Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Spring 2007, vol 5 no 1

Empty Garden
by Beverley George
A Review by Robert D. Wilson

 

The more skillful a poet becomes, the more his work will
display yoyo --- overtones that go beyond the words to the
heart. The goal of poetry should be to convey great feeling
in a few short lines; bad poems do the opposite --- they convey
too little feeling with a superfluity of words.

Nijo Tameyo (1250 - 1338)
translated by Steven D. Carter


Reading Beverley George's new book of tanka, Empty Garden, I am reminded of the above teaching by Nijo Tameyo. George's tanka latched on to my psyche, refusing to let go. Very few tanka affect me this way. Most of what I read today go in one ear and out the other, and are far from memorable. Most say little, some are pretentious (the antithesis of makoto), and all too many display a poor understanding of the genre; a colonialized 5 line poem more akin to William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound than to the roots that gave birth to tanka (waka).

George's tanka reflect an understanding and respect for the genre that was handed down to us by the Japanese people. Although she speaks from her own cultural memory immersed in the social context of her surroundings (Australia), her poetry is clearly Japanese in its breath and style.

in sunlight
you play saxophone
and i am breathless
knowing precisely
how each note will fall



Contemporary, in tune, her poem here jumps out of the written page, stirring thoughts and memories indigenous to our own experience, which is what a good poem is supposed to achieve. I can relate to her words, even sense what she is feeling, allowing for a transference that lingers long after reading this poem. The poet lays bare her soul, fanning embers that thaw the cold ice pack that much of contemporary English tanka has succumbed to, resurrecting the warmth, beauty, and soulfulness found in Japanese Imperial Court poetry by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikubu, and contemporary tanka penned by Yosano Akiko, Fumiko Nakajo, and Kawano Yuko, and others like them.



roadside grass ---
two blackbirds rise
then settle
and I am surprised
by longing



In this poem, George juxtaposes something she has seen in nature with the effect it had on her. Her honesty and openness coupled with a skillful knowledge of writing tanka makes for a magical moment. It's as if the two of us, author and reader, are sitting across from each other, in a room dancing with candlelight, sharing a moment of intimacy; a moment not unlike this waka penned centuries ago in Japan's Imperial Court:


While watching
the long rains falling on this world
my heart, too, fades
with the unseen color
of the spring flowers


Ono no Komachi (834 - ?)
translated by Jane Hirshfield


Although a small book, Beverley George's Empty Garden is a treasure I will read again and again.


a lightning strike
splits our old apple tree ---
I never dreamed
the death that parted us
would not be one of ours



Says Janice M. Bostok:

Her tanka are sensual and incisive, written with a sensitivity of language that ensures they will remain as a benchmark for the genre.


Empty Garden
by Beverley George
Yellow Moon
2006
ISBN: 0 9578831 6 1