Apr 25, 2015

Book Review – 100 Tanka by 100 Poets of Australia & New Zealand

100 tankaI stumbled upon this recent release searching for Tanka on the South Australian Library database. 100 Tanka… is published by local South Australian publisher Ginninderra Press, who I also note have been quite active in supporting a number of poets with pamphlet productions(Pocket Poets). They also publish Haiku and Haibun of one of my fave poets Ashley Capes.

I was pleasantly surprised by the discovery and the fact that the anthology was only released two years ago.  Why?  Well because in my digital travels there’s very little evidence of serious publication of the Japanese forms, in Australia at least. 

The flagship journal A Hundred Gourdes is unpaid and international but other than that there doesn’t appear to be a strong community (perhaps I’m looking in the wrong area) pushing the forms.  Most of the educational materials I come across seem to indicate a small flourishing worldwide in the 90’sand after that...

I suspect that most poets overlook the form, misjudge its subtleties.  It can be quite easy to construct a Tanka and much like Haiku the form isn’t that hard to pick up.  Like Chess though, you can learn the rules but it can take considerable effort to produce something good.

So what we have here (before I bore you with my theories on the underutilisation of the form) is as the title describes, 100 Tanka by 100 poets, one poem each from Australian and New Zealand poets.  The construction of the anthology in this fashion has an historical precedent, in Teika’s Ogura Hyakunin Isshu published around 1235 AD. This historical anthology was meant to help aristocrats cultivate culture and was quite well known and popular.

100 Tanka… presents the best of Australian and New Zealand Tanka poets, the works all seem to have prior publication either online or in print and some of them I recognized as entries in the Tanka Splendour awards that were held during the 2000’s.  So take a poet and ask them to give you their best published Tanka and you are fairly sure of getting a quality product. With what little education and practice in the form I have, I think 100 Tanka…  is a really good example of the diversity and the quality the form can produce.

You don’t need to know the history or the concepts behind Tanka  construction to enjoy this collection.  These Tanka present observations and emotion in fairly approachable language.  I suspect that the only problem modern readers will have is with the speed at which these works can be read.  It can be easy to skim over 5 lines get a sense of what is imparted in the text.  I advise reading one or two at a time and letting the words sink in.

I’ll list a couple below to give you the idea:

the garden

where he planted poppies

now overrun with weeds

yet every April

she remembers to march

- Janette Hope


walking on the beach

as a blood sun sets

old lovers, hand in hand

the indent from your ring

still marks my finger

- Carmel Summers



on the holy mountain

all four religions

claim the sunrise-

none own the shadow

- Alun Drysdale


I think 100 Tanka … is an important work for a number of reasons.  It’s a great example of the form, as it’s practised (hopefully still) in Australia and New Zealand, it collects works that may have been consigned to a digital death in a far off uncharted corner of the net, or in print journals that have stopped and it’s a guide for those of us that stumble across the form.  Saddle stitched and roughly A5 in size with beautiful illustrations by Tasmanian artist and poet Ron C Moss, I have enjoyed carrying it around with me and using it to inform my own practice.

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Book Review – Harbour by John Ajvide Lindqvist

harbour The back cover of my copy of Harbour  touts Lindqvist as reminiscent of Stephen King at his best.  Having read both of them (though not in great depth) I can see the similarities.  Both present a cast of characters and spend a good deal of time engaging the reader in the lives of these characters whether or not they are central to the plot. The result of this approach, with me at least, is that you become very attached to and embedded with, the characters before the author turns the screws.

Harbour presents the reader with a slow build up. Lindqvist interlaces stories, history and flashbacks to drip feed gradual reveals about the truth of the horror that surrounds the island of Domaro - a fictional island in the Swedish Archipelago.  The tale starts with Anders and Cecilia's 6 year old daughter Maja, disappearing as the family is exploring the lighthouse in the middle of a frozen bay. With the ice frozen a metre thick, it appears she has vanished into thin air.

This beginning tragedy is done quite well even when you know it is coming.  The story then jumps forward past the inevitable split between Anders and Cecilia, to an Anders drowning in alcohol and on the verge of suicide. He decides however to return to the island and from here it is a story about unlocking Domaro’s dark past, that of the islanders and finally determining what happened to his daughter

Lindqvist’s weaving of myth, history and tall tales is one of the strengths of this book.  The reader comes to know the island and its peoples, consequently we get a very good sense of place.  The second strength is the well crafted brooding natural horror that slowly turns toward the supernatural or even mythic by the end of the work.  It stops short of cosmic horror and averts comparisons to Lovecraftian tales of villages by the sea.

The are some grotesque elements but these pale in comparison to the discomfort caused by the unknown deep.  The sea and its immensity, its place in our consciousness as a vast entity is the most compelling part of the work and Lindqvist has done a very good job of leveraging the readers natural fears.  I think because of this success the ending was never quite going to match the slow building intensity.  I also think I prefer a story that is a little ambiguous in its ending, something that plants doubt in the readers mind, that leaves open the possibility that the tale could be true and unfortunately there is a clear resolution here.  That being said I enjoyed the build up.

Harbour can be purchased from Booktopia.

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Apr 24, 2015

Poetry Book Review – Regulator by Benjamin Dodds


When people (and not just the students I teach) say they hate poetry, I usually try to get at the root cause.  Saying you hate poetry is like saying you hate movies.  Poetry is big, even in Australia I could be content in reading just what is published in one year.  I usually implore people to find poetry that they like or at least not give up yet. 

So Regulator is poetry that I like.  Part of the reason is Dodds’ approachable writing (yes I have been listening to the Australian Poetry Podcast), but I think the main reason is that we are of a similar age and have both grown up in rural areas. Though the Riverina is distinctly different from Central Australia, there are certain life experiences that distance from big cities seem to generate.  There is a connection with his observation of surroundings and my experience.

The collection is structured in four parts Regulator, Human Awe, There’s No Putting Them Out and Perfectly Normal Sons. The poems under Regulator seem to have a focus on Dodds’ childhood and evoke in me feelings of nostalgia, a glance bank at clear memories of youth.  As good example as any is the titular poem Regulator. A remembrance of dangerously adolescent men diving into an irrigation canal. What is it about young men who feel the need to congregate around any water source and bomb into it, whether it’s a canal or a desert waterhole(one of my first published poems evokes similar images).  Perhaps something to do with the thrill and the absence of water for most of us not living on the coast.

Under Human Awe Dodds has collected an array of works celebrating human achievement and also awe at the natural environment. These range from poems about the moon landing to the deafening thrum of cicadas.  My favourite here was Two Books, which underlined the awe in natural existence.

There’s No Putting Them Out  is curious, at this point in the reading I am not too clear about the theme that Dodd’s is organising the poems under here. Not that it matter’s of course.  Two poems in this selection made my smile Man at Home and Captive.  The former because I realise myself in the poem and the latter because I’m a keeper of stressed felines who love to “bronze” themselves up on the way to the vet.

The final section Perfectly Normal Sons, is largely concerned with sexuality and is wonderfully bookended by the poems Perfectly Normal Sons and Prodigal Son (and his Partner).  My favourite here is probably Perfectly Normal Sons,  It seems to embody what I have enjoyed most about Dodds’ poems – nostalgia, country upbringing and a touch of humour.

So for me at least Dodd’s works provides clear imagery and presents topics that I have an affinity for. There’s a lack of pretence and a sense of humour that feels comforting and in some ways, subtly Australian to me.

You can purchase Regulator through Puncher & Wattmann.

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