Marianne Paul was one of the finalists with the following concrete one-line tanka. Here are some questions she answered about her poem and process:
Besides short-form poetry, I’m passionate about bookbinding and book arts. Scoring and folding paper is part of the process, especially for specialty structures that don’t require paste, but are made primarily through multiple folds, a kind of book origami. One of the folds is called a reverse fold. For some reason, doing that fold appeals to me on a visceral level that I can’t really define. I get a sense of satisfaction from it, maybe because it takes the book structure to an unexpected place. It’s a fold that inverses into itself. I started to play with the idea of introversion, being an introvert myself, the idea of keeping parts of yourself to yourself. Maybe it’s a yin/yang thing, the public/private selves. There’s a comfort and safety to that hidden place, to folding inside oneself. So bookbinding and paper-folding are the ground of being for this poem. Another joyful part of the bookbinding is the beautiful array of Japanese papers. Chiyogami is one of those papers, and found its way into this poem, not only for its beauty as paper, but also its beauty as a word on paper, visually and as a spoken sound.
Of course, first of all, I had to master the reverse fold, which can be tricky and confusing. So without that, there would have been no poem. The beginning of the process, therefore, was hands-on and physical, doing reverse folds as part of bookbinding. More and more, I’m finding that my creative work doesn’t exist in “separate boxes,” but melds and bleeds into each other. I love mixed media, love haiga and haibun, love mixing together images and words, love being both a poet and an artist, at the same time, and don’t see a separation. The words for the poem did come first, and percolated for a long time. I tried many different word combinations, and returned to it for months, never feeling I had it quite right. I was afraid the poem read as being too cerebral, too out of reach, risked the reader not being able to make a connection with it, because I hadn’t given them enough to be able to identify with it. But I kept at it!
Oh (lol), I tried many versions, and I’d say there are about fifty different word-versions of the poem in my notes. I also tried several different forms for the poem, as if trying on different sweaters to see what fit best. I tried traditional haiku, a two-line haiku, traditional five-line tanka, a words-only based monoku. There were probably two “aha” moments that helped moved the poem along the most. First, when I realized I had written a tanka, and embraced it, and then played with the presentation and form. Second, when I realized I could communicate the poem as an image as well as in words, that it became a concrete poem in a way, and a haiga. This helped the poem become more accessible, or at least more interesting, and could be read or experienced in a multi-layered way. From there, it was delight to play with it. The poem and I were both happy, and I do believe the final form was the best one to honour the intent.
One question to push boundaries is: what makes a tanka? I would say a one-line tanka is as legitimate as a traditional five-line tanka (English language). The joy of a one-line tanka is the five primary parts which make it up can slide into each other in various ways, so you can have multiple readings and meanings depending upon how you are viewing those parts in the moment, how they jig-saw together. I think this poem does that. I think it also contributes by using computer technology/photo programs to make the poem a visual piece of art to reflect the meaning of the words, the mirror reflection of the text underlining or communicating the poem in another way.
Intentional play is important to me as a poet/artist. Intentional, since without intent, without paying careful attention to what you are creating, you aren’t giving the work its due respect, nor the eventual reader (or if you submit work, the specific journal/editor). Play, because you need to truly enjoy what you are doing. My best advice in terms of writing practice: create first for play and personal discovery, and then invite others into what you’ve done.
Bob Lucky was one of the finalists with the following tanka. Here are some questions he answered about his poem and process:
all I remember
is the smell
and __________ .
I enjoy reading writers who play with structure and format, who appropriate a form and use it where it’s not expected, in other words, genre-benders. Some examples include Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?, a narrative of questions only; Alejandro Zambra’s Multiple Choice, a novel (prose poem?) in the form of the Chilean Academic Aptitude Test; and many of the short stories of Donald Barthelme. I occasionally attempt to do such things. This tanka is a nod in that direction.
Well, it’s always a good idea to get a reader’s attention, and smell, certain smells, can trigger strong memories. I suspect only readers of a certain age will have memories of the smell of a freshly mimeographed test, but I’m a writer of a certain age. It’s also a good idea in general to end with a strong image, which is why I settled on an empty fill-in-the-blank, a pure image of sorts. It’s also an invitation to the reader to supply his or her own memory.
This tanka went through several revisions before I settled on that ending, but it was always a tanka. I like the immediacy of that form. The mimeography bit could’ve been used elsewhere and expanded on in a prose poem or a haibun, but that would mean losing that direct connection between the ‘test’ and ‘______ .’.
I don’t think about these things when I’m writing. If I write a decent tanka or even a half- decent tanka, I figure someone else can figure what it contributes to the genre, if anything. However, I do think about form. If you’re going to write a tanka or a sonnet or a ghazal, you have to think about form. Genres and literary forms are like muscles: they need to be exercised and stretched or they’ll atrophy.
I revise a lot. Inspiration, for me, is a matter of observing and listening, of paying attention. A lot of the craftwork is in revision. That’s where I get my kicks.