Warp and Weft: Tanka Threads

Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads

Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads - a tanka collection released by Keibooks, Sept. 2015


Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads - Review by Michelle Brock (Australia) in Ribbons, Volume 13, Number 3, Fall 2017:

Debbie Strange's Warp and Weft is a feast for the senses. The collection is arranged into 72 triptychs (titled sets of three poems), each linked by a common thread or theme. Although individual tanka have appeared in various publications, the arrangement in this collection enables a deeper appreciation of how the poems within each triptych resonate with each other to create layers of meaning. On almost every page I have tagged tanka that I would like to return to and explore in depth.

Initially, I am attracted to the music and rhythm of the collection. The opening set, "the flute of tides," illustrates this beautifully.

in tongues of tides
the call and answer
of moon and sea
our words becoming sand

in kettled tidepool
purple sea stars cling
to ungranted wishes
we scatter the dust of ourselves
into the drowning sea

I am driftwood
curves undulating
worn smooth
my windswept bones
the flute of tides

I am drawn into the ebb and flow of these words, their gentle rhythm and the way repeated sounds echo the swirling sounds of the sea. Rich with imagery and steeped in metaphor, the set becomes an allegory for life. The first tanka calls upon the cycles in nature, the relationship between moon and sea, to tell our story. This trickles into the deep, dark rock pools of the second tanka, a metaphor for impermanence. I am particularly struck by the image of starfish as "sea stars clinging to ungranted wishes." Could they mirror the lost potential or the unfulfilled dreams that accumulate throughout life? In the end, both who we are and who we might have been, are scattered with our ashes into the sea. The third tanka in the set centres on the things left behind. Like driftwood along the beach, although worn and windswept through the process of living, the story of each song becomes part of a greater symphony.

In the set titled "the scent of you," there is sad and poignant beauty that lingers.

she is a dried rose
in an empty vase
an untouched bed-tray
a ghost
no one visits

they called us
to collect her things
not knowing
what to do with her teeth
we left her smile in the trash

rosemary from
your bridal bouquet
and funeral wreath
the scent of you
lingers on my hands

In the first tanka, the stark image of a dried rose in an empty vase conjures up a powerful metaphor for a life nearing its end. The "untouched bed-tray" implies a sense of resignation or surrender and the "ghost no one visits" suggests the empty shell or lifeless body that remains. This aligns masterfully with the practicalities highlighted in the second tanka. Although initially amusing, this is a deeply intimate and moving tanka. The sad process of sorting through and disposing of a loved one's personal belongings after they have died is a potent reminder of impermanence and our own mortality. In death, material things, even those once considered precious, intimate or essential for survival, are no longer significant. It is not surprising that this tanka received an honourable mention in the 2013 World Tanka Competition. The third tanka in the set is punctuated by a sense of smell. The images of a bridal bouquet and funeral wreath evoke the lingering scent of rosemary, a symbol for remembrance.

In "all the ways to shimmer," we discover the poet's deft eye for detail and her ability to capture in words the beauty of transient moments and everyday things.

stars dusted
over lake and sky
broken beads
of light trail behind
the otter and me

at the top
of a ferris wheel
two spiders
spin neon orbs
into the night

the dust
of moon and stars
on my skin
that winter I learned
all the ways to shimmer

The tranquil image of the night sky reflected in the lake is animated by the wake of an otter's trail across the water. The simple addition of the words "and me" in the closing line add a new perspective, where the poet and the otter are one, and the poem becomes a metaphor for life. From here we glide to the top of a ferris wheel to focus on the intricate detail of spider webs, their orbs reflecting the structure they are attached to. We then shift to the microscopic shimmer of stardust on skin. Implicit in this set is the poet's delight in the natural world and her ability to discover so many ways to shine through darkness.

The collection weaves back and forth through nature, life, illness, war, love, relationships and much more. Throughout this rich assortment of themes, the poet's exquisite expression and deft language skills shine through.

This is not only a collection to read but also one to appreciate through all the senses—sights, sounds, tastes, textures and smells are skilfully woven into the fabric of words to create an evocative and enduring experience that lingers long after all the poems have been read. Warp and Weft is a collection I will return to again and again. To this end, I will let Debbie Strange have the final word (from "the singing bowl").

we compose
the music of our lives
with grace notes
scattered between
lullaby and requiem


Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads - Review by ai li, editor of the cherita: your storybook journal (United Kingdom) on Amazon, October 16, 2017:

Debbie Strange tells us that Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads is her first collection of tanka and what a fine collection of poems it is. To me, this book is a gift of powerful and rich words that involve us, draw us into a maze of stories that show us how present and mindful the author is in her everyday life.

I have selected five examples that will draw you into Debbie's world of being open whilst being touched by a turbulent world:

those silent
bones of words
that mean goodbye
the distance between us
further than the crow flies

she hides
the family photographs
in memory's drawer
at our next visit
we find ourselves missing

rehearsing in the park
I never knew
there were so many
graceful ways to die

she is a dried rose
in an empty vase
an untouched bed-tray
a ghost
no one visits


Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads - Review by Jenny Ward Angyal in Skylark, A Tanka Journal, Issue 4:1, Summer 2016:

Grammar of Shadows, Poetry of Light

we are
homeless clouds
w a n d e r i n g
a cardboard sky
begging bowls filled with stars

So many contrasts packed into one little poem: the freedom of wandering, the pain of homelessness; the eternity of sky, the flimsiness of cardboard; the poverty of a begging bowl, the infinitude of stars. This is the closing tanka of a book densely woven with contrasts. In the “Author’s Note” to her first volume of short-form poetry, award-winning Canadian poet Debbie Strange writes “the work is arranged so that readers shuttle back and forth between the light and dark tanka fibres.” Often those fibres are intertwined within single poems as well as between them. Drawing together tanka published at different times in different journals, Strange has woven a fabric of 72 tanka triptychs, titled sets of three poems sharing a common thread. Strange’s thoughtful and effective rearrangement of poems that originally appeared in other contexts highlights the fascinating way in which tanka can change and enhance each another as their variegated threads are laid down side by side to form new patterns.

Like the tanka cited above, many of the poems in this collection explore questions of who we are.

I am driftwood
curves undulating
worn smooth
my windswept bones
the flute of tides

~from ‘the flute of tides

This poem could be read as an imaginative identification with a piece of driftwood — or as a metaphor for the human condition. Are we not all worn smooth, windswept, resonating to the music of forces larger than ourselves?

beneath the roses
these questions:
are you not more than ash
am I not more than rain

~from ‘more than rain’

Raindrops, the ashes of the dead, and questions — questions about who and what we finally are — all lie scattered beneath the evanescent beauty of the rose. Strange offers no answers, but many explorations of the questions, couched in powerful, striking images and metaphors.


you shed
your antlers
in the glade
I wear the bleeding velvet
a cloak of ragged prayer

I am
the bonedust
of winter
on the bent

he gasps
at the ragged scars
upon my back
remnants of that night
they tore off my broken wings

Language this magical invites the reader to venture, naked as bonedust, into a world where we must weave our own cloaks of meaning and wonder, grief and beauty.

Many of the ragged scars explored in Strange’s book originate in the complex relationships of family.

on Santa’s lap
year after year
she asks for one thing:
a father who stays

~from ‘the child’

after the divorce
we sisters in the back
of a pickup truck
vagabond wind stealing tears
from homeward-looking eyes

~from ‘ancestral bones’

this baggage
carried from one life
to the next
we unpack everything
but our belongingness

~from ‘baggage’

Each of these poignant poems illustrates Strange’s deft use of language: the childlike simplicity of the wish for ‘a father who stays;’ the ‘vagabond wind’ echoing through the sisters’ vision of themselves; and ‘belongingness,’ that perfect final word so unexpected and so resonant with the ache of dislocation. The bond among sisters is woven throughout the book in threads both light and dark:

with my sisters
washing moondust
from our hair
then braiding it with stars

~from ‘winter sisters’

my bleeding fingers
the broken strings
of my late sister’s guitar

~from ‘broken strings’

Strange is a guitarist, singer, and song-writer as well as a poet, so music echoes in many of the poems.

we compose
the music of our lives
with grace notes
scattered between
lullaby and requiem

~from ‘the singing bowl’

What an exquisite expression of the way in which we strive, from the time we’re born until we die, to discover or create grace in our lives — ‘grace’ in any meaning of the word you choose. Love is a prominent grace note in most lives, and many of Strange’s tanka — so like grace notes themselves — celebrate both love and its discontents.

our initials
tattooed on sand
b e t w e e n
heart-shaped tracks
of white-tailed deer

~from ‘heart-shaped’

leaves of glass
splinter beneath our feet
after the ice storm
we tread carefully around
one another’s edges

~from ‘edges’

The impermanence of sand, the brittleness of ice — both these poems illustrate Strange’s masterful use of metaphors drawn from the natural world to express human feelings and conditions. Having lived in each of the four western provinces of Canada, she writes poems deeply rooted among the mountains, prairies and forests of her native place.

a ragged curl
of birch bark fluttering
in the sun
even our smallest wounds
become limned with light

~from ‘limned’

Such a vivid image drawn from a phenomenon so small that most of us might overlook it — a bit of bark torn loose and edged with sunlight. But under the spell of Strange’s pen, the observation becomes so much more, as — characteristically — she draws our attention to the intimate and inevitable linkage of light and dark, of woundedness and beauty. Indeed, seeking to ‘limn our wounds with light’ is an exquisite definition of the poet’s calling, and it is an art at which Strange excels.

moonbeam quills
through our windows
the grammar of shadows
into the poetry of light

~from ‘a wafer of moon’


Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads - Review by Maxianne Berger in Atlas Poetica, A Journal of World Tanka, Number 24, March 2016:

Debbie Strange's Warp and Weft is an astonishing collection. First, its 218 tanka were selected from those published over a three-year period. Not being prolific myself, I am amazed that over such a brief period a poet could, among notebook drafts, produce so many poems of sufficient quality as to have engaged the editors of some thirty publications.

Aside from placing single poems on the first and last page, Strange has gathered her tanka into "triptychs": three tanka that share enough in theme or imagery to be placed together and thus to play off one another. The decision to do this with 216 tanka, that is to produce seventy-two triptychs, a daunting task, is ambitious. Had I not known these were assemblages, I would still be astonished by the resonances within them, and by how consistently the groupings do resonate. Consider, for example, "the altar of air."

on sacred stones
scarred with lichen
we listen to the chanting wind

in the highlands
we are standing stones
toward each other
f r a g m e n t e d

tobacco bundles
tied to jackpine bones
prayer fragments
hanging deliverance
in the altar of air

Strange chooses, for all her titles, a line from the third poem. By staging her triptychs in this manner she provides readers with a landmark that shades the meaning of the first two tanka till the echo of the title in the third gives the grouping its resolution. In the above case, related to "altar" we find the vocabulary of theism: offerings, sacred, prayer, deliverance. The "stones" of the first tanka return in the second. The "fragmented" of the second reappears as "fragments" in the third. In both these instances there is no redundancy because the referent has changed. The reading mind feels the tension between previous and new appearance. In the first tanka, the stones are sacred, and they are receiving offerings. In the second tanka, the voice leaves behind shasei and moves into metaphor: "we" are the stones. Our minds can now connect, however subliminally, the notion of "sacred" to the poem's "we."

Another example of the effect of groupings is in "blues."

a blue fan
unfolding in the distance
so many hills
we meant to climb before
they became mountains

of this blue life
by the hour glass
my furrows deepen

we replay
our lowest notes
over and over
these blues wailing
through harmonica bones

Within the space of these three tanka, "blue" has gone from the denotative colour of a metaphoric fan, through its own metaphoric colouring of a life, to its plural use as a type of music associated with troubles. This meaning, of troubles, is found symbolically in the first tanka through hills becoming un-climbable mountains.

In the second tanka, an accumulation of troubles through time is suggested by lines on the face, the persona's deepening furrows. The final tanka follows through with the verb "wailing." Although the three tanka were presumably produced separately, the continuities from "stanza" to "stanza" within their gathering make of the triptych a satisfying whole.

Readers might notice from the illustrations above that Strange makes lucid use of metaphor, far beyond what many poets present through juxtaposition alone. Certainly this poet does structure tanka through simple juxtaposition as well, and to good effect. The strength of this next tanka, the final one of the triptych "undone," is achieved through what is tangible and sensory.

in the hat you gave me
I am undone
by faded ribbons
and the scent of lilies

Because of the groupings, the impact of the above tanka is further reinforced by those that precede it on the page. The persona has already produced emotional ties with the "you": in the first tanka, "my bleeding heart / in the small of your hand [.]"; in the second, the loss is expressed as the "we" of "we planted" slips into the singular "I" of "time and I stand still" (my emphases).

Consider, too, this next tanka.

in the nursing home
parchment skin cradles brittle bones
a blue labyrinth
inked on mother's handscape
time's trembling calligraphy

The poem is the second of the triptych "motherstone." Yet even without knowing the title and the tanka which precedes, the first line, "in the nursing home [,]" establishes ample context for the various metaphors that so acutely depict an aged woman (and the neologism "handscape" is brilliant).

The opening tanka of "a prairie Gael" is more obtuse, yet still easily engages the reader because of the inherent physicality of the metaphors that permeate the phrases.

she sets sail
through oceans of grain
anchored to her father
trailing fingers in his wake
untangling beards of barley

Metaphor is not Strange's only tool. Consider, in this next tanka, the power of allusion.

rehearsing in the park
I never knew
there were so many
graceful ways to die

There are very few false notes in this collection—fewer than a handful could be called precious. Take "the dust / of moon and stars / on my skin / that winter I learned / all the ways to shimmer [.]" Although vaguely reminiscent of Carl Sagan's "we are made of star-stuff," the overall effect is "pretty." But fewer than a handful is few enough. For the most part Strange's tanka are forceful and unexpected. And at times, daringly surreal.

he gasps
at the ragged scars
upon my back
remnants of that night
they tore off my broken wings

The poems in this book tell us familiar, human stories. There is death—"rosemary from / your bridal bouquet / and funeral wreath / the scent of you / lingers on my hands"—the power of new love—"you watch me / with flaming eyes / my skin sizzles / I am ashes / in your hands"—the lingering bitterness of love lost—"on the table / an unread announcement / I don't want / to know the name / of his new baby [.]" Feelings and emotions we have in common. Feelings and emotions that make us us.

we are
e l e m e n t a l
forged by
fire, water, earth and air
we soften into ourselves

According to the poet, "[t]he work is arranged so that readers shuttle back and forth between the light and the dark tanka fibres." Debbie Strange's Warp and Weft does just so, and the resulting tapestry is masterful. More than a book to recommend to other readers who seek astonishment, the collection can also serve as a blueprint for poets who want to explore tanka poetics beyond the contemporary foundation of shasei and the keystone of juxtaposition—these poetic devices should and will continue to support contemporary tanka. But Debbie Strange's collection leads tanka into a whole other realm.


Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads - Review by an'ya in cattails, January 2016:

Author/Cover Artist: Debbie Strange, Canada
Dimensions: 8 inches x 9 inches
Construction: Soft perfectbound
Total page count: 85
Publisher: Keibooks, USA
Publish date: 2015
Language: English
ISBN: 9781512361124
Price/Ordering: AtlasPoetica.org

WARP AND WEFT TANKA THREADS is a unique presentation insofar as it’s author Debbie Strange from Canada, explains in her Author’s Note in-part:

“Each triptych in this tanka collection contains poems taken from different publications, but sharing a common thread.”

In addition, M. Kei writes from the back cover blurb of this book in-part, as being:

“Primal poetry with a pagan heart” Warp and Weft by Debbie Strange weaves tanka into short threads of three each, each triptych building into larger sequence that tells the story of a poet with a raven’s eye.”

Already I was intrigued and not to be disappointed. Starting with the cover art “A Spider’s Loom” which is by the author herself, and in keeping with her triptych theme. The two that I enjoyed the most mentioned “father and mother”:

a prairie Gael

she sets sail
through oceans of grain
anchored to her father
trailing fingers in his wake
untangling beards of barley

on the rotting dance floor
our father built
in the ash grove he planted
between rows of aching years

on father’s coffin
the cowboy hat and polished boots
of a prairie Gael
the skirling pipes
that sing him home


she calls us in
we press our noses
against wet glass
as tumbleweeds turn cartwheels
in the yellow bruise of sky

in the nursing home
parchment skin cradles brittle bones
a blue labyrinth
inked on mother’s handscape
time’s trembling calligraphy

sister roses
heads drooping
these petals of memory
dappling the motherstone

and a few more of my favorites for your enjoyment too:


the way snow
covers fallen leaves
this need
to make order
out of our chaos

the glow
of candled sea ice
at sundown
snowflakes melting
on our lashes

we sip Darjeeling
and dream
of growing marigolds
in monsoon rain


after the storm
you gathered shreds
of the garden
my bleeding heart
in the small of your hand

shearing back
the forget-me-nots
we planted
beside the sun dial
time and I stand still

in the hat you gave me
I am undone
by faded ribbons
and the scent of lilies

turning season

winter winds
play an aeolian harp
of barbed wire
a lone coyote and I howl
at the long night moon

lying in sage
on limestone cliffs
sunning myself
with ribbon snakes
emerging from hibernation

mercurial wind
in this turning season
my body
a weather vane tilting
in a new direction

What a riveting book of tanka this is indeed, much to my liking as I am sure it will be to all of those who have the privilege to read it.
—UHTS cattails Tanka Book Reviewer an'ya, USA


Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads - Review by Caroline Skanne in hedgerow poems, Nov. 2015:


‘Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads’ by Debbie Strange is an 86 page long collection of poems seamlessly woven into stunning tanka sequences, leading the reader through the dark, the light & the in-between…
our hands are stained —
of war zones
with no legs to walk
along the path to peace
missing —
now they search
the dump for bodies
hundreds of missing
and murdered Indigenous sisters
whose spirits wait for justice
limned —
a ragged curl
of birch bark fluttering
in the sun
even our smallest wounds
become limned with light
spangled —
she kneels
in the spangled grass
listening deeply
to the opening hymn
of a monarch chrysalis
folding into me —
crossing over
the bridge of sighs
I felt you
folding into me
folding into prayer
falling into flight —
I let go
and your lightness
carries me
beyond the sky
into myself
Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads is as exciting as it is ambitious, moving through a narrative of sea wolves & cloudscapes, wild forests & war zones. Speckled with rich imagery, honesty & sophistication Debbie Strange’s tanka story is not just a book, but also an adventure.
it can be purchased at the link below —

Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads, by Debbie Strange, Published by Keibooks

Press Release – For Immediate Release – Please post to all appropriate venues
13 September 2015
Primal poetry with a pagan heart, Warp and Weft by Debbie Strange weaves tanka into short threads of three each, each triptych building into a larger sequence that tells the story of a poet with a raven’s eye. Traversing the wilderness of the human heart, Strange’s map is written with quills upon clouds. Each triptych is an incantation to accompany the moments of life and impregnate them with the fecund power of darkness. She is comfortable with night, with ravens, ashes, soil, pain, and the welling blood of an injured heart. But for all the ghosts that glide through her lines, the wind always rises upwards to become clouds and stars.
my hands
tend the wild roses
upon your grave
in blood and blossoms
I sanctify your name
into midnight
by stars upon stars
nothing but stars
at the stoplight
she squeegees
car windows
her scrawny arms tattooed
with poetry and addiction
she lies trembling
as he dissects the diagnosis
three daughter moths
flutter in fear’s white blaze
riding pillion
my heart
against your back
we unzip the highway
at the velocity of night
“Debbie Strange’s imagination dwells in the world of elemental forces. In her tanka we encounter fire (“burnt down fields of dreams” and the “sun’s closed fist”), water (“glacier hearts” and “bouquets of wild rain”), earth (“dust of love letters” and “stone sorrows”), and wind (“windswept bone” and a “gypsy wind”). At home with ocean and prairie, desert and city, Strange writes elegantly-crafted triptychs that are lyrical and sensual, and saturated with colour and scent. Strange is a songwriter as well as artist and poet and her tanka are steeped in the music of “fog horns sounding a dirge”, “blues wailing through harmonica bones,” and “the bakeshop café’s a capella harmonies.” The poet also possesses the rare ability to surprise: sand in her “shell mouth” never becomes pearls, and the “ragged scars” on her back are “remnants of that night they tore off my broken wings.” Warp and Weft is a fine and sophisticated debut collection.”
—Angela Leuck, author of A Cicada in the Cosmos and Garden Meditations
“Warp and Weft unfurls like the first bulbs of spring, strong and unquiet, they are “the cleft between mountains” where echoes live. These poems, these tiny bones, small as phalanges, but what would we do without them?”
—Katherena Vermette, author of North End Love Songs, winner of the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry and the 2015 selection for On the Same Page, Manitoba’s Book Club
“Warp and Weft is Debbie Strange’s Leaves of Grass. We have an amazing poet living amongst us. Let us sing her praises.”
—Alexis Rotella, author of Lip Prints, a tanka collection, and Between Waves, haiku
“Canadian poet Debbie Strange’s first collection of short form poetry, Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads, is stunningly beautiful and deeply moving. The titular threads each are three tanka, from the last lines of which a title for the thread is drawn. The arrangement of verses shows the meticulous and discriminating care of an art gallery show. Strange manages to combine gorgeous language with a spare diction. So much is said in a few well-chosen words. These tanka are a pleasure to read and read again. Debbie Strange has emerged as an important voice in tanka poetry.”
—Denis M. Garrison, author of First Winter Rain (tanka) and Hidden River: Haiku and editor of Modern English Tanka, Haiku Harvest, Ambrosia: Journal of Fine Haiku, and others
Warp and Weft, Tanka Threads
by Debbie Strange
Edited by M. Kei
ISBN 978-1512361124 (Print) 94 pp
$12.00 USD (print) or $5.00 USD (Kindle)
Also available in print and ebook at Amazon.com and other online retailers.
P O Box 516
Perryville, MD 21903 USA

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