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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 7, Number 4, December 2013

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Ingrid Kunschke
Minden, Germany


On Jeffrey Woodward’s Another Garden: Tanka Writings

Another Garden: Tanka Writings by Jeffrey Woodward. Detroit, MI: Tournesol Books, 2013. Paperback, 180 pp. $12.95 USD, £8.50 UK, €10.00. Available at Amazon & Amazon Europe. ISBN: 978-0615892511.

As a young girl living in a remote part of Heian period Japan, Takasue’s daughter’s one wish was to indulge in romances: “. . . I somehow came to hear that the world contained things known as Tales, and from that moment my greatest desire was to read them for myself.”1 In her Sarashina Diary, which is in fact a memoir, she looks back at her predilection for fiction—especially the Tale of Genji—and her lacklustre life squandered in pointless longing. Yet she also gives an account of her journeys to the capital and Sarashina, and of pilgrimages, overshadowed at first by false hopes for a Genji of her own, to pray for salvation later.

Like those romances, the memoir is written in a mode that integrates prose and tanka. It is the opening phrase of Sarashina Diary that Jeffrey Woodward borrows as the motto for his collection of tanka writings, Another Garden. Need I say that, like Takasue’s daughter, Woodward takes great interest in these “things known as Tales” himself? Well, of course not. His efforts to further tanka prose and kindle an interest in its classical models did not go unnoticed, to say the least. As the founder of Haibun Today, and editor of The Tanka Prose Anthology and Modern Haibun & Tanka Prose, he largely stepped aside in order to encourage and present pieces by fellow poets. Earlier this year, however, with In Passing and Evening in the Plaza, Woodward’s selected poems, haibun and haiku appeared in book form. Now Another Garden allows us to compare these to his tanka writings.

The book is comprised of roughly two dozen pieces of tanka prose, sixty discrete tanka and six tanka sequences. A lagniappe composed of Woodward’s excellent essays “The Road Ahead for Tanka in English” and “The Elements of Tanka Prose,” as well as “Tanka Prose, Tanka Tradition: An Interview with Jeffrey Woodward” by Claire Everett, completes the collection. I shall have to refrain from discussing them, if only because the main body of the collection deserves more attention than I can possibly give it within the scope of this review.

So how does Woodward put into practice what he advocates in his critical work? Not surprisingly, his tanka prose shows great diversity of form. From the basic unit of tanka prose and its inversion to envelopes, from pieces beginning or ending with tanka sequences to works that alternate prose and tanka in varying ways, his compositions are skilfully balanced. As always, it is revealing to notice as well what is not included. Another Garden does not feature tanka prose that incorporates different forms of poetry in other ways than citing but a few lines. Nor is there an instance of tanka prose without tanka (in the fashion of the odd haibun without haiku). This may be due to Woodward’s resolve to showcase tanka prose as the separate genre it is and therefore to distinguish it from haibun or other kinds of prosimetrum. Moreover, the task of specifying and capturing the spirit of tanka in prose alone is tricky indeed.

The perhaps most complex work in the collection is “The Trial of Dorothy Talbye, 1638” as it is interspersed with passages in direct speech at that. The piece is a dramatic rendering of the circumstances that led to the historic trial and execution of an insane woman from Salem, who had killed her little daughter.

Is this the City of Peace then, with a shore cold and stony enough to harbor a Puritan predisposition? Call this Salem—the wild and unexplored interior at your back, the icy brine of the sea in your hair, in your teeth.

here comes a dour man
in buckler and broad hat
and black homespun
and a woman in russet
who flies up behind him

For the poverty of your lot, Dorothy Talbye, let Salem console you. Why must you grieve? Are you not respected for piety and embraced by your church? . . . (51)

Woodward’s imagery evokes the Puritan austerity of the congregation and creates an ominous mood. His addressing Dorothy, the passages of direct speech and the vivid depiction take the reader in medias res. The triad “at your back . . . in your hair, in your teeth” is a perfect means to intensify the sensation of “the wild and unexplored interior” and “the icy brine of the sea” so critical to the atmosphere established in the first paragraph. A marked contrast of prose and poetry adds drama to the sudden appearance of Dorothy and her judge. Subsequent tanka relate closer to the prose and comment on the events with growing compassion. While the second and third poems are tied to the first by imagery and wording, the last is tied to the paragraph that precedes it. As in Woodward’s entire oeuvre, poetic devices abound in this composition. Though all of them add to its rich and haunting nature, some are particularly effective since they coincide with moments of great drama:

how many lashes
may the woman bear
how many lashes
before, good sir, all
turn, turn to ashes?

And so you spend some weeks quietly, duly chastised and outwardly conforming, until now, in October, in a secluded grove, Difficult, your three year old daughter, is discovered cold and breathless. (53)

The phrase “how many lashes” is repeated and accentuated by the end rhyme lashes—ashes. In the following paragraph the accumulation of harsh [k] sounds inevitably leads to “cold.” Meanwhile the child’s tragic fate is echoed by the alliteration in Difficult—daughter—discovered. As the piece draws to a close, the pair fellow—gallows is followed by the anaphora “You will not walk . . . You will not stand . . .” Along with the alliteration Dorothy—dragged, it cleverly prepares the question “Will you repent then, good woman?” Must I elaborate on hood—head and noose—neck? (54)

The cantastoria, a sung story performed by an itinerant balladeer pointing at images, comes to mind. The work’s subject matter, narrative traits, aural qualities and stirring imagery may account for that. True, “The Trial of Dorothy Talbye, 1638” is not written in the vein of a bänkelsang. Yet a sung story it is, with its heightened prose interspersed with tanka, id est short songs.

“Photograph at 19” also deals with history, though from a quite different angle. Written in the style of a stream-of-consciousness, the tanka prose develops around a photograph of the lyrical self.

my hair to my shoulder a thin goatee a thin moustache under small 1930s-style round tortoise-shell frames and my grandfather’s tweed flat cap and my U.S. regulation bomber jacket with worn zippers and cracked leather ransomed from the Salvation Army

the wind is caught up
where the light in the photo
falls on my hair
the jacket left open
inviting spring (22)

Ellipses, repetition, the absence of punctuation and leaps of thought add to the fluidity, rhythm and impromptu touch of the prose. The focus shifts from the young man in the picture towards those who occupied his mind at the time: Kerouac, Trotsky and Rimbaud. The lyrical self digresses and revisits now his picture, now his heroes. Within a few lines Woodward has him take us from the Paris Commune to Aden to Coyoacán to the East Village. The piece ends with four fragments that echo what has been said so far, and take it even further:

underlined in my copy of Rimbaud Je est un autre a French schoolboy’s letter and manifesto for a systematic derangement of the five senses

and what of Trotsky with Las Dos Fridas in Coyoacán where Frida Kahlo is left alone to hold her own hand

and what of so-and-so and somebody’s plan to meet on or about May Day at the Cliff House or perhaps on Russian Hill to view the Golden Gate

underlined in my Rimbaud à son état primitif de fils du Soleil license enough to seek to restore that child of the Sun that primitive state (24)

The anaphora leap to the eye. Like the parallelism at the very opening of Woodward’s well-known “A Record of Semimaru,” this construction steadies the lines. One anaphora embraces the other, thus establishing a firm connection between the prose-fragments. For once they take on the role of an envoy: a task otherwise performed by tanka. In a composition that brings both Kerouac’s On the Road and Rimbaud’s Illuminations to the scene, that should be fair enough.

Besides history, love, travel and seclusion make great subject matter for tanka prose. As for love, the Woodward classic “The Girl from Shanghai” finds itself in the worthy company of “Souvenir,” “Confessio Amantis” and the prose envelope “Coarse Thread.” The opening tanka of “Souvenir” resembles a study for a painting.

light falls from her hair
onto a gold necklace
and lapis lazuli
a carafe’s close shadow
of cerulean hue (18)

In two short paragraphs without punctuation, the lyrical self recalls the love he lost: “you in high summer here at my side your eastern city far behind.” He tries to “leave that shimmering aura,” but it follows him “into October into a sudden evening into a windy street.” The concluding tanka contrasts the first in imagery and mood:

if I turn back now
and look to the east
the heavens blacken
where tonight you lie at ease
beside another

As for travel, “Needles by Night,” composed of five prose-fragments and four tanka, truly captures the sensation of being on the road. This is achieved by the repetition of “coming into Needles” at the beginning of each prose-fragment and by the sober detail chosen to mimic the blurred consciousness after a long ride.

coming into Needles on the dusty coattail of a bit of night wind and heat lightning the sand kicking up into a dinged-up Mustang convertible to sting a sun-burnt face

where was that village
and when did you pass through
you forget the name
but recall the sign last stop
for water one hundred miles
(74)

The drive continues “coming into Needles on the sly and under cover of darkness . . . by way of the main street 10:30 p.m. . . . " which mirrors "via Flagstaff by way of Gallup . . ." in the first fragment. One more repetition connects the two concluding tanka poems to this fragmentary prose: “coming into Needles / only to pass through.” The anti-climax adds to the sense of transience. The last tanka has to have some weight or anchor now, to balance the composition. And it has:

farther down
that desolate road
and gray and scraggly through
the halo of your high-beams
the trickster coyote (75)

“Needles by Night” might well be a counterpart to “A Record of Semimaru.”

Another Garden also offers episodes of literary sightseeing as in “Seamen’s Bethel, New Bedford” on Melville’s Moby Dick and “Tor House,” a piece on Robinson Jeffers and his poetry. Some works of literature or art are referred to openly; others are referenced more obliquely. One section of the book, entitled “Blue Flag,” is reserved for tanka sequences only. “Blue Flag” points to a tranquil sequence of five stanzas, one of which reads:

looking into
clear water
the blue flag
only
looking back (58)

The words faraway, path, cottage, shore, blue flag, clear water, looking and dream are repeated throughout the piece, creating a meditative mood. One may leave it at that, or regard the composition as an allusion to Thoreau’s Walden, in which the clear pond stands for heaven within us.

If “[t]o a very considerable extent . . . a court poem [a waka] is five lines in search of a context”2 and this also applies to tanka, why then should sequences and prose pieces with tanka not show a tendency to integration as well? In Another Garden they do. Their context is established by interlinkage; a method that ties the compositions within a collection together by mood, imagery, subject matter, theme, symbolism, detail, etc. Interlinkage results in a tension and enhancement that allow for a deeper understanding of both the individual pieces and the work in toto. Sometimes successive compositions are linked together; in other instances one finds multiple references to widely scattered pieces.

An example of this is the tanka prose “Halo” that I take to be Woodward’s answer to the Sarashina Diary, and in which the lyrical self contemplates on his passion for books. From the second paragraph:

This is how I squandered the fortune of my youth—on the luxury of reciting aloud another man’s finely-tuned phrase or praising the harmony of another man’s palette . . . . My friends came to lament the sacrifice of their liberty in acquiring fine possessions; I came to lament the poverty of my proud independence. Isn’t it a simple matter, in retrospect, to say this man is illuminated, this man is not—to weigh, resolutely, wisdom against folly? (36)

Wisdom against folly, living in the wayward world against living in the world of letters, possessions against poverty: in the preceding simple tanka envelope “Drifter,” we read:

left to make
a packing box
your table
and take for your ration
in lieu of bread, air (35)

There is a tanka on the theme, and in “Peach Blossom Spring” Tao Qian chooses “the patient poverty of studious seclusion over the ready riches of a busy courtier’s life.” (48) “The Silence That Inhabits Houses” comes to mind, an ekphrastic piece on a painting by Matisse. The tanka prose depicts the lyrical self at a table, over a book, like the faceless readers in the painting he studies, “bare outlines in a yellow borrowed from the window.” (14) Did not Matisse depict the act of reading itself? And what of the bookish young man and his heroes in “Photograph at 19”? The question “how are we to live?” is a recurring theme of Another Garden and it is easy to see how it connects to the Sarashina Diary.

But wait, did I write “faceless” above? In “The Black Clock,” a tanka sequence on a still life by Cézanne (that also adorns the cover of In Passing), there is “. . . handless in the background / a black clock’s blank face.” (62) The onomatopoeia black—clock’s—blank emphasizes what the clock does not do: it does not tick. It signifies timelessness, another prominent theme in this collection. Cézanne’s painting is “a study of intricate formal balances” (101), a concept also critical to poetry. And Woodward treats it as such. He focuses on the relations between the objects in the painting, rather than on their connotations. Maybe for compositional reasons, he neither mentions the mirror nor the lemon that seem to hint at vanitas. Oddly, he does not mention the inkwell either.

In his essay “The Road Ahead for Tanka in English,” Woodward elaborates on Shōtetsu’s “lyrical prose description of an inkwell stand.” (118)

Shōtetsu proceeds to inform his patient reader not only that a Chinese poem is inscribed “next to the plum trees” but to quote the poem verbatim with its description of the man on the bridge, “walking stick in hand.” (119)

Is it mere coincidence that the tanka sequence subsequent to “The Black Clock” is entitled “A Walking Stick”? The first of its eight stanzas reads

a walking stick
that some ancient cast aside
I lift it from the dust
of this derelict path
and today I make it mine

“[S]ome ancient” denotes an ancient poet and very likely points to the body of classical Japanese poetry. “[T]he wind of autumn / that mourns in the grass” farther along is backed by Woodward’s discrete tanka

his antique voice
is like that of
the wind or of
the quail before
the withered grass (32)

which is reminiscent of Shunzei’s famous “yū sareba.”3 In “let me put this stave / and one foot now before me” (64) stave may also denote a stanza and foot a metrical foot. The sequence’s double entendre is obvious. The inkwell stand eternalized by Shōtetsu was adorned with a spring scene—here it is autumn. Of course it is, time is nullified in art, not in life:

a walking stick
beside the path
this, too, I would leave
in the dust
when I pass (65)

Woodward presents his discrete tanka among his tanka prose pieces, in two series of thirty poems each, which works very well. Their number and well-conceived order successfully balance the tanka against the longer compositions. The alert reader will find some added pleasure in their arrangement. Quoting three tanka will have to suffice, to give an impression:

when the swallow lands
and tucks beneath its wing
the sky of evening
you barely pause but withdraw
icily clasping your robe (31)

no way to skip it
but I toss the stone
sidearm nonetheless
and listen to it clatter
across the frozen river (34)

deliciously sweet
but with a slight tang,
the rejected
and twisted little
apples of Winesburg (87)

The charming phrase “tucks beneath its wing / the sky of evening,” with its subtle rhyme and the bird’s petite gesture, is contrasted effectively in the last lines. In the second tanka the onomatopoeia “clatter / across” adds to the cold, whereas the last tanka wraps up an allusion in sensory imagery. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson is a short story cycle that relies on interlinkage.

The collection’s title is derived from its middlemost piece, a tanka sequence that bears witness to Woodward’s long practice of Western poetry.

Another Garden

there is that place
where one may go
and deep within a garden
peacefully abide and watch
an apple harden

or so the tale is told
that he who will may find it
hidden there beyond a wall
where the one who comes to stay
does not hear an apple fall

nor is there any day
nor is there any night
but the young leaves lately known
to murmur ever lightly
soon are quieted and stone (57)

“[P]oetry of any type, be it formal, free verse or tanka, is first and foremost an aural phenomenon in my view,”4 says Woodward. His use of poetic devices is masterly indeed. The musicality and refinement gained by his method and skill are beguiling but, as is the case here, at times borne by a substantial variance of the form he seeks to enrich.

In “The Elements of Tanka Prose” Woodward states: “Tanka and haiku commonly abandoned syllabic meter in 20th century Japan and the adoption of the two forms in the West has widely followed suit.” (124) Japanese tanka did indeed show some departure from meter, yet, to the best of my knowledge, this has by no means become common practice. Perhaps due to rather free translations and influenced also by the English haiku community, English tanka has not “widely followed suit” but pushed its boundaries considerably further. Inevitably, this has consequences.

I do not object at all to the introduction of end rhyme. End rhyme is generally shunned in Japanese tanka, simply because it does not work that well; but that does not mean one has to abandon it in English tanka. However, the stanzas of this poem behave more like the strophes in Western stanzaic verse. They seem to be glued together by content and aural qualities to the point of showing considerably less autonomy than one is accustomed to find in a tanka sequence. Since the stanzas also stray far from the ideal short-long-short-long-long structure of tanka, only context suggests the poem is a tanka sequence.

That being said, I readily admit it is a fascinating poem. There is a striking change in mood from the sequence’s halcyon opening to its ending on a distinctly sinister note. Apples and hidden gardens appear more than once in this collection; their significance is not limited to this composition only. A poem is never finished, and I am not finished with this poem yet. Does it hint at imagination or at the world of literature itself “out of time and in no place at all”? (38) And are the last sombre lines a warning to nurse imagination with life, lest it fade? Or to turn to reality betimes, lest life should be squandered?

As I reread the collection time and again, a rose blossomed and scattered its yellow petals, leaves yellowed and now sparkle with frosty rime. Am I poorer, for having spent my days in seclusion, or richer, for having strayed about that other realm? I will leave it to the reader then, to taste the apples and discover the gardens in Woodward’s tanka writings. Like the inkwell, some are hidden thoroughly indeed.


Notes

1. Donald Keene, Travelers of a Hundred Ages. Henry Holt and Company: New York, 1989. p. 48.

2. Miner, Earl. An Introduction to Japanese Court Poetry. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1968 (qtd. in “The Road Ahead for Tanka in English”).

3. “As evening falls, / From along the moors the autumn wind / Blows chill into the heart, / And the quails raise their plaintive cry / In the deep grass of Fukakusa village.” Miner, Earl. An Introduction to Japanese Court Poetry. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1968, p. 109.

4. Jeffrey Woodward, interviewed by Patricia Prime in “Talking Points: Jeffrey Woodward on Haibun and Tanka Prose.” Simply Haiku 6.3, Autumn 2008.

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