R E V I E W S
Three-Part Harmony: Tanka Verses - Review by Patricia Prime in Atlas Poetica, Number 37, 2019:
Three-Part Harmony: Tanka Verses is a companion volume to Debbie Strange's Warp and Weft: Tanka Threads. This collection of triptychs celebrates the author's love of music and fascination with shadows and light. The title of each triptych is taken from the closing poem of each set.
Debbie Strange's voice is big in reach and complexity, but subtle in rhythm. It works immersively and cumulatively, with direct appeal to emotion, reeling in the reader with its sentiment and simplicity, as we see in the following verse from "ululating" (23):
the rushes that held nests
of marsh wrens
I close my weary eyes
and turn into a song
The tanka form a series of intersecting arcs rather than a settled horizon and suggest that the dynamic of the collection, and the logic of the tanka sweep across codes of communication. The poems make cumulative sense as they layer up and with re-reading and immersion, the narrative and dramatic threads become clearer.
There are several principal areas covered by the poems: nature, family, the city, weather; and, above all, ways of seeing and remembering. It is part of Strange's project in these volumes to devise modes of seeing, remembering and reconstructing her memories. Though the poems may be assembled from remembered fragments and glimpses of life, the depiction of nature is her primary material. Her language is verb-driven, so each image is energetic, reflecting the effort of seeing and recollecting. In this verse from "the ministry of moonlight" (29), the poet recalls the healing that night brings:
there is healing
in the ministry of moonlight
the dark lifts
with my spirit at dawning
I am reborn to rise up
Language plays a large part in many of the triptychs. For example, in "an infinitude of sky" (72), we see the vastness of the sky and the ancestral bones laid out before us on the land:
big sky morning
felled by wind
hollow bones whistling
songs I used to know
In "this stolen land" (73) we witness the vision of spirits roaming across the stolen land in search of a lost Cree warrior, the mountain with its bleached skulls and the weather-beaten bones hidden among the thistles. The language of the sequences yields patterns and affords ways of seeing and imagining the poet's life, her surroundings and history of place. These elements tie the triptychs together with an allusive web, denser with every re-reading.
Multiple visual devices anchor the book. Each poem is titled from a word or phrase in the final verse. "crosses" (79) is focussed on loss: the broken-heartedness of mourning, flowers left on a grave, crosses in a roadside ditch. Various poems recall the tenderness of love. In "our hands" (82), love is illustrated by hands: "warm hand", my hand in yours" and "our hands, together". The poems are minutely detailed, the objects in them tied elaborately into the whole to form a complete story.
In the poem, "dust and bone" (109), for example, the poet writes about love, ageing and being together even in death:
when at last
we turn to dust and bone
an eternal waterfall
will still flow over you
Debbie Strange's verse is gentle, yet musical. It will sweep you up with its energy and variety but will deliver up its intricacies only on repeated exposure. Poetry begins with song and listening, but Strange's work will yield most to the reader free to flip back and forward between the pages.
Three-Part Harmony: Tanka Verses - Review by Jenny Ward Angyal in Skylark, Number 12, 6:2, Winter 2018: