Our height
marked on the door post.
Before my brother grows tall,
the house is no longer ours.

Another piece is too short for a tanka, too long for haiku.  Perhaps it is the beginning or end of a longer poem, though right now the rest isn’t working.

Prunes, apricots,
cannery by the tracks.  I bury questions
in my grandfather’s orchard.

Since I’ve been working on a different poem about trying to put my ancestors behind me, I may put this aside for a while.  I have researched all the main lines of my ancestry and after writing John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher (see Books page) I thought I was done.  But here is my grandfather and his orchard once again.P1000200

Meanwhile, in a corner of my yard not as covered in new green shoots, a little clump of purple mat, my favorite local wildflower, is flourishing.  It didn’t have to wait for the rain to get started.  And I have lots of other material to work with while I decide what to do with my new pieces from Napa..

Two Tanka (not a pair)

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Travelling disrupts writing just as it disrupts blog posting.  Getting back into the routine (I hope) I’m sharing two brief pieces which came from prompts.  The first was a suggestion to play with the possibilities of homonyms (two words with the same sound or spelling):

Blessings of the light:
leaves, laughter,
his even breath beside me,
the little bulb
that lifts the weight of dark.

One little bulb has a very big effect in a cottage down a dirt road far from any street lights.

Another small piece came from a suggestion to “write the spectrum,” that is, to choose one color and see where it takes you.  There could be a great deal more to say on this subject, but sometimes brevity is more fun:

The Color Purple

 

Burbly, gurgly sound,

the term purports precision:

a dye from Greek shellfish.

It purrs, in regal pose, between

red velvet and blue suede.

Tanka on Childhood

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Our dolls and bears
bicker and pout
as we play our way
toward understanding
adult antagonisms.

This tanka is for Sally.  It was sparked by the discovery, last year, of letters from our childhood.  We wrote to each other about the adventures of our stuffed animals, of which we each had a whole community. I put the poem of this long ago experience in the present tense because I hope it continues to be part of children’s growing up.bear party

The picture shows a gathering of my bears and dolls, my brothers’ bears, and my cousin Linda’s bears and dolls.  I have been trying to remember whether she came to our house or we went to hers to create this version of “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.”  I’m thinking the chairs must be ours, because my cousin had no siblings, but I don’t recall.  An interesting case of what we remember and what we forget.  And the way photographs both help and confuse the issue.

Poem for a Winter Night

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Night reflects day, not
innocent of influence
as a true mirror,
but with all the shading
of long acquaintance.

P1000022

 

My son gave me a new camera for Christmas and I couldn’t resist trying it out on a night shot.  Not bad for a beginner like me with a relatively simple machine.  The moon was past full, though it looks very round in this shot.

A July Tanka in January

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Rocks become islands
rising from a table sea.
Cardboard ships sail in,
seize gold, quarrel over it,
cranky as housebound children.

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It was a rainy day.  This game was being played by adults, but the pirate characters they created to captain the ships were definitely argumentative.  And there is something about a summer place and memories.  It is as if the sounds of children of years past continue to hang in the rafters.

I got the picture when the players were away from the table; I like the wavy lines in the wood.  May we all have good fortune in 2014.

Recommendation: The Pleasures of Tanka

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Tanka, as you may know, is a Japanese form slightly longer than haiku.  The traditional pattern calls for five lines, a total of 31 syllables, in the pattern 5, 7, 5, 7, 7.

If you’d like to learn about tanka, I recommend Janet Davis’s blog, twigs&stones, which I’ve just added to my blogroll:  http://www.twigsandstones-poems.blogspot.com/

Here are a few of my favorites among the tanka she has recently published on her blog.

One she offered for July 4: though I usually make my own potato salad, I can feel the embarrassment in the word “shriveling”.

the brimming bowl
of potato salad
she made at home
…..my tub of store-bought
…..shriveling beside it

red lights, Vol. 9, No. 2, June 2013

A more serious moment is described in this one:

railroad arms
rise up as I approach …
on the long drive
to the hospital
I hope for an “all clear”

—American Tanka, June 2013, Issue 22

The next one struck me because I have been working on a poem on a similar subject.  What she says in five lines is something I struggled to say in eighteen:

I trace them
clear back to Jamestown—
forebears
of the grandfather
I knew little about

—Simply Haiku, Winter 2009, Vol. 7, No. 4

You have no doubt noticed that none of these examples reach the number of 31 syllables.  As with haiku, tanka writers in English strive for greater conciseness.  As a beginner in this form, however, I am finding that the 31 syllable form is a good place to start.

Enjoy many more tanka at twigs&stones.