When my wife and I first got married I plied her with little presents. For each of the usual gift occasions (birthday, Valentine’s Day, Christmas) I spent an exorbitant amount of time shopping for items that would be eye catching, express some delicateness of inner feeling and also be doable within my paltry budget. Some guardian angel inevitably transported me to the creaking wooden floors of Daniel Lowe’s in Salem Massachusetts. It was an old fashioned department store/ curio shop with a main showcase at ground level and an upstairs gallery. Every table exhibited marvelous creations for all to see: music boxes, German clocks, Irish crystal, Chinese China, seascape and landscape prints, gargoyle lamps, doilies, etcetera from seemingly every exotic place on earth. Each item considered for purchase I had to handle, turn at angles or upside down, all the time being careful not to horrify my fellow shoppers by dropping it and thereby asserting my credentials as the clumsy oaf that I appeared to be and, indeed, was. Then, of course, in another tricky motion, I exhibited my subtlety to all dubious onlookers by putting it back in place exactly as I found it. These poems by John Ellsberg and Eric Greinke remind me of those elegant and sometimes strange pieces of miscellany sold in that yesteryear treasure-shop.
A tanka (meaning short poem) is a Japanese traditional poem made up of thirty-one syllables in five lines. The poems are usually two tiers with this syllable structure: 5, 7, 5 and 7, 7. Although the term tanka appears first in the early twentieth century, it comes from a 1200 year waka (Japanese poem) tradition. Waka poems in this form show up in Japan’s first known poetry anthology compiled in the eighth century.
The authors of All This Dark order their tanka poems in sequences of three, each sequence with a suggestive title. Some of these sequences bring you to the edge of a story line. Some suggest surprising associations. A third group seems to pull you in to a deep elegance, admiring the curves and the geometry of the poetic words. Some overlap all three groupings, depending on how you read them. For more of my review of All This Dark go here: http://dougholder.blogspot.com/2012/07/all-this-dark-24-tanka-sequences-by.html