June 8, 2020 ・Best Of
This collection contains 20 of what I feel are my best tanka since I started writing them last year.
A lot has changed over the past year. Compared to several other poetry genres I’ve worked with, tanka is particularly great for capturing one moment’s feelings, thoughts, and emotions. I think these 20 tanka pieces give a good overview of what this past year has been like – where I came from, where it has taken me. To maintain that chronology, I kept the tanka in the original order in which I wrote them. Usually for compilations I’ll change the order of the parts in order to develop and support an overarching storyline and flow, but that wasn’t the case for this one.
I think one interesting point for tanka is that it’s surprisingly personal. With other types of poetry, such as free verse, pronouns such as “you” and “I” can be interchanged and nothing necessarily refers to the author. The narrator of the poem can easily be ambiguous and there can even be multiple voices or none at all, and all of this possible manipulation is part of poetic and stylistic choice. With tanka, it’s different. Theoretically, the tanka that I write don’t have to be about myself or my immediate life – you can write any kind of poem about basically anything – but I find it so much harder to detach myself from tanka as I write them. Because of this, it makes sense for me to use a series of tanka to tell “the story of my life”.
June 9, 2020・Free Verse
The title of this poem is Inheritance, but that word or concept is never explicitly mentioned. The closest you get, sound-wise, is the line “that aggression is not inherent”. There is a lot that is ambiguous in this poem, I feel – the title, the pronouns, and some lines, “for those who are within us”, “it was never a matter of hope”, “and we did not need to live this way”…
When I was writing this poem, I was thinking about humanity at large and our actions across time. Maybe this will help make the meanings of some of these lines more clear.
June 10, 2020・Daydream
I haven’t written a daydream in a while. In this one, the main character Hanna has depression. Around the time I was writing this, I was finishing up a book I’ve been reading, Ethan Watters’ Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche. This book really changed how I think about mental health, mental illnesses, and how we conceptualize, treat, and create them in the US and abroad. For instance, a lot of the time, when somebody we know is having a depressive episode, a panic attack, schizophrenic hallucinations and delusions, or anything similar, then we become really overbearing in the sense that we are always watching that person, scrutinizing their behaviors, talking to them, trying to ‘fix’ them… and these kinds of reactions to mental illness can sometimes actually have negative effects.
In this daydream, Hanna’s friend doesn’t react like that. He comes by to check on her, but keeps a physical and emotional distance, leaving space for Hanna to react and respond to him but at the same time not demanding anything from her. He remains consciously considerate, he doesn’t try to take her to the doctor or make her take medication, he doesn’t blame her for how she’s feeling or acting. He respects her agency and rationality, and doesn’t stigmatize. I’d love a friend like that…
June 11, 2020・Tanka
The key lines, “loving through her eyes”, “still, we betray her”, “still we do not think to love.” It’s an environmental message.
June 12, 2020・Poetry, General・Compiled in 『because we will meet again』
This poem also has an environmental message, but it’s less pessimistic, less antagonistic than the tanka from the day before. There is room for hope in this story, and there are still people who care and think to love. The biggest unknown variable in climate science is the future behavior of humanity – which means we still have a chance. Nothing is for certain. Besides, I think that even if there is no hope, you can’t just give up. You can’t live like that. At least I can’t.
June 13, 2020・Tanka
The last two lines, “if words ever had meaning/this time ours are meaningless”. Words and the meanings we attach to them are essentially cultural – for instance, words like “traditional”, “modern”, “civilized”, “normal”, don’t inherently mean anything until we attach our sociocultural and temporal context. So if this time our words are meaningless… they go into the abyss, they go into the void. And we are left with only the context, only the emotions behind your words, “this is not goodbye”. It’s a hard concept to grasp, but that was what I was seeking to express with this poem.