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Summer 2007, vol 5 no 2

The Pleiades at Dawn: A Tanka Collection
by Jeanne Emrich
A Review by Linda Jeannette Ward

 

Jeanne Emrich may be best known as founder of "Haiga Online: A Journal of Painting and Poetry," but her talent as a tanka poet has prompted me to look for her poems ever since I first read her work in American Tanka in 1997. Now, with her exquisite collection The Pleiades at Dawn, Emrich has blended some of her best work with an intrinsic seamlessness that keeps flowing from one page to the next. Natural elements are juxtapositioned so smoothly with human qualities that we never question how setting "tea water to boil" relates to "the cosmos creating itself."

Emrich's title, The Pleiades at Dawn, prepares one for such cosmic events, with its mythological reference to the seven daughters of Atlas who became a cluster of stars in their flight to escape Orion. Emrich's skillfully crafted arrangements present us with not only the soul stirring majesty of the heavens, but also heaven as manifested in her own house.

so as not to waken you
I feel my way in the dark—
the upstairs hallway
its own little universe
of windows and doors

there it is again—
that feeling of floating
alone in outer space
and all I did was
open your door

Emrich's tanka invite reader participation as one is drawn into her world where even time can be transcended.

did the young girl
she once was
slip back into her body?
I saw her on my mother's face
as she lay dying

Perhaps Emrich has spoiled her readers with such artistically superb productions in the past (e.g., The Haiku Habit, Reeds: Contemporary Haiga, and Barely Dawn) that we've come to expect cover designs and content layout which far exceed the typically bound collection. And for The Pleiades at Dawn she has not disappointed with the cover painting--but I yearned for more from this talented artist. Yes, too much artwork might have overshadowed her fine tanka, yet a few more well placed paintings would have enhanced the overall production by Black Cat Press.

In her foreword to the collection, Australian tankaist and Japanese translator Amelia Fielden presents a succinct history of Japanese tanka and offers her expert opinion that Emrich's work "echoes the legacy of longing and loss from Japanese court poetry of more than 1,000 years ago." I also wished for an author's note from Emrich. Her acknowledgement that "a number of the verses within this collection were included in my tanka play The Second Chance (2005) with dance and jazz sax accompaniment" left me curious to know more. Still, this leaves room for further words from this accomplished poet, painter and editor. And we know there will be more to come, since she tells us:

though bars of light
fall across this pen
my words escape
like butterflies
too small for a cage


The Pleiades at Dawn: A Tanka Collection
by Jeanne Emrich
Lone Egret Press
6566 France Ave. South, Ste. 1210
Edina, Minnesota 55435 USA
$14.00 USA/$16.00 Canada
ISBN 0-9766407-2-4