Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Denis Garrison, Tanka Poet and Editor, Injured in Crash

Today I received word that Denis M. Garrison, the well-known tanka poet and editor, was seriously injured in a crash on 9/8. His wife was also seriously injured.

Denis suffered multiple fractures and is expected to be in rehab for the next six weeks. His wife suffered multiple fractures and will be in rehab for several months.

Modern English Tanka will be delayed a month while Denis recuperates.

I will continue managing the Tanka Roundtable in his absence.

Denis is the former editor of Haiku Harvest, and is the current editor of Modern English Tanka , the webmaster of, the Manager of Tanka Roundtable, and author of Eight Shades of Blue.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Fire Pearls nears completion

Fire Pearls: Short Masterpieces of the Human Heart , is nearly done. The final selections have been made, the manuscript has been laid out, the covers designed, and the poets are proofing their work even as we speak. A couple of more days to the deadline for corrections, then bam! The galleyproof, and should it be good, we go on sale. Fire Pearls should be available to the public in about two weeks.

It has been a pleasure to work with so much fine poetry and many good poets. I am gratified by the poets' responses -- most of them have not merely proofed their own work, but have read the book cover to cover and send me their glowing responses. Tom Clausen was kind enough to give me permission to quote him:

“Holy Tanka !!! what a magnificent anthology... I just read from cover to cover and it weakens, heartens, humbles, enlarges, and delivers so many poetic truths that I just am so glad to see this come to fruition. Congratulations.”

I am also very gratified by the kind and unflagging support of the grand old man of tanka, Sanford Golstein. Sandy has provided the blurb for the back cover:

Fire Pearls will be quite a surprise for those who are frequent readers of tanka, the five-line poem with a 1300 year history. For newcomers to tanka, the poems should be a challenge and a delight. The anthology, edited by M. Kei, focuses on love and passion, subjects which the poets in the anthologyare not hesitant about. The last section, entitled 'Fifth Season,' is a tour de force. Editor Kei can be cited among those editors who really care about their contributors and make frequent contact with them. To journey through this anthology is to experience key moments in our lives.”

Several poets, including very well known and highly respected poets with long careers, have commented on the innovation of the 'fifth season.' Tanka often utilize nature imagery, and so much of the work fell very neatly into categories of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. But the human heart is a capricious thing and often refuses to follow our demands. The Fifth Season was added to present those poems which, like the human heart, cannot be easily categorized.

With just shy of eighty poems in each of five sections, Fire Pearls comes in at 389 poems -- which is like editing four books at once, given that tanka books are usually slim. More than that, each section is sequenced by theme and logical progressions, which is a huge undertaking. I have been bored and annoyed by the usual method of presenting tanka alphabetically by author's last name. What if the author write wildly varying stuff that doesn't really go together? Plus such a work itself has no cohesion; it is simply random assembly of poems by the rather arbitrary standard of last names.

On the other hand, sequencing close to 400 poems is no small undertaking. Sequences of this size have rarely, if ever, been undertaken in English-language tanka, although Japanese tanka anthologies are often sequenced. Sequencing is one of the most ancient skills associated with editorship in Japan; the old imperial anthologies are organized by topic and sequenced within their topics -- even the 4500 poems of the Man'yoshu.

One of the things that makes the Kokinshu a classic is that it is an imminently readable anthology, thanks to the care that went into its organization. This is not fully understood by most people who discuss it; while the Kokinshu is justly criticized for its mannerism, its mannerism is partially a result of the choices made in putting together a readable anthology. Poems that are wildly different than other poems are hard to sequence and may be omitted. Regretably, there were some very good poems I wanted to publish in Fire Pearls , but they just didn't fit. That's the drawback of sequencing, it imposes choices which may exclude some poems.

While I regret not being able to publish all the excellent poems that were submitted to me, every editor faces the same conundrum. It is not that the book is sequenced that caused some good poems to be left out, it is that the budget will only tolerate a book of a certain size. My hope from the start is that Fire Pearls would prove itself a viable approach and inspire other authors to experiment with sequencing and anthology building. These are two skills that are in short supply but are essential to the development of the genre. I am sure there are people who will find fault with what I have done, but I am not shy, and I hope that people will be inspired to edit more anthologies according to their own views -- we need more books representing more viewpoints.

Already I have influenced two major editors, who shall remain nameless since their projects are not yet ready for public inspection. Suffice it to say, Fire Pearls has convinced others that the approach is viable and flexible enough to be adapted to individual editor's approaches. Cross your fingers and look for more anthologies.