Monday, May 25, 2015

All the night flights to Europe

An array of contrails
overhead, like a child's
drawing of the sun. Here
where land and sea conmingle:
all the night flights to Europe.

Lately, because I have been reading them, I too have been trying to write some tankas, a 31-syllable form of Japanese "diary" or daily verse. Harryette Mullen, for example, in Urban Tumbleweed (2013), collects and reworks the contents of her "tanka diary," daily short poems, many built from observations made during walks in and around Los Angeles. Mullen invents her own three-line form of tanka, and here writes within the frame of what I would call "urban naturalism," an emerging genre, a space of metropolitan commonplaces readers tend to fall upon with rapture, recognizing just that sort of incident, or this view in Los Angeles, or a particular news item. Urban Tumbleweed seems an apt title, for the poems snag all sorts of detritus, and then pile up against odd walls, spaces you never thought to find them--and then also, at all of the usual fencerows and barriers--for example this one, all to familiar to so many African Americans:

"Visiting with us in Los Angeles, our friend
went out for a sunny walk, returned
with wrists bound, misapprehended by cops" (94).

Perhaps my favourite of Mullen's tankas is another visitor poem, but sweetly surprising, unbinding:

"My visitor from Nebraska buys
a sack of assorted seashells at a souvenir shop,
then scatters them along the beach" (22).

My own experiments with the genre have seemed far more leaden and fraught; like shot scattering, or an old bit of cotton cloth tearing suddenly in every direction, the words pull apart, leaving nothing. After weeks of trying I have just two or three poems, the one above, another half assembled, and this one, from early April:

Blue sea, bitter wind
snow foundering. New dog stands
in ditchwater, watches
chickadees pluck seeds
from our outstretched hands.

Who knew brevity could be so hard?

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