Emphatic tanka prose - educational, and rich in imagery and Japanese influence
When the paragraph leads, the closing tanka caps the prose, and is the culminating point of the composition, a sign of the work’s fulfillment. (Jeffrey Woodward in an interview with Claire Everett)
Another Garden by Jeffrey Woodward
‘I was raised in a remote part of the country . . .’
(The Sarashina Diary)
This introductory line in his book, Another Garden, was enough to get me researching, wondering why Woodward would pick this reference specifically. It is not an accidental choice, but rather, Woodward intends to take his readers on a tanka prose journey beginning with Graceful Willow, which highlights the mystery of a young girl writing in her diary.
He writes …
Sixteen perhaps, auburn hair pulled back tightly in a bun, a trace of cranberry lipstick that her mother very likely did not approve. Forsythia aflame and, before the bench by the river where she leans to write, tulips opening. Her elegant and practiced cursive is like that of the current—flowing on and on. She is too young, certainly, to guard so many secrets. And her diary—would it possess the patience to receive them?
the willow is green
young and eager to become
for wind and water
the pliable plaything of
each breath and eddy of spring
In Another Garden, Jeffrey Woodward artfully draws attention to his skilled talent for writing poetic prose. To be honest, this is the first tanka prose collection that I have read from beginning to end with the intention of writing a review. Woodward took me through literature, through historical settings, through moments when I though I understood the heart behind Chinese art and Mandarin tuition. If a picture can come alive through words, Woodward has more than justified the expression of a photograph through words as well as strong tanka imagery (Photograph at 19).
To support my review of his book, here is my tanka prose analysis on the opening tanka prose(Graceful Willow).
I like the shift from the girl in the prose to the willow in the tanka. I read this so many times and still cannot get over the shift and yet the bridge between the essence of youth and nature in both. I specifically love the imagery of 'tulips opening'. The poet takes me to that specific moment. It is as though I can see them for myself. And then … the description of her cursive handwriting - akin to the current. A similar connection is in Line 3, 'for wind and water'. The more I read this particular piece on and on, the more I see so many images and connections come alive. Beautiful work!
From tanka prose, to tanka sequences and individual tanka, Jeffrey Woodward mesmerizes the senses with his articulate and unique tanka style. You cannot but notice the skill of the Masters: how he excels in this special genre of poetry. Not uncommon to tanka, Woodward also adds subtle rhymes to his creative writing (wing / evening).
when the swallow lands
and tucks beneath its wing
the sky of evening
you barely pause but withdraw
icily clasping your robe
I love the balance between ‘tucks beneath its wings’ and ‘icily clasping your robe’. This is English tanka right there in all its grace and beauty.
However, it is not just tanka in Another Garden. Readers will benefit from the two essays that Woodward pens on the art, structure and eloquence of tanka. Additionally, tanka prose editor of Haibun Today and Skylark, Claire Everett interviews Woodward, and this conclusion adds to the substance of the book Another Garden. Do take the time to read this book. Woodward makes way for the refining of modern English tanka while relying on the ancient Japanese heritage of tanka with prose. No doubt, there are deviations; but deviations with a balance of both worlds, building on structure, nuances and the very form of tanka with prose itself.
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