The Language of Loss: Haiku & Tanka Conversations

 The Language of Loss: Haiku & Tanka Conversations

Winner of the 2019 International Women's Haiku Contest

The Language of Loss: Haiku & Tanka Conversations - released by Sable Books, October 2020:

"The Language of Loss contains tanka and haiku of exceptional quality. But it is the remarkable way in which the poet links tanka and haiku that elevated The Language of Loss into the winner's circle. The poems on each page come together in a conversation of many layers. That these conversations will deepen and change for each reader is due to the author's expertise. I am delighted to congratulate Debbie Strange on her winning collection."

"These exquisite poems illuminate the skill of the author in pairing haiku and tanka in conversation, one page at a time. On one page, the long ago past talks to the recent past. On another, the sorrow of the natural world is juxtaposed with that of the human world."

—Roberta Beary, final judge
author of The Unworn Necklace, and Deflection


The Language of Loss: Haiku & Tanka Conversations - Review by Colin Blundell in Blithe Spirit, Volume 31, Number 2, May 2021:

The title of Debbie Strange's neat little book is well-chosen because, although the tanka and haiku relate to various personal losses, we are left free to consider the nature of 'loss' in the abstract and then to meditate on the exquisite variety of moments related to particular losses, with which we are not being asked to identify, either with person or manner of loss; the truly engaging thing is that we are invited to observe delicate conversation pieces involving a great variety of concrete images. The conversations and the feelings they inspire take place for us in the silent space between a tanka and its associated haiku on each page. The guiding principle is that we most eloquently feel loss in silence rather than in any more dramatic way.

we offer her
to the warm earth
in a silence
more eloquent than any
language of loss

The haiku response to this across the silent space where we are left to feel whatever we feel is typically lodged at a tangent coming from some other place in the same way that a haiku should function in a haibun. Then we are left to make the conversation for ourselves.

gone too soon
sakura blossoms
my old friends

It is most interesting that each tanka serves as a virtual 'present moment' from which the haiku is derived in the silence from which all true haiku are born when the writer is 'sitting quietly doing nothing'. This haiku can be read in a number of ways: cherry blossoms in spring are like old friends who often disappear without letting us know; they are gone too soon as when the petals fall from the tree; blossoms and old friends merge together.

wavering veils
of snow geese in transit
remind me
of the way life comes
together . . . falls apart

The extraordinary image for a passing flight of birds, 'wavering veils', turns the pedestrian phrase 'in transit' into something new because it's so out of its normal context. It serves to remind me/of the way life comes... (here one can pause if only for an instant)—a well-judged caesura because life not only comes/together but, in the next line, it also 'falls apart'...

In the silent space we think about the implications of all this: what do we do that's worthwhile between the coming and the going of this one & only life? Again a tangential response and equally complex in its verbal simplicity.

the time we meant
to make

What do we do between the coming and the going? Make the old family heirlooms work for us, make heirlooms for our children's children, or just make time itself work productively for ourselves...This is the kind of thoughtful conversation one can have with oneself before going back to the words of the tanka.

This is a linguistically very impressive collection. Every single one of the thirty-two pages prompts a keen meditation.


The Language of Loss: Haiku & Tanka Conversations - Review by Joanne Morcom in GUSTS, Number 33, Spring/Summer 2021:

This collection was the winner of the 2019 International Women's Haiku Contest and in the words of final judge Roberta Beary the poems "...illuminate the skill of the author in pairing haiku and tanka in conversation, one page at at time." The thirty-two pairs address many topics from flowers to fireflies and beyond, yet there's an underlying sense of loss, reflected in the book's title, the dedication to deceased family members, and of course the poems themselves. Here's the tanka that contains the title, and its haiku companion.

we offer her
to the warm earth
in a silence
more eloquent than any
language of loss

gone too soon
sakura blossoms
my old friends

The poet's gentle grief increases the poignancy, especially when expressed through the imagery of warm earth, silence and falling blossoms. Sometimes when words cannot adequately express strong emotions, nature is much more articulate. Another pair addresses anticipatory grief, as a mother's cognition declines. Once again, nature imagery adds richness to the poem. Very noteworthy are the references to embers and rose hips in the first line of the tanka and fireflies in the last line of the haiku. As fires die, roses wither, and night falls, so do our loved ones fade away before our eyes. Often all we can do is bear witness.

small embers
of rose hips is snow . . .
the look
in mother's vacant eyes
so hard to define

our names
escape her

In another pairing, the focus shifts to relationship issues, perhaps with a spouse. The overall tone is somewhat light, as the poet admits that she can calm everything but her significant other. He or she is perhaps wilder than the poet's horse! But the chiaroscuro reference suggests a darker undertone. It's not altogether clear if the issues are fully resolved, but relationships and life carry on regardless. Resolution may not even be desirable.

I measure
my horse at his withers . . .
these hands
know how to gentle
everything but you

I let go of the need
to appease

The poems in The Language of Loss were previously published and several have received awards. Remarkably, the conversations flow effortlessly and seamlessly, as if they were written just for this collection. Here's an achievement that both haiku and tanka lovers will doubtless appreciate. Hopefully, Debbie Strange produces another collection in the same eloquent style.


The Language of Loss: Haiku & Tanka Conversations - Review by Sandra Stephenson (USA) in the Haiku Canada Review, Volume 15, Number 1, February 2021:

How can I write a review of a book about death and marital loss published in 2020 without mentioning Covid, even if the disease and its collateral damage to family ties and mental health were unheard of when this book went to print? Is it a timely book? Yes. Can it soothe people who have experienced their own recent loss? These poems are very personal. Whispered confidences about specific troubles. The lift in them comes from the author's real affection for and inspiration from the natural world. The whistle of a wood duck, the yellow leaf, the necklace of sea foam, the antelope, the orca, the bridge. Pan-Canadian.

empty next
on the for sale sign
mourning doves

When it won the 2019 International Women's Haiku Contest, a great deal was made of the conversational presentation of the haiku and tanka in Strange's collection. They appear on the page in pairs: one tanka, one haiku. A modified renku of the writer with herself. Strange has possibly invented a new form, one that could be played with.

For example, on p. 18 there is a tanka that could be split into haiku and response, and it's followed by another haiku which could as easily be a tanka using the last two lines of the poem above it as its first lines.

a car filled
with catcalling men
follows me . . .
I long to walk alone
in the sweet evening air

city sirens
the wolves that used to
sing us home

Arranging it as she has bespeaks a solidity and a flow which give the works authority.

A Canadian living in Winnipeg, Debbie Strange fills out a missing voice in this country, and represents Canadian haiku abroad by participating. I took note of her in my review of the Wales Haiku Journal last winter. Some of her poems have a signature subtle elegance. Ten awards and 34 publishers who already printed these poems are listed in the back of the book. There's nothing I can add to these commendations.

dense fog
the softened beacon
of an ambulance

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