Sunday, December 16, 2018

Atlas Poetica, Number 35, November 2018

A lovely review of Stacking Stones: An Anthology of Short Sequences (ed. M. Kei) by Charles D. Tarlton.

The following sequence was included in the review:


in the space
between wakefulness
and dreaming
my sister sings songs
I have yet to write

my dreamscapes
haunted by green spirals
of aurora
these memories of you
conjured out of light

last night
I dreamt of things
this morning, my life
so dull and drear

night after night
this recurring dream
the universe
is telling me something
I do not understand

This four-tanka sequence works differently from those discussed above. Here the poet leaps from one tanka to the next, bringing forward always the idea of dreaming. The title, spectral, connotes both a dream or ghostly realm and the spectrum of colors, as in a rainbow or artist's palette. The first tanka finds the poet midway between awake and dreaming, the second takes us into a nostalgic dream with colors, the third contrasts the wonder of the "dreamscape" with the banality of real life, and then we learn it happens every night, leaving the poet to wonder if

the universe
is telling me something
I do not understand

The poem works by gradually revealing more and more of the reality in (behind?) the dream world. In the end the dreams are mildly debunked, ordinary reality and the waking mind seemingly back in charge, but in the last tanka a whole new set of questions appears. Maybe the dreamscape is really about something bigger than the dreamer?

The syllabic form working in these four tanka seems to be a modified version of the S/L/S/L/L pattern, but applied pretty loosely. In the first tanka, the count is 3/5/3/5/5; the second is 2/4/4/5/4; and the fourth is 4/5/4/6/6. Now, all of these indicate a tendency or preference toward some definite tanka structure, some irreverent set of rules that, whatever they are, can be honored in the breach. Perhaps, however, it is no accident that the third stanza is the most pivotal, straddling the dream world and reality. The others are all more loosely conventional, but this one more rudely makes long and short identical, if you will, and keeps everything short.

The sequence spectral is ghostly, with memories caught in the blurred line between present and future, weaving dream-memories where light and image coalesce, and bluntly invoking the harsher waking morning. The poet ends up standing at the edge of that abyss Nietzsche was probably talking about when he wrote:

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.

—Charles D. Tarlton

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