David Terelinck’s collection of Tanka Slow Growing Ivy is a testament to the ability of shorter form works to produce great emotion and power. Tanka is a genre of classical Japanese poetry in which poems follow a 5-line structure and verse’s a syllabic pattern. Released earlier this year Slow Growing Ivy succeeds in heightening the quality of Tanka in Australia. It is however, not without its missteps. The vast majority of Tanka in the collection are excellent and at 111 pages that is no easy feat. The problems lie within what would be best described as fillers. Tanka in the collection that don’t really fit within the theme; there is no requirement that every Tanka must adhere to theme but some of the poems don’t seem to fit in with the rest in terms of quality either.
In Basho’s garden –
And turns await
On my narrow road
Poems like this are more personal than others. The Tanka that elicit the strongest responses from your senses are the best. Though none are as strong as the Tanka’s in which we get to see into Terelinck’s soul. It is hard to accurately represent the experiences of others in creative work. Terelinck hits and misses in the book. One poem is about a pregnant woman, something he obviously has no experience of being a man. The poem though is thoughtful and evokes real emotion. It is accurate for the character involved. There is no need for generalisations.
full hipped nudes
with eyes the colour
those times when nature peers
over the painters shoulder
Here Terelinck is at his best. There is such power in his creation of worlds. When the reader can get a real sense of a scene in such a short poem you know the poet is in fine form. For all the short bursts of power that come in the individual Tanka the best piece in the entire collection, above and beyond anything else is ‘In the half-light’. The responsive Tanka sequence between Terelinck and Carol Judkins is the standout of the entire collection. For both the method in which it is constructed and the feeling of longing for times past it concocts it is an exceptional poem and reason alone to read Slow Growing Ivy.
Adam Meyers is a novelist, reviewer and the founding Editor of Literati Magazine, he lives in Melbourne.