Monday, March 19, 2007, Shoddy and Shady

After six months and a complaint to the Better Business Bureau, has still not resolved numerous problems, even when they said they would. Since endless emails and the intervention of the Better Business Bureau has failed to remedy the situation, I must resort to the only option left: public humiliation of the guilty party.

If you are considering using DONT. They are a scam. I deeply a bitterly rue being captured by them.

My complaints . . .

In September their software failed to propagate the spine ink color properly, resulting in some number of books being printed with black ink on the spine. They kept telling me it was my fault, 'user error.' I had sussed out the system thoroughly by that point, so I knew it wasn't me -- I had made errors in learning to use the system, and I have no trouble paying for books that I had to redo due to my own mistakes, so I had it scoped out the system pretty damn well by then. The spine ink wasn't my error. In November in one of their updates they announced that they had fixed a bug that caused spine ink color to fail to propagate correctly. I contacted them about getting my books replaced, since they had admitted the error was with their software. I kept getting Customer Support people who insisted there was nothing wrong with the system and that it was my error -- even when I pointed them to the article for them to read themselves. Upshot, they refused to replace the defective books.

I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. I got email in which Lulu representatives asked me to send digital pictures of the defective books. They said that once they had received proof of how many books were affected, they would replace them. I explained to them that only one that I received was defective, but that I had reports from several customers of the same problem. I contacted some of the customers I knew personally and they sent me digital pictures and personal statements about the defective books they had received. I forwarded them to Lulu. It is now six months later and _no one_ has received a replacement of the defective books. I have sent them numerous emails, and am hammering on them yet again about this, but frankly, if Lulu intended to make good this error they would have done it long ago.

However, I do note that their system software has been amended to fix this bug. The user interface has also been improved to make it easy to monitor the spine color yourself -- previously it was a hidden feature, so you didn't know the spine color wasn't right until you received the proof. So, I'm pleased that they have fixed the bug, but not pleased that they haven't replaced the defective books, in spite of endless emails and the intervention of the Better Business Bureau. I'm appalled that they didn't even offer to replace the books until after the BBB contacted them. And appalled that even now, still no replacements.

At the same time, back in September and into October, I had problems with their ordering system. For example, I discovered that their system did not always update in real time. Again, this is their software bug. When you buy global distribution, you have to buy a proof. You can avoid buying a proof, but it's very tricky, and if you're new to the system, you don't realize that it is possible to opt out. It should not be a secret. The site even tells you that you are 'required' to buy the proof, whether you're ready to buy or not. Anyhow, what happened is, I uploaded a revised version, purchased the proof as required, and got the OLD version. The proper revision was listed on the website and when I clicked on the pdf to preview what would be printed, it was the correct revision, but what got sent to the printer was the OLD version. There is no way to know that the printer got an old version until you receive the proof and realize, "Hey! this is the wrong one!" This happened twice, out of eight books.

Lulu refunded me for the first erroneous proof and updated my account to state 'REFUNDED.' However, the second erroneous proof a couple weeks later was not so listed. I queried them and they insisted that they had refunded my money for the second erroneous proof, but MyAccount did not say so. When I got my credit card statement I checked it and saw that they had indeed refunded it -- but they STILL haven't updated MyAccount. I am happy to have the refund, but I labor under the perverse expectation that MyAccount information will be correct and up to date, but it isn't. I've complained about this many times, and this was also included in my complaint to the BBB, but they never addressed it.

They also do not necessarily ship the correct number of books. One time when I ordered a proof, I received two books: one with the erroneous black ink on the spine, and one with the correct gold ink on the spine. Please note, I ordered _one_ book. I got two. The two were _different_. They only charged me for one, which is good, but again, I labor under the unreasonable expectation that the customer will receive the correct number of books ordered.

At first I was pleased because I assumed that some alert person at Lulu had noticed an error on my order and fixed it, but it turned out this was not the case. Lulu staff denied all knowledge of this and told me that there were no notes or anything on my record to indicate that anything special had happened. They had no explanation for why I got two books, one with black ink, and one with gold ink, when in point of fact I had ordered only one book (with gold ink on the spine). They insist their records show only one book printed and shipped.

I happen to teach computer science, so I was able to figure out exactly what was going wrong and where and did my best to give them a detailed error report so that they could track down the bug and fix it, but all they ever did was deny that there was a bug and insist that it was impossible for what I said to have happened. By this point, three out of eight books were printed wrong, so it's my personal opinion that they have a significant quality control problem that they really need to know about and fix, but they don't agree. Therefore, as far as I can tell, they have never fixed the problem in which their system occasionally does not update fast enough to send the most recent revision to the printer.

Ergo, when the author is buying proofs, they have the risk that they won't get their most recent revision. This won't effect the mass market sales because enough time will have elapsed between the upload and the sale that Lulu will have updated (the delay is apparently no more than about ten minutes), so, consumers won't be effected, but authors and editors -- who may have a schedule to meet -- will. Since it takes about a week to get a proof, the publisher must build in plenty of extra time to get a replacement in case he discovers the proof is erroneous.

The average publisher at Lulu is an amateur who doesn't know much about publishing, layouts, or computer software, so they are likely to either not notice the error, or to think it is their own mistake. In other words, Lulu is taking shameless advantage of niave people.

If this was not enough, Lulu has published my private information. In account preferences, it says, "This information is used privately by Lulu for billing, support and informational purposes, and is not publicly available." It lies. I have my legal name listed for billing information, as is proper. I expect to pay my bills. I have 'firepearls' as the username. I have 'M. Kei' as the public name. I have 'M. Kei' as the author name. Yet, this morning, when I posted to a forum, it listed my billing name. The Customer Support person tells me that it is supposed to list the 'username,' which in this case would be 'firepearls.' I have checked my account very carefully; I have my information set the way I want it set and it has been set as such for many months. This is an internal Lulu error, not my error.

Months back I complained because they published my billing name as the author name on my storefront, even though they say, as you read above, that they will not make public 'for any reason' the private information. I pointed out that there is good reason for a person to use a pen name and a long history of authors using pen names; if they are going to service authors they MUST accommodate pen names. To fail to do so is to fail to adhere to even minimal standards for the publishing business.

They have apparently partially fixed this -- the space for 'author name' and 'public name' have been added since I made that other complaint, but they have not updated their internal system to propagate the correct name to the reviews on storefronts and into the forums. Currently, it is still grabbing the private billing name, not the username or public name. Back in October when this first happened and I complained about it and asked for them to remove my private information and change it to my public pen name, they did not do so. And still haven't. This is a gross violation of my privacy and their own stated policy.

This morning I also noticed that the forum I posted in (Haiku and Tanka) has not updated to daylight savings time. There's really no excuse for that. The change to daylight savings time is a well known public fact. They should and could have prepared for the change, verified that it happened correctly, and fixed it if it didn't. It's been eight days since the new Daylight Savings Time went into effect. There's no excuse for not complying with the law.

I also attempted to find out if the Haiku and Tanka Forum has an active moderator or not, since actions I have taken, like asking my books to be listed on the Haiku and Tanka Group Page, hve not been acted on. I was advised that the only way to know if the moderator was active was to read the forum. I pointed out that the Moderator has never posted to the forum, and that in the past four months, there were only two posts, one in December, and mine, made today. He suggested that I post a request to the forum, asking to be made a Moderator. I asked him how long my requests should go unanswered before Lulu considered it an abandoned forum and appointed someone else to run it. He had no idea. I asked him what Lulu does about abandoned forums. He had no idea. I asked him if he could add my books to the Group Storefront. He said only the Moderator could do that.

I also pointed out to him that the Haiku and Tanka Forum is not listed on the index of forums on the Lulu site and asked what needed to be done to get it listed there. He said that only members of the group could see the forum. I pointed out that the only way to know the forum existed, was to know that the forum existed and use the search box to find it. It doesn't seem very useful to have a Group Storefront and forum that only members of the Group can view and use. I am trying to understand why some groups are indexed and some are not, but I have not yet figured out the forums at Lulu.

Their Customer Service is abysmal. Either they are nice people who know nothing and can't help, or they are irritating people with attitude. Or they recite the party line and deny that Lulu has any responsibility.

I realize that many people don't care about these things, but I and my colleagues are professionals. We care about making our books right. We want a printer that delivers the books exactly as we ordered them, keeps our accounts correct and up to date, and cheerfully and promptly fixes problems. Lulu isn't it.

I also know that I am not the only one who has had problems with them because some customers and poets have mentioned their own experiences to me. I have advised them to file complaints with the Better Business Bureau. If you received a defective copy of Fire Pearls with black ink on the spine, please let me know. If you have contacted Lulu about it, please let me know the response. If they have failed to deliver replacements for the defective books after you have notified them of the problem, please file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau at:


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Heron Sea, Short Poems of the Chesapeake Bay



“Poetry lovers, sailors, everyone in Bay country, and anyone who wants a powerful and beautiful read, should buy this book!”—Denis M. Garrison, editor, Modern English Tanka

Available April 9, 2007—Perryville, MD

Heron Sea, Short Poems of the Chesapeake Bay, is the first collection of poetry by M. Kei, editor of the critically acclaimed anthology, Fire Pearls, Short Masterpieces of the Human Heart.

M. Kei, an award-winning poet, is well-known on the Upper Bay for his volunteer service with the Skipjack Martha Lewis and the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum. In Heron Sea he has gathered together more than one hundred and fifty poems written while sailing the Bay, dredging for oysters, raising a family, and living on the green shores of Bay Country. All of his poems are true to life portraits of life—and loss—at the Head of the Bay.

Most of the poems are tanka, the five line lyric form originally from Japan, as well as haiku, tercets, and other short forms. All of the poems are immediately accessible, featuring places and scenes instantly recognizable to residents of Bay Country. Denis M. Garrison, editor of Modern English Tanka, said,

“[E]ach is a pleasure to read but all together they comprise a startlingly moving look into the heart of the poet and at the incomparable beauty of the Chesapeake Bay. A Bay dweller, myself, I can attest to the accuracy of M. Kei’s eye and pen. Kei has tapped into the magic of short verse and presented the reader with a collage of amazing depth and insight. Poetry lovers, sailors, everyone in Bay country, and anyone who wants a powerful and beautiful read, should buy this book!”

More praise of Heron Sea:

“Heron Sea is a rich word-tapestry of the Chesapeake Bay area. M. Kei’s attunement to environment and the life it engenders is remarkable. Here is a sensual experience so lovingly detailed that the reader is left with a sense of being there. Do visit the world of Heron Sea, see/feel for yourself.” —Larry Kimmel, editor of Winfred Press


I write poetry
like the hills of Maryland,
slow, easy, green swells,
rolling from creek to vale,
with all the time in the world.

the great blue heron
the blue painted ship
the blue silence

no wind tonight
a puddle of silver
in the bay’s darkness,
a full moon
off the port bow

storm bells
the musical tones
of halyards
ringing in the
freshening breeze

she talks as she sails
this old wooden boat
of oyster days
and summer bays
and watermen grown old

these widowed boats,
the men who loved them
gone to their graves

the stone gristmill
broad on the starboard bow,
falling into the bay
from its motionless wheel

If only the leaves
were not so green,
this lover’s heart
might enjoy
a little emptiness.

give me an old dog
(his puppy years worn out)
content to lay his muzzle
on my knee while
I sit beside the fire

the earth is not forever
islands of the Chesapeake
slip into to memory

Link to Publication:

M. Kei is an award-winning poet and editor of short poems, specializing in the tanka genre. Heron Sea is his first collection. A poet of the Chesapeake Bay, he is the editor of the Chesapeake Bay Haiku Almanac as well as Fire Pearls, Short Masterpieces of the Human heart. His poetry appears in journals such as Modern English Tanka, Simply Haiku, American Tanka, Modern Haiku, and more. He is a winner of the Tanka Splendor 2006 contest and a Runner-up in the Lighthouse Poetry Contest. His poetry appears in the anthologies Haiku Miscellany (Croatia), To Find the Moon (USA), Sixty Sunflowers (forthcoming) and Landfall (forthcoming).

# # #

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Heron Sea Reading in Havre de Grace

On April 9, at 7 pm, the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum will be hosting me, M. Kei, for a reading from my new book Heron Sea, Short Poems of the Chesapeake Bay. I'll be reading poetry and telling the stories behind the poems. Heron Sea will be forthcoming in the next couple of weeks and is my first collection of poetry, themed, obviously enough with my life on the Chesapeake Bay.

More information will be forthcoming, or sign up for the museum's mailing list at the link above.

Poems from Heron Sea:

I write poetry
like the hills of Maryland,
slow, easy, green swells,
rolling from creek to vale,
with all the time in the world.

Previously appeared in Sketchbook 1:3, December, 2006.

stitch my shroud
tie granite to my ankles
bury me
deep in the heart
of the Chesapeake

Previously appeared in Simply Haiku, Spring, 2007.

Visiting the Wooden Woman

Today I did laundry then headed down to Baltimore to visit the wooden woman, aka the Skipjack Martha Lewis. I haven't been to see the old lady since I broke my hand in January, but last Thursday my evaluation showed my grip strength in the broken hand is up to 30 lbs -- a definite improvement over the 12 lbs or so when I started therapy. Captain Greg gave me some easy work: scraping paint from Martha's forward starboard bottom. I am getting to know that portion of the boat's anatomy rather well; I was ripping planks out of it at Christmas, leading to the following poems:

a new year
and new planks
for an old skipjack;
if only the seasons of boats
were as certain as the calendar

winter work
long scratches on
my forearm parallel
the torn planks
of the old wooden boat

Both previously published on the Anglo-Japanese Tanka Society website.

Plus a number of other poems, but they've been sent to Landfall and Streetlights and are awaiting responses.

Martha's starboard bottom was my initial introduction to her a couple of years ago, under Capt. Bysshe. She was hauled out down at Georgetown and I caulked most of her starboard bottom. I'm starting to feel a sense of ownership for that portion of the boat . . .

Today was nice because among various small jobs, I went aloft for the first time. First ride in a bosun's chair, first time 68 feet above ground, and me with acrophobia. I've been wanting to go aloft for a while, but never had the chance. I've hauled the line to raise the captain and mate for maintenance, but having the broken hand I didn't feel qualified to haul Capt. Greg up so he hauled me up instead.

My acrophobia used to be quite horrible, but I've noticed some things about it. 1) How bad it is is related to my stress level. 2) I've been deliberately confronting it to get over it, and I enjoy challenging myself to do things I couldn't have done in the past. Like dangle from a line 68 feet in the air... 3) Plus, Ritalin has the nifty side effect of dramatically reducing phobias. I discovered that by accident. I don't know why Ritalin has such an evil reputation, all the side effects I've experienced with it have be lovely.

Anyhow, I went up and inspected the mast top and enjoyed the view. Martha's mast is 65 feet, but since she's hauled out of the water, add another ten feet to that. I went as high as the hounds, which is about five or six feet below the mastcap. I'll be going back next Saturday to sand and a varnish the masttop and epoxy to death the splinters in the masttop under the mastcap. That should be about an hour and a half of work the captain thinks.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Review: Ferris Wheel

Ferris Wheel, 101 Modern and Contemporary Tanka
Kozue Uzawa, editor
translated by Kozue Uzawa and Amelia Fielden
copyright 2006

Cheng & Tsui Company
$19.95 USD
8.25” x 5.25” 132 pps

Ferris Wheel, 101 Modern and Contemporary Tanka, edited by Kozue Uzawa and translated by Uzawa and Amelia Fielden. In her preface, Uzawa describes how she has kept a notebook for more than ten years in which she had jotted down poems which have particularly struck her interest. This collection was further edited to provide 101 tanka that illustrate the broad range of modern and contemporary tanka by both well known and emerging poets.

Most short tanka books tend to present ‘more of the same,’ but Ferris Wheel shows about as much variety as it is possible to do in 101 poems. Yet, the book is also coherent; this is no random jumble. From the opening to the closing verse there are invisible strands that tie the poems together and make the collection innately readable.

The anthology opens with:

like a child
making fresh, crispy sounds
you crunch celery sticks
I don’t need a reason
to adore you

—Yukitsuna Sasaki

It is accompanied by both romaji and kana versions so that readers who know a little (or a lot) of Japanese can read them as they originally appeared. This is an excellent device and permits the poems to be used as a learning aid by students of the language. Having the three versions together on the same page is very convenient, and is appreciated over those books which omit the originals entirely or else tuck them away in fine print in notes at the back of the book.

The use of the single line kana to divide the English and romaji versions makes for an attractive graphic element while underscoring that the Japanese originals are not five line poems like their English counterparts. This is mentioned by Uzawa in her preface where she also points out that the 5-7-5-7-7 syllables generally considered as definitive of the Japanese form by English speakers is subject to variation.

“However, Japanese poets often use techniques such as ku-matagari (fused phrase) or ku-ware (split phrase) in their tanka composition. For instance, a certain tanka may have a 5-7-5-10-4 syllable sequence, if such techniques are employed.” (p xiii) She also points out that due to differences in the languages, English language tanka generally need to be shorter than their Japanese counterparts to achieve the same effect.

As might be expected, the treatment of Japanese motifs by Japanese poets is very different from the treatment of the same motifs by Western poets. For a Japanese poet, Japanese things do not represent an exotic ‘Other,’ to be plumbed for sensual or spiritual truths. Instead, such motifs are signposts of the self and carry very different meanings.

looking at
the Noh mask of a young woman
I feel white arrows
silently flowing
under the faraway ocean

—Kimihiko Takano

Such a poem may very well be obscure to the reader unfamiliar with Japanese culture, yet it contains interesting images out of which the reader can construct his or her own meaning. Should the reader know something about Japan, then the meanings and images will shift like the parts of a kaleidoscope. Every interpretation is valid; it is the strength of good tanka to not only permit, but to embrace the multiplicity of the audience. The poet does not tell the reader how to feel, but lets each reader construct the poetic experience for themselves.

my homeland lies
over the straits—
if I don’t long for it
it will disappear

—Satoko Kawano

Some poems are wide open. There are no hidden meanings here; the expression of homesickness and longing is one that will be familiar to most readers. The culture gap is bridged in a flash of recognition and disappears. Yet there is something more at work in this poem. It is no simple nostalgia here, but an awareness of the dangers that beset a beloved place and the poet’s determination to resist it. Are the dangers those of the material world, in which development, pollution, and overcrowding encroach upon a small town? or are they the psychological dangers in the loss of innocence of the poet herself? Once again, tanka demonstrates the controlled ambiguity that allows a short poem to magnify itself by operating on many levels.

The final poem of the book sums up itself, the anthology, and the tanka genre:

dear brother
don’t forget this—
flying through the sky
have heavy entrails

—Kazuhiko Ito


Review by M. Kei
10 February 2007
Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, USA

Review: Blue Night & the inadequacy of long-stemmed roses

Blue Night & the inadequacy of long-stemmed roses
by Larry Kimmel

Winfred Press
364 Wilson Hill Road
Colrain, MA 01340
ISBN 978-0-9743856-9-3
$11.95 USD
95 pps 6 x 9 inches

Blue Night & the inadequacy of long-stemmed roses are two books in one by Larry Kimmel, well known as a tanka poet and editor of Winfred Press. Blue Night is a collection of short poems, but the inadequacy of long-stemmed roses is subtitled ‘a collage of cherita’, each of which takes up about one half the book. ‘Inadequacy’ was previously published in 2001.

Blue Night presents various short poems, including free verse, tanka, free verse tanka, tanka sequences, haiku, and others. Generally speaking, Kimmel as at his best in the shorter forms. Some of his longer poems, such as ‘Night Journey,’ lack sufficient tension to justify their length. The same scene was treated more briefly and more effectively in cherita #72:

a streetlamp

casting a path over snow-melt
where five pines stand

that’s all it takes
one moment an insomniac
the next a tourist in Faery

Kimmel is an excellent tanka poet and many of the tanka in the book treat romantic and erotic themes along with their inevitable disappointments.

stark from the shower
to answer the phone,
she dons a robe
of the finest distance

—the girl with the spring desire

Several of his romantic tanka have already been published, but some of the tanka I had not seen before were some of his best. They were striking not only for their quality, but for treating subjects not frequently seen in contemporary English-language tanka, such as the following:

we did what we could
read their letters, figured their taxes,
good neighbors they -
now just a cellar hole
and the lilacs in spring

Included among the poems are several short lyrics of Western prosody that add a pleasant variety:

Two carved their names, enclosed them in a heart,
And still their love grows deep by beechen art,
Though they’ve been twelve and twenty years apart.

The cherita is an invented form created a few years ago by ai li. My previous encounters with it had not impressed me; it seems a fad among poets to create knew poetic forms and give them excessive rules and exotic names. Yet in Kimmel’s capable hands, the cherita offers poetic dignity worthy of serious consideration.

A form of one line, followed by two lines, followed by three lines, it has something of the cinquain’s melody, but is more flexible about syllable count.

a bead curtain sways

long long stockings climb
a dark stairway

when I was a lad
and prince among
the apple carts

Kimmel’s cherita are very tankaesque, selecting ‘tanka moments’ (if there is such a thing) to present in a short image full of emotional resonance. Many of his cherita feel very much like tanka formatted in six lines.

“two Manhattans coming up”

he wants to know
she won’t tell

maraschino cherry
between white teeth
her taunting smile

Particularly interesting are Kimmel’s experiments with tanka in alternative formats. Some of these poems would not be recognizable as tanka if the reader had not previously seen them in five line formats. Yet the alternative lineations provide structure and suppleness that the block of five lines down lacks.

“okay! okay! he’s everything a woman wants.
now what’s for supper?”
the petals
of yesterday’s rose lie around the vase

The poem above could have been rearranged in traditional tanka format (and has been, elsewhere):

“okay! okay!
he’s everything a woman wants.
now what’s for supper?”
the petals of yesterday’s rose
lie around the vase

I argue that Kimmel’s alternative lineation is more effective both as poetry and as tanka, bringing out the two part nature of the structure and the tensions and distances of the relationship. Some critics would argue that if it’s not in five lines, it’s just a short free verse, so why call it tanka?

Tanka is not published in five lines in Japan, so we could just as easily question why five lines has become the de facto form of tanka in English. The five part structure that underlies the five line convention is clearly present in the poem above. Either it’s a tanka or it’s not, and rearranging the lines is not what makes that determination.


Review by M. Kei
6 January 2007
Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, USA

Review: Blonde Red Mustang

blond red Mustang... a gathering of small poems
Art Stein
Slate Roof: A Publishing Collective
15 Warwick Avenue
Northfield, MA 01360 USA
ISBN 0-9760643-2-4
$11.00 30 pps 9 x 6 inches

blond red mustang is an engaging set of short poems presented in a simple chapbook format. Light and serious verse in various forms such as haiku, senryu, tanka and free verse are arranged in thematic groups. Each has its merits.

The lighter poems are an agreeable diversion and make up a large portion of the book. Stein is particularly good at capturing the humanity of a moment with an apt turn of phrase; the following senryu are typical.

with great deliberation
she chooses
a fortune cookie

prepared for
my new garden
a woodchuck

His tanka are generally more serious. They are often what the Japanese would call ‘dry,’ which is to say, lacking an overt human presence. The following verse from the tanka sequence ‘Winter Beach’ is an example:

green margin
along the tide line
rope of rack
realigned daily
as the moon directs

This is an acute observation of the natural operations of the sea and its margins, a subject often celebrated in poetry, but usually with a romantic rather than an honest eye. As a poet of the water myself, I appreciate the accuracy of his vision, as well as the poetic quality of the scene. Yet this tanka can be read deeper, taken as a metaphor of the human existence (or at least the author’s existence).

The tanbun are also interesting and avoid the very common problem of simply using the prose to explain the poem or the poem to summarize the prose. At first glance there is no apparent relationship between the tanka and its prose, as in the ‘Babe Magnet,’ an observation of an elderly farmer’s charismatic influence on diner waitresses. The tanka that accompanies it is:

lifting off
the river shallows
slow wing beats
a great blue heron

The pairing of the great blue heron and the flirtatious old farmer grants a gravitas that satisfies the reader’s interest. Stein masterfully imbues the old farmer with a roguish dignity that leads us from bafflement to humor to admiration; both for the character and the poet’s skill.

Several of Stein’s longer poems are accompanied by envoys, usually in the form of haiku, but sometimes as tanka. Regrettably, these longer poems with their consciously poetic language fail to please. They contrast well with the starkness of their envoys, providing an interesting interplay between the two, but ultimately fail to satisfy. Nonetheless, the attempt heightens the interest of the poems and inspires a poet to try the technique for himself.

Stein’s greatest skill is the way in which he juxtaposes his subject matter within and without the poems. Similar poems are grouped together to seduce the reader into a particular frame of mind, but not so many that the reader becomes weary. They alternate with other poems that invite a different perspective and so refresh the reader’s attention and interest. The pacing is excellent, leading the reader through a journey on the micro-scale of the poems themselves and on the larger scale of the chapbook taken as a whole work. Would that more poets paid as much attention and did it so well as Stein.

Although not all the poems are to my taste, this chapbook is one I’m setting aside for further study because there is much to be learned and much to appreciate. The journeyman poet and the reader wanting something more complex than the usual pretty poetry books will each find something to reward their attention.


Review: Slow Spring Water

Slow Spring Water: The Life Poetry of Melissa Dixon
by Melissa Dixon
Introduction by Michael McClintock

Victoria, BC, Canada
ISBN 0-9780815-0-1
$10.00 US / $12.00 Canada
61 pps 5.25 x 7.5 inches

Slow Spring Water, The life poetry of Melissa Dixon, is a professional looking chapbook of 61 pages. It features tanka, haiku, tanka sequences, and haibun. It covers diverse subjects such as the poet’s childhood on the plains of Canada, her migration to the coast of British Columbia, and her visit to an abandoned monastery in India.

Dixon is at her best when she is at her most personal. In her haibun, ‘The Conspiracy,’ she writes about taking her son’s ashes to spread on the sea — prohibited by law, but a law honored more in the breach than the observance. Her son lost his life on New Year’s Day and the family scattered his ashes in May.

winter of waiting
first blossoms touched
by frost

The family enacted its private ceremony and returned, accompanied by seabirds. The astonishing spectacle of thousands of seabirds pacing the boat provides the poet and her family with relief and the restoration of faith in the beauty of the world. As such it is a fitting closure for the haibun. Unfortunately, the last haiku is not strong enough to satisfy.

sooty shearwaters--
wings spread wide
in the field guide

While all of her poems are well-crafted and lyric, her strongest poems are those in which she speaks her heart directly. These are generally tanka, and it is fortunate that tanka make up the bulk of the chapbook.

in my palm a rosy stone
wet-scented by the sea
how right I was
to catch a train and leave
the plains behind

And also:

keening Manitoba winds,
snow piling towards the roof--
my English mother
sets the kitchen table

Both of these tanka paint moving portraits of women, causing us to believe that we have glimpsed something essential about each woman. We cannot help thinking that if we met them in person, we would experience the flash of recognition, I know you.

The power of the known also shows up in her haibun ‘The Caves of Kanheri,’ written about her trip to India. The prose is lively and engaging, full of the wry wit of a wise woman who knows how to ingratiate herself with her fellow travelers.

“Traveling alone in a strange land may be perilous for anyone. But for a woman it can at times work in her favor. She could, for instance, find herself escorted by kind fellow-countrymen to to the hidden heart of that land, where no busses go. They tend to trust her. Does she not speak their language? Is she not reasonably dressed, courteous, interested? Yes, she is company, a friend.”

The prose description of her travels with her newfound companions is delightful, but alas, once she reaches the caves and must grapple with the work of monks long dead, her haiku is not equal to the occasion.

Nonetheless, although her haiku are not as strong as her prose and tanka, occasionally they are perfect One of my favorite poems from the book is a haiku:

worn doorstep
all that’s left of the old house
in the windy field

The image is limpid, original, and powerful. It resonates with all the associations of old houses, loss, and abandonment that the reader has ever seen or experienced. It presents us with a moment that might have been found in a Wyeth painting, but wasn’t; we believe that the poet actually encountered this particular step in this particular field. Although we know she might have made the whole thing up (how could we ever know when a poet is making use of poetic license?), we are convinced that if we went there, the scene would be exactly as she made us see it.

The poetic persona that comes through the book is that of a charming and ingratiating older woman, the kind of person we are pleased to discover sitting next to us on the train or ferryboat. Slow Spring Water is a pleasant interlude between the ‘here’ and ‘there’ of our busy world.

Review by M. Kei
28 December 2006
Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, USA

Review: 17 Minutes

17 Minutes
Matthew Hupert
Neuronautic Press
New York City, NY USA
18 pps, saddle-stitched, 4.25 x 5.5 inches

In this aptly named chapbook that takes about seventeen minutes to read, author Matthew Hupert has provided a number of short poems: haiku, tercets, tanka, limericks, and free verse. He mixes urban and the natural worlds with a distinctly modern funk that finds haiku-like details in all that he surveys, including what he sees from his fifth floor ‘patio’ (his neighbor’s rooftop). When Hubert resists the urge to tell us what he’s telling us and eschews clever rhyme and wordplay, his poems have a stark power.

Love Poem

“No,” you said
I hadn’t asked a question.

Some of his longer poems manage to maintain this succinctness to good effect:

When your eyes shark me

I dart
into the shoals of my
clam shelling a safe
place made from old scars
and known pains
inkjet arguments obscuring
my retreat so
I won’t
be your lunch

In ‘When your eyes shark me,’ there is no need for the poet to belabor the situation or to linger over his emotional state; the images are effective metaphors for a domestic dispute and its repercussions. There are no unnecessary words here; the poet trusts his art and his reader.

Unfortunately, not all the poems are this strong. Hubert reminds me of one of my other interests: minor league baseball. There is talent and hard work here, but errors, too. Part of the appeal of an emerging poet like Hubert is the hope you will get to see him grow before your eyes, then get promoted to the major leagues.


Review: A Chorus of Birds

Utamaro: A Chorus of Birds. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Akamatsu no Kinkei, ed. Kitagawa Utamaro, illus. James T. Kenny, trans. New York: Viking Press, 1981 [Tokyo, 1790]. Accordion fold art book, color interiors, unpaginated.

A Chorus of Birds is the only book of kyoka (humorous tanka) to be translated into English, which makes it of interest just because it is the only book of kyoka accessible to English speakers, but above and beyond that, the book features beautiful illustrations by Utamaro, one of Japan’s most famous woodblock artists. Most famous for his bijin (beautiful women) pictures, Utamaro shows himself to be a master of the natural world. The birds are highly accurate, enabling their species to be identified. Latin, Japanese, and English names for the birds are included in the caption descriptions.

The book is one of many special editions that were ordered by kyoka circles active in the 18th and 19th centuries. Kyoka, ‘mad verse’ or ‘comic tanka’ were present as early as the 8th century and appear in the Man’yoshu; the first kyoka collection, Hyakushu kyoka, (Kyoka on one hundred brands of drinks) was edited by a priest named Gyogetsubo who lived 1265-1328 AD. His book features kyoka parodies of famous literature as kinds of drinks.

By the early 18th century, kyoka was popular in the region around Kyoto and Osaka, then spread to Edo. It branched off and became its own independent genre during this period and was immensely popular; a key element of its appeal was that it did not conform to the restrictions on language and content that applied to waka. Thus any educated person could compose and appreciate kyoka whereas waka was confined to a rarified atmosphere of those families who were skilled in understanding the archaic language and intricate rules that dominated waka of the time.

Arguably, much of our modern English-language tanka with its emphasis on colloquial language and ordinary life is kyoka rather than tanka. It is no surprise that kyoka nearly died out in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when tanka poets threw off the restrictions of the old waka and began writing more direct and personal tanka in ordinary language. Surely the immensely popular kyoka must have shaped the thinking of Japanese poets who reformed tanka, but the influence of kyoka has never been explored in English.

Generally speaking, kyoka in English is understood to be ‘humorous tanka.’ It frequently parodies tanka and has therefore been conceived of as a kind of ‘anti-tanka,’ an erudite game that could be played only by people well versed in tanka itself. Yet the kyoka of A Chorus of Birds belie that. Humor is present, and parody, but many of the verses are so gently romantic that the English reader would be hard-pressed to explain how they differ from what he understands tanka to be.

Yamadori no
Horo horo namida
Iku yo kagami no
Kage mo miseneba

The copper-headed pheasant
Cries and cries
And sheds tear to no end;
For too many nights
Have you stayed away.
--Miyanaka no Tsukinaro

The poem above with its natural image and subjective response giving voice to a romantic plaint is a staple of the tanka genre. What makes this poem kyoka instead of tanka is that it was written in the colloquial language of the day by a person who was most likely a commoner or low ranking samurai, and not in the rarified literary language by a courtier or government official.

Other poems in evince the humorous parody which is the hallmark of kyoka. Consider the following verse:

Na ni tachite
Koi ni ya kuchin
Kitsutsuki no
Hito no kuchibashi

True to his name,
The woodpecker
Pecks and pecks away,
Never stopping to listen
to what people are saying.
--Shino no Tamaoke

This parody works on two levels. First, there is the commentary on human nature -- which of us hasn’t encountered a person who resembles the woodpecker of the poem? Ostensibly a bird poem, it is really a commentary on a human foible of the sort well-loved in senryu, the other genre that was immensely popular at the same time as kyoka. The other level of parody is a literary one. The natural image sets up an expectation of the usual romanticized and idealized emotional response, but instead delivers a frank criticism of an unattractive human trait. The expectations of the tanka form have been simultaneously adhered to yet violated, making this poem delightfully fresh.

Kyoka also ventured into territory that was a little risque compared to the restraints of waka. The poem below has a titillating quality that would have been considered vulgar and unacceptable in courtly waka.

Noki chikaku
Fufu to tsuguru
Hitokoe wa
Waga koinaka o
Mita ka uguisu

Near the eaves
I hear the warbler
Sing a song of envy:
He must be watching us
My lover and me.
--Nori no Suiyu

Malice, too, animates some of these verses, again, on a romantic theme.

Taka naraba
Ukina no hoka ni
Hatto tatsu
Kotori mo ono ga
E ni shinarubeki

If I were
A hawk,
I would make a meal
Of the little birds
Spreading rumors.
--Akamatsu no Kinkei

All in all, the poems are enjoyable, the illustrations beautiful, and the prefaces and notes useful. A Chorus of Birds can be found through various secondhand book dealers at reasonable prices. It is an excellent addition to your tanka library.


M. Kei

Review: but then you danced

but then you danced. Jeanne Lupton. Oakland, CA: n. p., 2006. 4.25 x 5.5 in., 60 pp., saddle-stitched. B/w cover an interior illustrations by the author.

An attractive chapbook on good quality paper, but then you danced presents tanka poetry one per page interspersed with occasional illustrations by the author. The quality of the poetry is excellent, and evokes the ‘tanka spirit’ we all admire so much. Lupton’s keenly observed details of her life serve as a lens focussing greater human truths; she is not just a woman, but Everywoman. She journeys through her life with the intensely emotional but never sentimental heart of a poet, faithfully recording her truths that speak to all women.

your touch
unshrouds the radiance
at my center
I catch my breath

Lupton speaks the immortal power of love with eighteen short syllables. In this miniature masterpiece nothing needs to be added and nothing needs to be taken away. She perfectly captures the illuminating joy of requited love, its breathtaking awe, and radiant beauty.

how green the green
in the grey light after the storm
how lake the lake
and thistle, thistle
in these hills how me I am

In this verse Lupton utilizes the power of repetition to evoke the suchness of each item named, and in so doing, evokes the suchness of the poet herself. The beauty of the scene after the storm becomes much more than a symbol of the poet after whatever travail from which she has just emerged, it becomes a cosmic truth to be celebrated with joy. The natural, the personal, and the universal resonate through this poem, doing what tanka does best.

autumn dusk
not even a favorite
old sweater
takes the chill off
my life alone

Lupton’s joy is tempered with loneliness, regret, and the awareness of the fragile ephemerality of human existance, characteristics which when taken together the Japanese call aware. Few Western poets can evoke aware well, finding it all too tempting to slide off into moralizing, symbolism, sentimentality, or simply overstating their moment. Lupton evokes the chill of the season and the chill of loneliness with the deftness of a sumi-e painter.

The illustrations are simple and understated and suit the poet’s mood and style, but are not always as strong as the poems themselves. Even so, they are never a liability. There are many other poems in but then you danced which I enjoyed and the overall quality is excellent. There is much here to recommend to both the reader of poetry in general and to young poets seeking a role model. In short, of the myriad books of tanka that have been published in recent years, this is one of the best.


M. Kei
6 November 2006


Lately I have been writing a number of reviews for Lynx and to a lesser extent, Modern English Tanka. Poets who would like to submit tanka books for review may contact me at kujaku at verizon dot net to make arrangements.

As a rule, I will not review a book unless I can find something positive to say about it. That does not mean that all my reviews are glowing effusions; quite the opposite. I am a critical reviewer, which is to say, I try to describe the book fairly and accurately, but kindly, noting its flaws and assets, and giving an honest representation of the material so that readers who do not share my taste in books can still determine if it is something they might like to read, regardless of what I think of the book.

I expect works committed to paper (or other permanent media) to look like the author knows and cares about posterity. That is to say, I expect decent physical production values, competent use of grammar -- vernacular and dialect are perfectly acceptable --, some artistic merit, adequate editing, adherence to the basic conventions of book design, etc. When the rules are departed from, I expect it to be for good reason, and not due to ignorance or sloppiness. As already mentioned, vernacular and dialect are acceptable to me, so I have a great deal of tolerance for non-standard grammar and vocabulary, but I expect the poet to use his tools competently.

I am friendly to novice poets, but I expect the poet to have sufficient maturity to take critiques he disagrees with in good spirit, accepting what he can use, and not arguing with me about the rest. It is critically important for the poet to realize that the poem is not the poet, and that to point out flaws in a poem or its presentation is not an attack on the poet, but an honest and fair evaluation of the work itself, as itself.

I understand the limits of small press and self-publication, but I expect the poet to do the best he is able within the limits of his budget and skills. I strongly recommend that he or she have an experienced editor (not friend or fellow poet) give honest feedback on the material and its presentation. This does not mean being a slave to the opinions of others; but it does mean learning and abiding by the conventions of the genre and its production values and marketing methods.

The publication of a work of poetry is not merely an act of literature, but a business contract, and the poet had better conduct himself in a business-like way. He had better deliver a good value of sufficient quality to justify the price he asks for his work; to do less will leave the reader feeling like he has been ripped off. He ought to deliver his books by the methods advertised in a timely fashion, and be prompt about resolving any problems that arise.

One of the most important of my standards: I review tanka. If it doesn't have at least half a dozen tanka in it, I'm not interested. I don't care how fantastic you think your novel/free verse/play/comic strip/other work is; I don't review them. Period.

I think my standards are clear and fair, and if you agree, feel free to approach me about having your tanka reviewed. My reviews typically appear in Lynx and Modern English Tanka. If you don't think you can live up to the minimal standards here, please don't waste my time or yours.