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.

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twelve moons: a review

I have been a little busy of late, but wanted to share the following review of twelve moons by Barry George. It first appeared in the Spring issue of Gusts 2013, but has also appeared online here.

Claire Everett’s New Tanka Collection, reviewed by Barry George

twelve moons by Claire Everett. Introduction by David Terelinck. Perfect bound; 76 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4781539-5-5. $14.75 US. Available at https://www.createspace.com/3923071.

What is distinctive about Claire Everett’s twelve moons is that her tanka do not merely juxtapose the natural and personal worlds; they interfuse the two.

passing sun
what of me is flame
taking hold
and what of me is timeless
like this rock, briefly warm?

The poet compares herself directly to the images of nature; she is the sun’s flame and the rock. The metaphor is woven into all five lines of the tanka. Indeed, a transmutation is at work, as the following makes explicit:

transformed
by the breath of your love
I am no longer sand
scattered to the wind
but the beauty of blown glass

In other cases, the interconnection between the poet and nature involves several images.

and when my thoughts
have followed the rosewood grain
of sunset
swirling dark from the eaves
pipistrelles

Thoughts that become one with the texture of the fading sky, and then begin to focus on a darker motion around the eves, suddenly take shape – as bats.

Or, in the poet’s contemplation, prompted by a similarity in shape, one image might morph into an entirely different one.

by candlelight
watching incense twist and curl
as shadow
the double helix uncoils,
the illness passed down the line

Closely allied with this interfusion of thought and images is the the intermingling of senses, or synesthesia, which Everett sometimes employs.

in silence
deeper than the scent
of pine
we listen
for the eyes of the deer

Here sound, smell, and silence work both as separate senses and as aspects of one combined perception.

As the title suggests, twelve moons, is organized seasonally. Each individual tanka takes on added resonance as it is grouped under one of the traditional names for the twelve full moons. The range of subjects includes motherhood, marriage, love, discord, disappointment, injury, illness, and mourning. Time is a persistent theme.

son of mine
what’s done is done…
seed by seed, I’d breathe
back the dandelion clock,
place its stem in your hand

The foregoing poem also exemplifies the tension Everett achieves with the sounds, rhythms, and pacing of words. So too does this one:

no greater peace
than the deep green
silence of the trees
when the breeze
has moved on

Note the long “e” sounds in every line but the last one­­­ – when the (long-e) breeze has moved on – as well as the way changes of pace and even syncopation are used to advantage.

This is a collection to be savored as much for the richness of its imagery as for its finely crafted form. For all the intricacy implicit in their design, the tanka in twelve moons remind us that the best poetry often seems disarmingly and marvelously simple.

after our walk
with such tenderness
you brushed
the clouds
out of my hair

The Reviewer:
Barry George’s haiku and tanka have been published in leading journals and anthologies. His essay, “Shiki the Tanka Poet,” appeared in The Writer’s Chronicle, and poems from Wrecking Ball and Other Urban Haiku, were nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives and teaches in Philadelphia.

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