KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 6: Fall 2016
Tanka Sequence: 91 words [R]
Author’s Intro: 303 words [R]

Learning My Part

by David C. Rice
as the geese take flight
he fusses with his camera
I watch
the dementia grip him
before I knew its name	

for the news
under the town hall clock
swallows fly back and forth

field upon field
so splashed with poppies
it’s hard to believe
back home
my friend is worse

more cancer
my friend says he’s weary
his extra long hug
like a weight
I can’t put down

terminal cancer
she says it’s hard
to close a life
easy to remember
how open she was

—From the collection of tanka verses The Grandfather Poems by David C. Rice (Lulu, 2016); republished here by author’s permission

Author’s Introduction to The Grandfather Poems

These poems were written over the past twenty-three years. They are my long song.

The Japanese have, of course, been writing tanka—short songs—for thirteen hundred years. To solve the limitations inherent in such brevity, Japanese poets first sequenced their poems into anthologies and, in the twentieth century, began to compose tanka sequences. Linking and shifting between tanka in anthologies and sequences is an art form in itself.

Tanka in English [were] first written by Japanese-Americans in the 1920s and then by a small number of Western poets. At first, most English-language tanka poets imitated classical Japanese tanka, but in the past twenty-five years, as the number of English-language tanka poets increased, most chose not to write in the Japanese style. English-language tanka has become “a separate genre” (Kei, 2012).

English-language poets also sequenced their poems. Again, most poets first followed the traditional Japanese aesthetic, writing sequences where the poems were connected more intuitively than logically. In the last few years, though, more poets have begun to write with a hybrid Japanese-Western aesthetic, where the poems are connected both logically and intuitively. If this trend continues, tanka sequences might come to resemble Western poems and, in so doing, attract a wider range of readers. I have wondered if the “compression and artlessness” of individual tanka (Kei, 2015), titled and linked into non-linear sequences, could be a new current—tanka verse—capable of joining the Western poetry mainstream.

[A] tanka is a short song; we can make it longer. If a tanka is stained glass, we can make a window. If tanka [are] gems, we can make a necklace.

1. Kei, M. (2012) Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka, Volume 4. Perryville, Maryland, USA. Keibooks, 2015.

2. Kei, M. (2015) “Tanka as a Genre.” Ribbons, 11 (1).

—Republished here by author’s permission

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