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tanka 2020, edited by Alexis Rotella, foreword by Michael McClintock


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“All the crimes and catastrophes that plague humanity riddle the period, some with new, startling variations. And when we look to other times . . . profound discouragement appears justified, maybe inescapable. In our time, George Floyd’s “I can’t breathe” polishes the mirror into which we all gaze, watching the cell phone video of his murder by police on a Minneapolis street.
“. . . Almost all poetry comes from troubled times. But poetry itself changes nothing. Statues will be toppled and new statues erected. Poets and readers alike are not passive observers. There are poems in this collection that may indeed transform awareness and consciousness, some human truth at the center of most of them. Poetry acts as a witness. That’s what this book does.”
— from the Introduction


mother late for pickup – 
in her daughter’s lunch box 
an “I love you” note 
the girl tells me, por si 
la migra roundup 
     — Donna Buck

                    crossing the Bay Bridge 
                    with a friend who fears heights 
                    I do not mention 
                    that once, in despair 
                    I stopped my car just here and jumped 
                         — Jeanne Lupton

          it comes from wearing 
          a mask all day – 
          that sick feeling 
          re-breathing my own words 
          waiting for . . . what?
               — James Chessing

ISBN: 978-1-947271-60-9
Pages: 210
Size: 5″ x 7″
Binding: perfect softbound
Year Published: 2020

Review: “Tanka for These Challenging Times”, by Carole Harrison (Ribbons, 2021)

tanka 2020: poems from today’s world, edited by Alexis Rotella. Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2020. ISBN: 978-1-947271-60-9. 207 pages, 5 x 7 inches. Available from $6.26 Kindle edition, $20.00 Paperback.

Jim Kacian’s Red Moon Press has published its second tanka antholology — this one edited by Alexis Rotella, with a team of seven other prominent tanka poets and editors—Randy Brooks, Susan Burch, Tom Clausen, Margaret Chula, Marilyn Shoemaker Hazelton, Michael McClintock, and David Terelinck. Since Red Moon’s first in 2003, we have seen significant global change: increased political volatility, climate emergency, immigration and refugee crises, rising violence and tension, plus huge advances in and use of social media. tanka 2020 faces head-on “these challenging times that many of us didn’t see coming,” as Rotella says in her Foreword.

To do that, submissions were by invitation only, sent to wellknown tanka poets worldwide, with the charge to write about these global challenges. Poems for the book’s main portion were limited to one or two per person and selected by an editorial voting system. The 130-plus poets cover a variety of themes under the 2020 umbrella. As the book was about to go to press, Covid-19 burst onto the global scene and soon after, George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing Black Lives Matter movement. So a supplemental section on these events was added. It is significant to the book as a whole, as shown by the cover and fly leaf in sombre black and matte gold with a mask representing a Black man on the front.

we are swimmers
in an ocean of microbes
when you’re blind still
how to tell the shark
from the seal?
— James Chessing (USA)

fear of riots
fear of businesses burning
no room in that heart
for fear of another
black body dying
— Orrin Prejean (USA)

Thus the anthology brims with confronting tanka. As Michael McClintock writes in his Introduction, “Poetry acts as a witness.” This book is a witness to the times, recording these challenges and events, consolidating poets’ and readers’ thoughts and feelings into a record and resource that won’t let us bury our collective heads in the sand. Some are tough poems to read, but this is a valuable book for both students of short-form poetry and for experienced tanka poets. It would be a worthwhile asset for any library, individual or public.

We people have short memories. We need to be reminded. While dealing with daunting topics, the tanka consistently meet high standards. The main section is in alphabetical order by poets’
names. Each poet has a page, allowing space for every poem to be fully appreciated. With only the author’s name in bold print, focus is on the tanka. Other details are in Author Biographies and Credits. Since tanka 2020’s main portion is arranged alphabetically rather than by theme, topics emerge then disappear, only to re-emerge pages later, sometimes again and again. The Covid/Protest Supplement, however, groups tanka on the pandemic first, followed by a third as many poems on race, protest, and the George Floyd murder.

Here’s a sampling of tanka from the anthology’s main section that particularly resonate with me:

assisted living—
my sister and I take the tour
for our parents
while wondering
about ourselves
— Margarita Engle (USA)

more headlines
for the climate change skeptics
Sunday morning
I listen harder for the words
to the robin’s song
— Claire Everett (England)

another acre
of old-growth trees
felled and sold—
nature, our greatest neighbor
driven out of town
— Susan Constable (Canada)

summer gusts . . .
amidst political strife
house sparrows
still feed their chicks
in nests of feathers and string
— Maria Steyn (South Africa)

in Santiago
they convene again
for climate change
is anything really new
under this burning sun?
— Marion Clarke (Northern Ireland)

rusty railroad bridge
an antiwar slogan
painted forty years ago
still stands out
— Michael Ketchek (USA)

sickened gale
seeing this child in a cage
so cold
a guard’s voice says again
the wall will keep you warm
— Carol Raisfeld (USA)

force wind
the constant clatter
of an open gate
scores of women
confront their abuser
— Elinor Pihl Huggett (USA)

From the Covid/Protest Supplement, these poems capture for me a sense of these times:

in this war
the soldiers wear scrubs
and plead for masks
meanwhile respirators
go to the highest bidder
— Cherie Hunter Day (USA)

Memorial Day
another police officer
kneels on the neck
of a black man
Lady Liberty weeps
— Robert Rotella (USA)

gifts us cleaner air
and waterways—
so much we can learn
from one small virus
— David Terelinck (Australia)

watching the news
dad says
the weather girl
is very pretty
for a black girl
— Teri Hale French (USA)

I was also pleased that some humorous verse punctuates the anthology, for relief in lightness of spirit or even cynical escape:

now and then
I still like a fairy tale
but the white knight is late
and these days
I’ll put my faith in the horse
— Kathy Lippard Cobb (USA)

the wheelchair
with a bent old woman . . .
is late an apparition
reflected in our window
that can’t possibly be me!
— Kirsty Karkow (USA)

Other tanka offer solace in the blessings of nature or memories of simpler times:

a week since the close call
I stop to watch birds bathing
in a puddle
& am stunned by the beauty
sun-lit drops of water
— Philomene Kocher (Canada)

Ferris wheel
at the church carnival
I ride to
the farthest reaches
of childhood
— Greg Longenecker (USA)

All told, tanka 2020 helps me feel less alone—sad, but not alone in how I feel about world events. I recommend this anthology. Read it, lament, and be shocked or uplifted by it, but use it as a tool to clarify your thinking and the need to negotiate the path forward to a better and more sustainable world.

laid on my palm
a Jurassic fossil
so still—
to us is entrusted
the future
— Konno Mari (Japan)

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