but then you danced

by Jeanne Lupton

"but then you danced"


but then you danced

64 pp., $10,
ISBN 978-0-9729185-8-9,
RAW ArT PRESS, www.rawartpress.com.

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 focusing 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 such-ness of each item named, and in so doing, evokes the such-ness 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 ephemeral of human existence, 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.

Reviewed by M. Kei [Lynx – A Journal for Linking Poets, February 2007

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