I’m back after a short spell of silence. Writing has been happening behind the scenes but nothing prominent that I can write about. I have enrolled for The Himalayan Writing Retreat’s ‘First Draft Club’ this entire month of September and I have managed to write a few poems, their first drafts really. And I don’t know if first drafts can be termed as serious writing. When I look at the scribbles in my notepad, I am not sure what to make of them. But at this moment I don’t want to look at them a second time round. I just want to keep on writing to meet my target of twenty poems for September. We have also been meeting some established writers/poets/authors at the club and it’s good learning.
The last post that I wrote was a review of Kala Ramesh’s collection of Tanka pieces, ‘The Forest I Know’. Well, as luck would have it, Kala in collaboration with Blogchatter organized a Tanka Writing Contest. I tried to be smart and decided to send in an entry of Tanka Sutra, which is two or more Tankas threaded together (Sutra in Hindi means thread). The Tankas, needless to say, must be in continuation.
Blogchatter, later approached me to do a Facebook live with Kala which you can access here and in which she answered several questions about the poetry form. As she announced the results, yours truly also received an honourable mention for the Tanka Sutra. Before I move on to share the valuable inputs received from Kala Ramesh, let us have a look at the Tanka Sutra I had submitted.
the body no more
an object of your desire
finds its home in me
dying embers burn slowly
fire flies light up the dark night
i walk blind folded
through the rambling lanes of past
the alleys belong
to me- chirrup, whoosh, flutter
life returns in joyful haste
long bleak winter hours
stripped of familiar
aches- grow a new pain
old cherry blossoms perish
black spores cover dying flowers
Now before I begin to thank you for the honourable mention, let me add that Kala had quite a few things to say about this. As she appreciated my courage to attempt the piece and create vivid imagery, she didn’t mince words when she said that well, Tanka hadn’t arrived, not for me! Let us have a look at some of the points that Kala mentioned.
- The syllable count in Japanese is very different from that in English. So, the English writing world prefers the slslll form (short/long/short/long/long) rather than count syllables. I had invested too much in my syllable count.
- The Tanka must not be padded with words or with images. No big words please. Keep it simple, give the readers an image which is easy to comprehend. Your Tanka must transport them to the moment it describes. Add a twist after the third line.
What did I do? More than two images in one Tanka (two is the ideal number) and many, many words.
- Avoid adjectives- ‘rambling lanes’ (NO!), only lanes. In fact, I was reading Mary Oliver and I gathered that giving the adjectives a miss might just apply to all poetry. At least an abundance of adjectives is not a very good idea.
- When it comes to a sutra, we need to make a garland of flowers. We can’t have a marigold followed by an apple! That’s what she thought about this Tanka Sutra. Honestly, I was trying to talk of one experience, of coming back to the self after years of giving yourself to others. But maybe it wasn’t all that clear.
Now don’t ask me what made her give this sutra the honourable mention. Maybe the bold attempt of risking to try not one but three of them together! Kala had many other things to say, to share, to teach and if you would like to know more about Tanka writing do watch this video. But wait! My experiments with Tanka didn’t end right there.
I have been reading ‘The Essential Rumi’ translated by Coleman Barks and here is a beautiful share from the book,
Shams of Tabriz once asked Rumi that who was greater, Muhammad or Bestami, for Bestami had said, “How great is my glory,” whereas Muhammad had acknowledged in his prayer to God, “We do not know You as we should.”
Rumi answered that Muhammad was greater, because Bestami had taken one gulp of the divine and stopped there, whereas for Muhammad the way was always unfolding.
Our journey of learning is the only way we can grow, the only way the path can continue to unfold. Reaching the destination is wonderful but it is also the end of the road. I am enjoying my writing journey and this continuous, unhindered learning is all that I ever wanted. So, I made another attempt at the Tanka, this time four different pieces for you to read and enjoy.
you play on loop
the sanctum in your house
scrubbed harder and harder
bring back familiar
old desires burn
in the blazing hearth
through the alleys
of the past-
whoosh chirrup flutter
life returns in joyful haste
- the rain is
a painful reminder
of your love-
i see a farmer
drenched in happiness
A long way to go! But I am walking steadily, I tell you. I hope to show these to Kala during a workshop in November called The Long and Short of Tanka, which she plans to take on Nov 20 & 21 (Sat/Sun) (Three hours on Sat with a break in between and two hours on Sunday).
Should you want to join, please send a DM.
Although Mary Oliver says that if one must make a choice between reading or taking part in a workshop, one should read, I would like to change it a bit. What if you have a chance to do a workshop and read? I would say, grab them with both your hands!
Before I end, good friend Elizabeth Gauffreau is ready to release her collection of Tanka Poetry titled ‘Grief Songs: Poems of Love and Remembrance’ on 26 September, 2021. So, there is going to be more Tanka round the corner. Hope you will all check out Liz’s website here.
Happy writing, happy poetry.