The Salesman’s Shoes, tanka by James Roderick Burns (Baltimore, MD: Modern English Tanka Press, 978-0-6151-4396-5), has just arrived in the post from Amazon, and I’ve devoured the first half of the book in one gulp. It’s simply beautifully written, and the author (who lives in Edinburgh) is a master of the form. In his hands any subject seems suitable for the five-line format, and he covers many subjects in this collection. Quite wonderful – go read.
The classical Japanese waka verse form (maybe going back to the 7th century), was based on thirty-one syllables, grouped 5-7-5-7-7. It’s linked to other forms, such as renga and haiku, but I won’t go into that here. It’s generally agreed that the modern tanka dates to the end of the 19th century, when some poets felt that the waka form had become mediocre and degenerate. By 1910 they had established a magazine – Morning Star – which published poems of self and of the senses.
To my mind, these poems fit into this style of tanka. How about this:
I’m slipping this in,
love, between luminous skies
on the permanence of things
just to see if you notice.
One of the unexpected outcomes of reading the poems was that it didn’t just make me want to read more tanka – it made me want to write tanka.