As of this posting, Peter Newton is our first poet to answer our three questions in both the haiku and the tanka categories. Peter is a poet and stained glass artist living in Winchendon, Massachusetts. Born in Detroit and raised north of Boston, he is a graduate of The University of Michigan and The Bread Loaf School of English/Middlebury College where he has worked for the past seventeen summers. Poems of his have appeared in Atlanta Review, The Adirondack Review, Prairie Schooner, Modern Haiku and Modern English Tanka, among others.
1) Why do you write tanka?
To connect more with the world, a bird, a person.
I was advised once, by a fortune cookie: “Find the gentlest way to make your intentions known.” That was a long time ago, long before I ever heard of tanka. But the form seems to fit the phrase. Now, it makes sense.
Poetry, in general, has provided me with the vehicle to reach out to people. In so doing I am honoring a true part of myself. It is the talk between strangers. An exercise in compassion. Writing tanka is one way to communicate. Each poem is the jottings of a fellow traveler in the logbook of a remote outpost. The poem is an entry-- This is where I am. This is where I'm headed. And as Frost would say; "You come too."
Tanka is also, for me, a gentle arc. A roof over my head, where the rain can fall. That's part of my role as a poet. To make a place for the rain, allow room in my life to listen to the rain. And listening can be a ritual. Spiritual. Writing feeds that animal need.
I write poetry in general and tanka specifically because I am drawn to the human condition. I'm one of those people who gets lost in a good nature program about some near-extinct species of lizard. I believe everything the calm and stately-voiced narrator says. The parallels between man and lizard are unmistakable, at times. There is so much to learn, near and far.
I was an early fan of Emily Dickinson and e.e.cummings. I appreciate them both for their brevity, reverence and humor. In college, I remember reading Dickinson, the first line of one of her poems, in which she wrote: "I'm nobody. Who are you?" I suppose I've been answering Emily ever since.
2) What other poetic forms do you enjoy?
Haiku, haibun, free-verse, prose poems, one-liners. I carry a pen like a habit. What I need it for, I can't say exactly,
3) What do you consider the top three tanka you've written?
I'm no judge, so here's a variety I like:
my father asleep
in his Lay-Z-Boy
growing more and more Zen-like
his open palms
(Take Five: The Best Contemporary Tanka of 2008)
the vet I talk to
who never should have survived—
who is more sorry?
he, with all that he has lost
me, with nothing to die for
(Modern English Tanka, Spring 2008)
neither painter nor critic
my still life's a dud
apples in sunlight
looks more like a bowl of hearts
each with its own fuse
(Modern English Tanka. Spring 2009)
Many thanks for this website.
May the road be long.
If you've been enjoying this weekly series and have not contributed, please consider sharing your response (whether it be for haiku or tanka) to the three little questions that Peter answered. You must be a published poet in order to participate.