the thousand marvels of every moment
a tanka collection
by pat nolan
Fall 2018, 124 pages, $16
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One In A Thousand
Tanka is the modern name for a short poem known throughout the history of Japanese literature as a waka. The pre-modern word, waka, finds its source in ancient oral tradition of call and response agricultural chants as well as those accompanying communal efforts in indigenous Japanese villages. In its lineated form, the tanka consists of five lines. In its non-lineated form, the tanka has the syllabic rhythm or pattern of 5-7-5-7-7.
The courtly love culture of medieval Japan adapted the folk tradition as the exchange of verse between courtiers requiring a cap or response to bring the poem to a subtle esoteric often erotic resolution. Eventually the practice transformed into a unified singular verse, the waka, a poem of two minds as the literary affectation of one mind.
The short poems of the thousand marvels of every moment are composed of five lines. They also take into consideration the 5-7-5-7-7 patterns as a phonetic rhythm although they do not necessarily conform to the syllabic count. The succinct directness required of the form lends itself to this rhythm. The first stanza balances on the second, sometimes precariously, to pose a distinguishing match. The break between stanzas acts as a kind of caesura, a gap for synaptic sparks to jump. It also emphasizes its call and response origins serving as a binary exchange of verbal energy. The two last lines in these poems tend to resolve them either as parallel breaths or as a single run-on semantic declaration. Sometimes they function as a pedestal for the preceding stanza, the bass line for its melodic pretext, sometimes as a bowl or receptacle to contain the original intent, or as a decorative garnish to the entrée (think California cuisine), and sometimes at its most basic, the response to the call.
I hesitate to name the poems in this collection tanka as that would presume the mastery of a complicated set of rules and conditions. They do not observe many of the accepted tanka conventions although they do seek a synthesis and accommodation brought about by translation into a radically different language and culture. The poems actually owe their method more to the intricate multi-voiced play of a related Japanese verse form, haikai no renga, also known as renku or linked verse. That similarity is especially true in the relationship between stanzas or the rhythms of 5-7-5 -7-7. There is, in fact, a term for a linked poem composed of only two stanzas, tanrenga. As accurate as that may be I am uncomfortable with the label. Tanku, a word of my own devising, would seem to accommodate the Japanese nomenclature (haiku, hokku, renku) but still doesn’t fit my sense of the poems. Ultimately I find myself preferring tanka as the logical and sentimental favorite of what this type of poem might be called. I do so well aware that the designation is a borrowed one.
(from the introduction to the thousand marvels of every moment)
from the thousand marvels of every moment