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Winter 2008, vol 6 no 4
 
 

In Two Minds
by Amelia Fielden and Kathy Kituai
A Review by Robert D. Wilson

 

  'too young
to really be in love'
now too old
to stay awake all night —
where did the between go?

Amelia Fielden
I have found
when I take a lover
I lose earrings
but oh! the delight
of not searching for them

Kathy Kituai

Amelia Fielden and Kathy Kituai have co-written a book of tanka that is unique, highly memorable, and will set a standard for others in the English speaking tanka world. They alternate tanka, each responding to the other's experiences, feelings, and memories, forming an intimate conversation in a way that cannot be skimmed over in a quick read. Fielden's and Kituai's poetic voices come from the depths of their beings, forming what I will term Heartspeak, the poetry drawing you into their conversation.

Having done this with another poet, I understand too well the difficulties of exchanging tanka with another as a form of communication. Each must remain true to his/her style, voice, and self, yet, somehow, form a concatenation with the tanka.

This interplay of voices forms a whole much like a horn section and a string section does in an orchestral number. Award winning poets, Fielden and Kituai retain the metrical rhythm typical of Japanese tanka, resulting in choral numbers that resonate long after you read them.

Corresponding with one another with tanka was a common practice for members of the Japanese Imperial Court when the genre was called waka (Japanese song).

They'd greet one another, say goodbye, and court people with their poetry. Poetry held a prominent place in the Japanese Imperial Court. It was expected from all members of the culturally elite. For example, when the wife of Fujiwara no Kanesuki (877 – 933), sent the following waka to her friend, Tsurayuki,

If only the year
Would return together with
She who is no more,
This day that draws to an end
Would fill me with happiness.

Tsurayaki responded with a tanka of his own:

If, while you still love,
The year has come to a close,
Parting from someone
Who is no more must make her
Seem all the farther away.

Translated by Donald Keene
Seeds In The Heart

Reviving an old tradition, Amelia Fielden and Kathy Kituai's book, In Two Minds, invites readers to share firsthand the age old interchange of tanka as a means of communication in a way that makes it relevant to today's world; or, as Miles Davis, the legendary trumpet player, used to say, referring to a soulful performance by a group of jazz musicians, "They get down." They have something to share and personalize their exchanges, baring real emotion, unafraid to invite readers into their individual worlds, the good, the bad, poetry people of all ages can relate to.

  in the end
despite the winter
you push through
each layer of ice,
unfurl into a man

Kathy Kituai
no matter
if I never take
another lover —
I have your imprint
the children and the sea

Amelia Fielden

For the average student in America today (I cannot speak about other countries), tanka and haiku are disdained and underappreciated, thanks in part to the poor way the two genres are taught in the public school system by teachers with little or no understanding of them save for what they have read in teachers' edition textbooks, likewise written in a generalized context indicating minimal understanding of the subject matter by the authors themselves.

In Two Minds would be a wonderful book to introduce teenagers and adults to the world of tanka poetry. It is relevant, doesn't read like a Hallmark card, has catchy meter, isn't long, and deals with real life in a way that reminds me of the relevancy and accessibility of Tawara Machi's poetry.

  father-in-law
you laugh at my jokes
cannot speak
English or Pidgin —
how much you teach me

Kathy Kituai
living, working
in a foreign language —
it was a dream
that made me wonder
where i really belonged

Amelia Fielden

In Kituai's tanka, she remembers fondly the influence her father-in-law had on her, even though he wasn't conversant in English. Although lacking the ability to communicate with his daughter-in-law, he somehow understood her, a psychological bonding that allowed him to appreciate Kathy for who she is. It is obvious by the tanka's final line that Kituai learned a lot from her husband's father.

Amelia is not Japanese, yet her path in life led her to learn the language fluently, both archaic and the new. Amelia found herself thinking in two different languages, depending on the circumstance and geographical locale, traveling back and forth from her home in Australia to Japan. When one is immersed for a long term in another culture it is easy, especially if this person is conversant in the language. She has a love affair with Japan, its people, culture, and poetry. As a translator, she is fulfilling a lifelong dream yet as time wore on, the differences between her culture and the Japanese culture began to blur, as she became equally adept and at home with both cultures. Like Kituai, Fielden was able to communicate with people who did not speak English and to see this as a challenge and as a learning experience. Fielden and Kituai do not share the same experiences in life, but as friends they speak via their poetry to each other, listening, sharing, the good and the bad, openly and without pretense; two minds on the same wavelength.

  winds of change
again blow them away
these children
grown free in my love-light
bending like bamboo

Amelia Fielden
what chaos
westerlies bring
rose petals
flung into tapestries
ad-hoc, far from the bush

Kathy Kituai

 


In Two Minds
by Amelia Fielden and Kathy Kituai
Modern English Tanka Press
ISBN 978-0-9817-6912-7