In addition to its association with starting a fire, the word kindle also means "to excite, stir up or set going, animate, rouse; to light up, illuminate, or make bright, as in Happiness kindled her eyes (Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, Barnes and Noble; based on the Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition, © 2001). It also means to bear, to give birth (with respect to animals, especially rabbits). I found it useful to keep in mind these additional associations when reading this book of tanka, which was the culmination of almost three years of collaboration by tanka poets Cherie Hunter Day, who is also an award-winning illustrator, and David Rice, a practicing psychologist.
The authors acknowledge tanka as "an excellent form for succinct self-disclosure" (p.5), and they make a good case for it as a medium that promotes recognition of our relationship to the universe:
Beyond our fragmented experience there is an extraordinary world of connectedness. Newness, vitality, renewal—a kindle of green is constantly present as the backdrop for our ordinary, busy lives. All we have to do is lift our eyes and see. (Preface, p. 5)
These two poets won Tanka Splendor Awards with their collaborative tanka sequences in 2000 and 2001, and Rice won two Tanka Splendor Awards in 1997 for other collaborative tanka sequences. Kindle of Green contains 72 of the original 216 tanka from their almost three year collaboration, edited and rearranged for publication as a chapbook.
No indication is given of which poems were written by which poet, or even of whether there might have been collaboration on individual poems. There are of course clues for the literary detective, but after rereading the entire chapbook for the third time, I found that it doesn't really much matter who wrote what. It is discovering the links between poems—especially those on the same page—that makes the sequence work for the reader. And in most cases, they do work quite well, as in this pair from the opening page:
this splatter of spring rain
I ignore the tune
waltzing in my mind
then burst out whistling [David Rice?]
the first forsythia bloom
an amazing yellow
from winter's tight twist
a prisoner is set free (p. 7) [Cherie Hunter Day?]
In the Preface, the authors say that the tanka form gave them "the freedom to express the subtle movement in our relationship from stranger to acquaintance . . ." (p. 5). It is no doubt the early stage that is reflected in the opening poems (above), with the persona in each one concentrating on his/her own reality.
As the relationship deepens, we find the sense of excitement linked to the theme of movement—on an external journey in the natural world, and a deepening awareness of the human condition:
a current of cottonwood fluff
and flashing fingerlings
senses always heightened
the first time on the trail
just when I thought
I was unapproachable
you move closer
the sudden kindle of green (p. 13)
Again from the Preface, we find an outline of the progress of this partnership, "from friendship to kinship," with deepening self-knowledge of the individual poets as they moved "together . . . into unexplored territory that neither of us could have reached on our own." (p. 5) A striking example of their inner journey is found in this segment of the sequence:
the gray water of the reservoir
my wish as the loon dives
to get beneath the surface
off the binocular lens
for a clearer view
what cloth is suitable
for wiping the soul (p. 15)
The links between these last poems and the pair on the preceding (facing) page are particularly strong: "the long apprenticeship/to loosen a knotted self"; and "walking until we find/an unobstructed view." (p. 14).
The tanka in this chapbook are carefully crafted and invite the reader to drop in from time to time to renew the acquaintance, or deepen appreciation for the poems individually, in pairs, and for the journey of the sequence.
As a fan of linked poetry (I have been privileged to write renku, both domestic and international, with a number of excellent poets, who also served as mentors and I hope became friends), I find this sequence inviting in another way—to find a partner (or partners) for a tanka journey of my own. In renku there is breadth, but Kindle of Green demonstrates the possibility of experiencing greater depth by using the tanka form as the medium for linking.
This is a letterpress chapbook, with an emerald Stardream cover, a hand-sewn binding, and illustrations by Cherie Hunter Day. It would make a good gift for a poetry lover.