Monday, August 16, 2010

Twilight Sunrise -- A Review

Twilight Sunrise: A Collection of One Hundred Tankas
By Christiana Rodgers
ISBN: 9781844261871
$12.95

“Twilight Sunrise” is a collection of 100 Syllabic Tanka by American born, but British resident, poet Christiana Rodgers. One of the first things which struck me about the collection is the idiomatic nature of the English (note her use of the plural ‘Tankas’ in the subtitle). Rodgers’ English is the English used in everyday speech, found on the net, heard in commercials and songs. It is clipped and pointed. In some ways her work reminds me of Charles Bukowski in that it has the same kind of swift and to-the-point observational quality. Often her Tanka take note of gritty aspects of life:

Sarcasm is a
Refuge for one whose daily
Pint has been stolen
Along with his livelihood.
He is priceless and starving.

Other Tanka have a more traditional structure and theme:

Red leaf and brown stem,
November’s sign of winter,
Why are you so late?
Southern weather is as cool
As the souls who live in it.

Here we have a Tanka that uses juxtaposition. It moves from an observation of nature in lines 1 and 2, to a personal and emotional expression in line 3, and then concludes with a sociological remark in lines 4 and 5. The scope of this Tanka is remarkable and the amount of material Rodgers is able to include in this Tanka surprises me. Rodgers does this with no apparent strain and at first I didn’t even realize the scope. I think this is really fine work.

Rodgers has a gift for ambiguity which is expressed in the title of the collection, ‘Twilight Sunrise’. For example:

Stranger, I meet you
Lost in my own little world:
Familiarity.
How can you chat with me now
When I will lose you later?

The ambiguity in this Tanka draws the reader in. The stranger contrasted with the familiar, yet the only actual contact in the poem is with that same stranger who is not familiar. It is an excellent expression of how the familiar can create a barrier to encountering what is right in front of us.

Most of the Tanka in this collection are thoughtful and they tend to stimulate introspection in the reader:

Two hearts together
Are a child’s challenge to live
Past a parent’s death.
One heartbeat’s arrhythmia
Is a parent surviving.

I am a stranger.
I live outside me, counting
Days until night falls.
Sleep becomes solace often
When we are awake alone.

This is another example of juxtaposition, which seems to be an approach that Rodgers likes. Regarding technique, generally speaking lineation is consistent with grammatical meaning, though run-ons are fairly common they are not disruptive and are used for emphasis and meaning when they appear. I don’t think Rodgers uses the pivot or other techniques that are derived from the Tanka tradition and which some English Tanka poets take special delight in. If there is a favorite deliberate technique it is, as already mentioned, juxtaposition.

This is a collection I have read several times since I purchased it a few years ago. I think I return to it because some of the Tanka have the mysterious quality of suggesting more, of echoing in my mind and leading me on to considerations I had not previously engaged. All of this is done in a natural English that is also focused on the traditional syllabic structure which makes this a valuable contribution to English syllabic verse and English language Tanka. In closing, here is one of my favorites:

Peace is unquiet;
War a hedonist’s excuse
For self-absorption.
God is really on our side
When we commute with strangers.

2 comments:

jinksy said...

Thanks for this fascinating introduction to a book I will need to go in search of at once!

Jim714 said...

Thanks for the comment. Let me know what you think of it.

Jim