Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Red Lights, Vol. 15, Number 2, June 2019

BOOK APPRECIATION: Three-Part Harmony: Tanka Verses

I was honoured to be chosen for this feature by the editor, Marilyn Hazelton. 

In response to her question regarding my musical background as it informs Three-Part Harmony:

I have been playing guitar, singing, and writing songs since the age of 12. My eldest sister was the main musical mentor in my life. I received my first guitar from her as a Christmas gift, and we often played music and sang together. She taught my sisters and me to sing harmony, hence the title and dedication of this book. Though she passed away when she was 28, every time I play my guitar, I think of her.

In response to her question regarding how I compiled the book:

It took about a year to finalize the manuscript. I began my eliminating poems that had appeared in my first book, Warp and Weft: Tanka Threads. I sorted the remaining published work into themed groups, and whittled the field down to approximately 300 tanka. This is like working on a huge jigsaw puzzle. I inserted each tanka into a set until they resonated with each other, thereby breathing new life into old poems.

In response to her question regarding my reflections on three tanka sets she chose at random:


curls of clouds
become passerines
each autumn
the low-angled light
invites me to follow

snow geese
scribe an ancient mystery
across the moon
their soft murmurs
catching winter's breath

a starling
m u m u r a t i o n
sifting the sky
she recalls the moment
her life changed shape

I have been an avid birder for 40 years. Birds inspire me on a daily basis, and they feature in many of my tanka. In murmuration, I tried to encompass the way birds make me feel, how they capture my imagination, and stir my emotion. Here, we have clouds shape-shifting into passerines, snow geese becoming scribes, and starlings changing the very shape of sky.

bread and tempers

that phone call
all those years ago
I still see
a serpent writhing
between her fingers

the argument
escalates all night
inside me
these paper-thin walls
only meant for wasps

we lived
above a bake shop
that summer
of bread and tempers
rising through the night

I find it cathartic and healing to share my joys and sorrows via the written word. I do not shy away from writing about the dark times in my life, because these experiences have helped to mould me into the writer I am, and the writer that I will become.

gunmetal nights

mule deer
resting in a thicket
by the slough
all over this world
the sound of guns

shots fired
another child dies
for a debt
her chalk outline
macabre street art

bullets of crows
on gunmetal nights
a deeper shade
of anguish echoes
in her bones

This set is especially meaningful to me, as I have a complicated relationship with guns. When I was a child, my father hunted to provide food for our family, so they seemed like a necessary evil, if you will. Over the years, two of my cousins have been murdered by these weapons, and with escalating gun violence throughout the world, I find myself becoming increasingly fearful for our global community.

Other work included in this issue:

webs billow
across the pathway . . .
we blunder
into magic, ensnared
by everyday miracles

hares boxing
in the flush of dawn . . .
it seems
impossible to defeat
an opponent I can't see

note: During spring mating season, hares can be seen striking other hares, giving rise to the phrase, "Mad as a March hare."

we step
into the warm barn
by a horse playing
piano with his nose

note: This is a true story! Percherons at a nearby barn are kept stimulated by various artistic diversions, such as painting and playing piano, during bitter winter weather when they are confined to their stalls.

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