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Haiku Canada, Oct, 2013
Sonja Arntzen and Naomi Beth Wakan, Reflections: response tanka, Pacific-Rim Publishers, 2013
ISBN 978-0-921358-25-1
Reviewed by Terry Ann Carter

Inspired by Amelia Fielden and Katy Kutai’s In Two Minds, Sonja Arntzen and Naomi Beth Wakan conceived and published Double Talk (MET, 2010) to fine acclaim. Their latest offering, Reflections: response tanka, continues a tradition which is a kind of hybrid exchange of waka (the old name for tanka) in classical Japanese literature, and renga (linked verse) a form that flourished in medieval Japan. In traditional waka exchange, the topic and much of the vocabulary remained basically the same between the two poems. By contrast, in linked verse, where a chain of poetry was produced with alternating links of three and two lines, excitement arose from shift of topics.

The women poets of Reflections have been inspired by the sea. Living on Gabriola off the coast of Vancouver island, their daily absolutions include beach views, driftwood, coastal pines. Naomi was raised in a sea-side town, Blackpool, England. Sonja lived in Vancouver. During periods of writing Reflections, Sonja lived in Hawaii. Their conversations turn to the surprise of weather, the artful rendering of the seasons.

yesterday, autumn
announced its coming, not
with red tinted leaves
but with a deeper hue of blue
on mountains etched against the sky
(Sonja)

a shade colder
the wind from the beach
not obvious
but enough for me to shiver
as the season turns
(Naomi)

If the sea provides a geographical landmark, it is the heart that extends an empathetic conversation between two dear friends who look deeply into their own lives. Neither voice dominates; there are pauses for slower moving tides, and white spaces around the approaching storms. One of my favorite responses:

marriage
settles in comfortably
like old slippers
but oh for the fresh love running
hand in hand through summer rain
(Naomi)

we cut against
each other’s grain
but in the end
with enough to and fro
we may still get smooth wood
(Sonja)

The placement of these two poems at the close is a powerful statement to the call of poetry… the call of life beyond “Hokusaiu’s walls”.

Hokusai’s wave
awaited the Prussian
blue dye
occasionally it’s good
to let a stranger in
(Naomi)

some people
have windows and doors
they can open
on occasion—
Hokusai had no walls
(Sonja)

Both poets bring a wealth of scholarship and experience to their writing. Sonja is a retired professor (University of Toronto) whose translation of poems written in Chinese by the Japanese Zen monk, Ikkyu Sojun (1394-1481) resulted in the publication of Ikkyu and the Crazy Cloud Anthology (Tokyo University Press, 1986). She continues to work on various scholarly projects alongside writing poetry. Naomi has written over thirty-five books including Haiku – one breath poetry (Heian International). She has recently published with Wolsak and Wynn, and Bevalia Press.

More than anything else, Reflections, gives a reader close observations, penetrating insight into the machinations of the human spirit – a shared love. It is highly recommended for the tanka loiverès shelf, and for anyone exploring the power of the compressed poem.

Naomi (left) and her twin sister, Ruth Artmonsky, who together compiled the series of quotation books, Artworks, Designworks, Musicworks, Bookworks, Loveworks, Gardenworks, Foodworks, and Lifeworks. The UK rights have been sold to The Courtauld Institute of Art.
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