Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Alaska

My Alaska

I have never really left Alaska.
Its geography is fixed in my heart;
How the aurora on a winter night
Will take flight, stretching across the whole sky,
Or how the sly midnight sun casts shadows
Across a free-flowing wilderness stream.

All I have to do is sit by a stream
And like a remembered dream, Alaska,
Appearing out of memories’ shadows,
Memories that lie deep within my heart,
Take shape like the moon in the autumn sky
When thin clouds depart on a windy night.

In winter the day hours are mostly night,
It’s easy to walk on a frozen stream.
An owl will take flight in the silent sky
Above the taigascape of Alaska
The Brooks Range, like a slowly beating heart,
Casts deep, dark, and slowly moving shadows.

When snow begins to melt in the shadows
And the flood of sunlight reduces night,
The sight of flowing water cheers the heart
And people launch canoes upon the streams,
Both great and small, that criss-cross Alaska.
Heading north, a flock of swans in the sky.

Days arrive, long and warm with sun-filled sky,
When it seems as if there are no shadows
To be found anywhere in Alaska,
And people sleep less during the brief night,
Listening to the sound of nearby streams
That seems to soothe a busy mind and heart.

Cold comes quickly and falls upon the heart.
Winds start to pull the leaves into the sky.
All those years have slipped by me like a stream
Increasingly covered by long shadows.
I’m swiftly approaching that endless night,
The sight of the tundra of Alaska.

An Alaska lives deep within my heart.
During the night while standing on the sky
Shadows from the past like a stream flow by.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Request for Assistance

Dear Friends:

At the Aha Poetry Forum, Alan Summers (who sometimes comments here) asked that any readers spread the following missing person request regarding Martin Lucas, former British Haiku Society President, via online social media.  I know from stats that I have British readers so you, in particular, are asked to do what you can.  But even if you are not British, please spread the word via your own social media and online contacts:

The British Haiku Society has been asked to help. Can you do your bit? Use social media, emails, there may be a British friend or colleague who knows someone in or close to Preston. It may make all the difference if a friend knows a friend to put this closer to their heart, rather than yet another newspaper article about a missing person.

Even American and other non-British members can help via Facebook and Twitter, or email British friends, family, penpals, someone might know someone who lives near Preston. Put a human face on this tragedy.

Martin has been missing since 10 pm Friday night. He is alone and highly vulnerable. He is not tough like some of us.

From the British Haiku Society:

Martin Lucas, former BHS president and current editor of Presence haiku magazine, has been reported missing. His family have asked us to help in appealing for information. If you have any information, please ring the police on 101. We can also pass information on to Martin's family if you have anything you think might be useful to them in their search. Please share this post to help. Visit the link below for further information:

Thank you, every little bit of help may help.

This is Martin:

More pictures, including images at British haiku events I was involved in or ran:

thank you,

Alan Summers

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Guide for English Language Tanka Poets

I have a great fondness for the Kokin Wakashu, particularly the translation by Helen McCullough.  My feeling is that it has not received the attention it deserves from those interested in composing Tanka in English.  The skill with which McCullough translates the Japanese tanka into English is amazing.  And the fact that she maps the Japanese syllabics of 5-7-5-7-7 onto English is impressive.

More importantly, the translation is itself a demonstration of the efficacy of adopting the syllabic shape of the Japanese onto English.  I feel the work can serve as a kind of textbook for those wishing to follow the traditional syllabic shape of the Japanese.

Hoping, in a minor way, to encourage more interest in this translation, I wrote the following review for Amazon and posted it today:

The Kokin Wakashu, compiled about 905, was the first Imperial Anthology of Tanka poetry.  It has had a huge influence on Japanese poetry in general, and particularly on the Japanese form of Tanka.  What we now call ‘Tanka’ today was, at the time of this anthology, known as ‘Waka’.  Tanka is the most important poetic form in Japanese culture.  It has had a continuous history of about 1400 years, and is still practiced by numerous Japanese poets at this time.

Japanese poetry is syllabic and the contours of Tanka have remained the same for its entire history: a five phrase (ku), or line, poem with the syllables distributed as follows: 5-7-5-7-7.  This gives the Tanka a total of 31 syllables.

One of the remarkable things about this translation by Helen McCullough is that she chose to map the syllabic count of the Japanese onto the English language in her translations.  What this does for the reader is to replicate the formal relationships that the poems have in the anthology.  I mean that in the original anthology all the poems have the same formal characteristics, the same syllabic count.  As you move from one poem to another a rhythm, or pulse, is felt.  This pulse is shared by all the poems no matter how different they may be in topic, image, and style.  McCullough’s translation replicates this relationship among the poems which is a great achievement.  And her translations are themselves superb; they are poems themselves.  I am in awe of how she was able to transform a Japanese poetic masterpiece into an English poetic masterpiece and retain the structural elements as she moved from one language to another.

The Waka Kokinshi consists of 1111 poems, grouped into topical chapters that include the four seasons, felicitations, parting, travel, wordplay, love, grief, and miscellaneous.  Because some topics have more than one chapter, the total number of chapters is twenty.  There are about 130 named poets, as well as numerous anonymous tanka.  The editors skillfully arranged the tanka so that they link to each other and there is a natural flow as one reads the tanka in sequence.  The skill with which the tanka are linked is amazing, considering the large number of poets.  The result is that each chapter is more than the sum of its parts.  In a way, each chapter resembles a beautifully crafted collage where all the parts contribute to an overall effect. 

If you are interested in Japanese poetry, this is an essential read.  The Waka Kokinshu became a textbook for how to craft Tanka.  Its poems are referenced allusively in countless poets down through the centuries.  The careful linking of the poems led to the emergence of renga, and out of renga emerged haiku.  So this collection of Tanka is in many ways the wellspring of Japanese poetry.

If you are an English language poet who has taken an interest in the tanka form, this work serves as an elegant teacher of how to craft a 31-syllable poem into a 5-7-5-7-7 structure in the English language.  Because McCullough’s translations are so elegant and so natively English, this translation serves as a guide for all those interested in English language tanka.

The book also contains two short, additional, works by the primary editor, Ki no Tsurayuki: the Tosa Nikki and the Shinsen Waka.  These two works give us a broader view of the main editor.  There are also excellent appendices that help in locating a specific poem you may be searching for.

This book was published in 1985.  Unfortunately, it has not received, in my opinion, the attention it deserves from English language poets writing in Japanese forms.  Part of the reason, I think, is the price.  My hope is that Stanford will issue this translation in paperback at some point in the near future so that the treasures found in this work can be accessible to a wider audience.

This is a grand work of poetry and one of the finest translations I have ever come across.  Lyrical, poignant, striking in its imagery, and universal in its humanity, it is a work that can nourish a lifetime.

Kokin Wakashu
The First Imperial Anthology of Japanese Poetry
Translated and Annotated by Helen Craig McCullough
Stanford University Press
ISBN: 9780804712583