twelve moons reviewed by Amelia Fielden

twelve moons

by Claire Everett (2012)


Reviewed by Amelia Fielden.

Atlas Poetica 14, Spring 2013


Here is a collection for the romantics amongst us! The tanka in Claire Everett’s twelve moons collection are beautiful, twenty-first century echoes of the classical Japanese waka of love, longing and loss.


My heart and mind are taken back to the world of the Heian era women poets by its very title twelve moons, and then the division of Claire’s book into these chapters: spring; awakening moon; egg moon; lilac moon; summer; corn-tassels moon; mead moon; barley moon; autumn; harvest moon; leafdance moon; whitefrost moon; winter; long nights moon; wolf moon; hunger moon.


The world of tenth century waka/tanka was opened to English readers in 1990 with the publication of The Ink Dark Moon, Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Otani.


Indeed, one of Claire’s harvest moon tanka directly relates to that wonderful book of translations:


cloth-soft edges . . .

whose hands held you before mine?

my heart

a rice-paper sky

for The Ink Dark Moon


In twelve moons, we find four pieces which include the word ‘tanka’, another three which sing of poems and the writing of poetry in general, and this one in the autumn moon chapter which references the first great collection of waka/tanka, the eighth century Man’yōshū, the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves:


until, my love

our days have the ink

of autumn

drying in their veins . . .

ten thousand leaves in the sun


A characteristic of Japanese collections, also, — even in the modern era — is to include a number of poems about the creative process, and the comfort to be found specifically in reading and composing tanka. It is clearly a comfort which Claire, too, enjoys, in addition to the delights in contemplating the natural world around her. One of my favourite tanka in twelve moons is this:


spring’s first iris

I watch her unfold

her blue kimono . . .

the comfort of rituals

in this shaken world


There is strong resonance in some of Claire’s tanka with japanese imagery: here we have the unfolding of a kimono; in another poem her heart is likened to a koto (Japanese harp); while the night as a black flower is an enduring makurakotoba (fixed epithet) in traditional Japanese tanka. This is Claire’s ‘black flower’ love poem:


scent of breaking light

the shortest day

this night

a black flower

we have pressed between us


And, in the long nights moon chapter, decorated with Japanese terms is this charming shasei tanka:


from the tip

of the breeze-brushed fir

red sumi-e

a robin’s calligraphy

this roll of kinwashi sky


Yes, there are many Japanese connections in twelve moons; but there are also poems which sing of the English countryside and many original metaphors, such as this whole tanka, another of my favourites:


miles away

a piece of the stream

is still singing

of the loss

of the heron’s reflection


Outstandingly, this is a collection throbbing with universal emotions, expressed in the fresh voice of Claire Everett.


It is a life-loving voice, frequently wistful — proportionately there are more which could be classified as ‘poems of longing’ than any other type of tanka in this collection — yet it is a voice which reflects the joys as well as the griefs of ‘everywoman’.


Delicate black and white ink nature drawings by Claire’s daughter, Amy, enhance the pages of twelve moons. The lovely fox in the snow cover is also the work of this talented young artist.


An introduction by David Terelinck gives an excellent analysis and summation of this book, which I recommend wholeheartedly.

The Reviewer:

Amelia Fielden is an award-winning, internationally published poet and a professional translator. A graduate of the Australian National University, she holds a Master’s degree in Japanese Literature. Amelia has had 6 volumes of original English tanka published, the most recent being Light on Water (2010). In addition, she has collaborated with fellow Australian poet Kathy Kituai, and with Japanese poet Saeko Ogi, to produce 4 collections of responsive tanka, including the bilingual Word Flowers (2011). Amelia has also published 17 books of Japanese poetry in translation.

The Charm

rapid eye movement
goldfinches brush the trees
with flame colours
in and out of song
your path through the forest’s dream
A sunlit breeze plays on the willow leaves against a powder blue sky. The thistle’s downy seed my fare, my drink the morning dew. I follow the glistening song of goldfinches, through the fields and vineyards of Vinci, catching glimpses of you as a boy as you go about your days with your uncle Francesco, learning the names of plants and herbs and studying the habits of wild animals.

“Vista d’uccello!” your voice hushed in wonder — how the world would take shape in a bird’s eye! This is your dream as you study birds in flight, mesmerised by the way they catch the currents of the wind, noting every detail in the sketchbook that hangs at your hip.

what is it
that lifts the wings
of man
quill by quill
the colours of his dreams

And so it begins, the first spark of the fire in your eyes, that many years later will send you running upstairs to the barricaded top room of your bottega, to work on one of hundreds of designs intended to lift you into the skies over Milan. Perhaps canvas and feathers, or these vast pinions constructed from leather and cane and starched silk will take you gliding over the lake – with an empty wineskin as your belt to save you from drowning?

where their wings once brushed
the bars of a gilded cage…
a charm
of goldfinches
with a key to the sky

It’s a simple thing to wander down to the open-air market and purchase the caged birds. One day you write a fable of the goldfinch who flies back and forth to feed her captured offspring with a poisonous herb – better death than the loss of liberty. A few moments spent sketching the feathers of a dove find their place in eternity, in the brushstrokes of Gabriel’s wings. Yet, what greater work of art than the gentle hand that slips the latch on the cage to set the little bird free? Or the dream-dark eyes that watch it fly away?

black strokes through yellow
the open fan of a wing…
the hang of the folds
and the placement of her hands,
her smile’s sfumato

A breeze through the willow paints a living picture of rose-coloured chiaroscuro in my lightly closed eyes. You speak to me of time.

the last of the past
the first of the future
my fingers
in the now
of the mountain stream


Note: the goldfinch referred to in this piece is the European goldfinch, quite distinct from the American goldfinch.

‘the thistle’s downy seed…’ extract from ‘On a Goldfinch, Starved to Death in his Cage’, by William Cowper (1731-1800)

better death than the loss of liberty is the moral of  one of Leonardo da Vinci’s many fables, The Goldfinch
Atlas Poetica 10 2011

because you love swallows…


like breath,

like poetry

child of summer

you are my wings

to the blue beyond


For Amy, 30th April 2012


Happy 15th Birthday,

Happy Summer’s Eve, my little queen of the May




this day

unravelling at the sleeve…

on a blue breeze

swallows take my thoughts

to the shoulder of the sky


Presence #45 January, 2012


cutting my cloth

according to its width . . .

the wings of swallows


DailyHaiku, August 2011


finding no grace

in words

I envy the swallows

sweeping away

into twilight blue


Atlas Poetica 8, spring 2011



the sweet scent of the hayloft

a pocket nest

where ruby-throated swallows

come and go


Atlas Poetica 10, autumn 2011



from wrists to fingertips . . .

last of the swallows


DailyHaiku,  September 2011


and because you love tree sparrows…

starry night




under a dark moon
I have come to see
that every star
is the night’s undoing


Blithe Spirit 21:3, September 2011


The cosmic ballet being played out in the night sky — with more delights to come in the weeks ahead —  reminded me to share the following…

At the start of the new year Atlas Poetica released its latest special feature, Social Realism, edited and with an introduction by M. Kei.


in this world
over hell, viewing
spring blossoms

Kobayashi Issa  1763-1827


(with thanks to Vincent for ‘Starry Night’)


not just today…



your fingers trace

the shape of me…

signed and countersigned

two swallows

make the sky their own


Atlas Poetica 10 summer 2011


a taste

of infinity

this night with you…

tilt my face and watch me fall

through a sky of snowflakes


Moonbathing, a journal of women’s tanka, Fall/Winter 2011-2011


of red and gold

every shade under the sun —

with you my heart

is an English autumn,

the scents of hearth and home


BUTTERFLY AWAY, Magnapoets Anthology 3, 2011


what you mean to me…

a solitary swift

finds a window of blue

and the sky tilts

on its axis


Gusts 14, fall/winter 2011 



by the breath of your love

I am no longer sand

scattered to the wind

but the beauty of blown glass


BUTTERFLY AWAY, Magnapoets Anthology 3 2011


until, my love

our days have the ink

of autumn

drying in their veins…

ten thousand leaves in the sun


Simply Haiku, 8th Anniversary edition 2011


the path of the sun …

your lips on my shoulder

in hip-high grasses

a day empties

into the wind


A Hundred Gourds 1:1 December 2011

Romance Under a Waning Moon



a roe deer sips the edge

of sunrise


Simply Haiku, 2011


Apologies for reposting some of the poems here…one or two are new to this blog.  Love…it’s not just for one day.

I love you, my husband.

ink and wash


dawn’s ink and wash
you ask me what I see…
time has no meaning
in mountain and mirror-lake
a rorschach of reflection

Atlas Poetica: 25 tanka poets from Great Britain & Ireland


once again
you merely brush by
in this garden of days
when I am lemon balm
perfume for your fingers

A Hundred Gourds 1:1


the path of the sun…
your lips on my shoulder
in hip-high grasses
a day empties
into the wind

A Hundred Gourds 1:1


I’m delighted to be published in these excellent journals and to be in such wonderful company.



scent of breaking light

the shortest day

this night

a black flower

we have pressed between us


in the yew wood

the mystery of the runes

as yet uncut

depths of me I did not know

took shape in your hands


I don’t seek

to understand life

or love

but hold you while you’re here–

snowflake in my hand


you are not here . . .

so I write a poem

against the night sky,

dot each ‘i’

with Venus


still, she leaves

a light on for him . . .


at the crumbling window

of a tumbledown cottage



to know that somewhere

an osprey

has stirred

this mountain mist

A t l a s P o e t i c a • I s s u e 9 • summer 2011

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