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Short Songs

ISBN: 1-74027-188-2

By Amelia Fielden

Review by: Moira Richards


I should perhaps briefly explain the tanka form, but where to start? Although these poems are written in a mere five lines, the theories surrounding them would surely fill more than that many shelves of books. Amelia Fielden, who is fluent in both English and Japanese, explains in her prefatory essay that tanka translates from Japanese to short song. And perhaps that is enough for a reader to know in order to begin an enjoyment of Fielden's poetry.

Tanka are typically untitled so the poet needs to fit her entire thought into its five lines as here:

your soft breathing

as I drift into sleep,

your soft breathing

as I wake to birdsong

and our rhythm of love                      (14)


Did you too, hear Fielden's love song in that short poem? She is accomplished in this art of capturing lifes experiences into a small lyrical snippet of words. Her poems touch on her feelings about various aspects of her life, her friends, children, people she meets and sometimes her songs are coloured with the bad of the world too:


          spreading, exploding

          fear, violence

          and my roses bloom more

          beautiful than before                           (15)


Tanka poets also often use the form to create word pictures of the world about them, and Amelia Fielden is adept at capturing sights that not everyone might have noticed:

          in the rain

          at the traffic lights

          young woman

          struggling with a child,

          her back to the rainbow                      (27)



Although not often employed, there is room in the tanka form for the use of metaphor, and Amelia's subtlety with the device is a delight:

          almost full,

          the moon sailing fast

          through autumn

rough seas of cloud-waves

above the drowned stars           (32)

But perhaps you've always thought that tanka was mostly a matter of fitting a poem into a strict 5/7/5/7/7 syllable pattern? Amelia Fielden writes some tanka like that too. If you don't notice the syllable count when you read this one, then chances are you'll agree with me that she has succeeded in writing her poem to transcend rather than be bound into its form:

          one night long ago

          our mother kimono-clad

do you remember

          star-flake snow falling, drifting

          onto her black lacquer hair                  (44)


 Amelia Fielden's Short Songs contains more than a hundred tanka in a range of styles and moods that I've merely been able to touch on here, as well as some titled three or four tanka sequences in which the poet has room to explore a chosen theme more fully. The book includes too, a short essay on the tanka form and its 1300-year history and should be enough to whet most readers appetite for more tanka by this poet. It will no doubt also inspire some readers to take out their own short song brushes.      


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