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.


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’)


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.

Blood Sisters

Blood Sisters


the stream

invites me to connect—

I flow into her

she flows into me . . .

blood sisters


  A Sunday in autumn. We have entered the landscape of an Old Master, painted in saffron, cumin, coriander, paprika . . . of course, I don’t think this now—I’m only six years old. I slip my hand from yours,suddenly distracted by the stream and its delicate song,  following it until I am spellbound by the balletic leaps of sunlight and water. Surely this is a place where faeries gather?

  And then I become aware of another song, somewhere deep in my mind. A stream beginning to flow to the rhythm of words. Back home, I find a corner of quiet and open my treasure trove of conkers, pine cones, words . . . Before long, I have what I think a teacher at school told me is something called A Poem. One by one, you read it. My family.

  Tip-tilted in evening light, a pile of books you’ve scoured to find the poem I must have copied. Decades and reams of words later—of which you say nothing—the wound I dismiss as a paper-cut opens again, from time to time, stinging at the salt of your indifference.


fog lays claim

to a picture book sky . . .

I wash the colours

from my brush of dreams

in your glass of silence

~Shropshire, England

Atlas Poetica, A Journal of Poetry and Place in Contemporary Tanka,

Number 9, Summer 2011

The above piece was my first attempt at tanka prose. It didn’t take much persuasion for me to fall in love with this ancient form which pre-dates haibun by several centuries and yet is often seen as ‘new’ or experimental.

I am delighted to take up the position of  Tanka Prose editor for Haibun Today. I am grateful to Jeffrey Woodward for affording me this opportunity and to M.Kei for all that he has done to promote the writing and appreciation of this exciting and versatile genre by publishing many new pieces in Atlas Poetica and the Special Feature, edited by Bob Lucky. Atlas Poetica 9 is now available for download and I encourage anyone interested to learn more about tanka prose to follow the links here and to read my interview with Jeffrey Woodward, “Tanka Prose, Tanka Tradition” which includes a bibliography and notes for further reading.

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