Saturday, June 15, 2013

Claire Everett's New Tanka Collection, Reviewed by Haiku Guru Barry George

twelve moons by Claire Everett  Introduction by David Terelinck. Perfect bound; 76 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4781539-5-5. $14.75 US. Available at

What is distinctive about Claire Everett's twelve moons is that her tanka do not merely juxtapose the natural and personal worlds; they interfuse the two.

            passing sun
            what of me is flame
            taking hold
            and what of me is timeless
            like this rock, briefly warm?

The poet compares herself directly to the images of nature; she is the sun's flame and the rock. The metaphor is woven into all five lines of the tanka. Indeed, a transmutation is at work, as the following makes explicit:

            by the breath of your love
            I am no longer sand
            scattered to the wind
            but the beauty of blown glass

In other cases, the interconnection between the poet and nature involves several images.

            and when my thoughts
            have followed the rosewood grain
            of sunset
            swirling dark from the eaves

Thoughts that become one with the texture of the fading sky, and then begin to focus on a darker motion around the eves, suddenly take shape - as bats.

Or, in the poet's contemplation, prompted by a similarity in shape, one image might morph into an entirely different one.

            by candlelight
            watching incense twist and curl
            as shadow
            the double helix uncoils,
            the illness passed down the line

Closely allied with this interfusion of thought and images is the the intermingling of senses, or synesthesia, which Everett sometimes employs.

            in silence
            deeper than the scent
            of pine
            we listen
            for the eyes of the deer

Here sound, smell, and silence work both as separate senses and as aspects of one combined perception.

As the title suggests, twelve moons, is organized seasonally. Each individual tanka takes on added resonance as it is grouped under one of the traditional names for the twelve full moons. The range of subjects includes motherhood, marriage, love, discord, disappointment, injury, illness, and mourning. Time is a persistent theme.

            son of mine
            what's done is done...
            seed by seed, I'd breathe
            back the dandelion clock,
            place its stem in your hand

The foregoing poem also exemplifies the tension Everett achieves with the sounds, rhythms, and pacing of words. So too does this one:

            no greater peace
            than the deep green
            silence of the trees
            when the breeze
            has moved on

Note the long "e" sounds in every line but the last one­­­ - when the (long-e) breeze has moved on - as well as the way changes of pace and even syncopation are used to advantage.

This is a collection to be savored as much for the richness of its imagery as for its finely crafted form. For all the intricacy implicit in their design, the tanka in twelve moons remind us that the best poetry often seems disarmingly and marvelously simple.

            after our walk
            with such tenderness
            you brushed
            the clouds
            out of my hair

Barry George’s haiku and tanka have been published in leading journals and anthologies. His essay, "Shiki the Tanka Poet," appeared in The Writer's Chronicle, and poems from Wrecking Ball and Other Urban Haiku, were nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives and teaches in Philadelphia.

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