Why Skylark? This small brown bird is often hailed as the very voice of spring. It lives on open farmland, or heath, and spends much of its life foraging. In the spring, male birds compete for mates by singing almost non-stop, ascending on hovering wings to heights of 100 metres as they do so. Throughout their long, liquid songs, they appear to not take a breath. Their very breath is song, a form of circular breathing whereby the air passes through the lungs and nine separate cavities, and even the birds’ hollow bones. At times, it seems that the sky itself is spilling song, for the songster himself is fluttering too high to be seen. If a flock of birds is seen, it is described as an “exaltation”! It is no surprise that the bird has inspired poets through the ages:Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, George Meredith and Ted Hughes to name but a few.
Up with me! up with me into the clouds! For thy song, Lark, is strong; Up with me, up with me into the clouds! Singing, singing, With clouds and sky about thee ringing, Lift me, guide me till I find That spot which seems so to thy mind!
from “To a Skylark”. William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
In the Atlas Poetica Special Feature, “25 Tanka Poets from Great Britain and Ireland”, the editor, Jon Baldwin references Tangled Hair, which, at the time of its launch in 1999, was “the first journal dedicated solely to English-language tanka to be published outside the USA”. In his introduction to the final issue of the journal in 2006, John Barlow, award-winning tanka and haiku poet and founding editor, was cautious in his predictions: “it would be warming to think that the future of English-language tanka as a relevant poetic genre is assured, but it is perhaps still too early to make any such claim.” Mr Baldwin suggests that we would “do well to rise to this challenge”.
The skylark has suffered a recent, rapid decline and is now a “red list” species. By contrast, English-language tanka is flourishing. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is encouraging farmers planting wheat fields to turn off the seeding machine for a 5-10 metre stretch now and then in order that bare areas can be created known as “skylark plots”. It is my hope that this new journal, based in the UK, will make perfect nesting habitat for tanka.
Poets worldwide, new and established, are invited to submit up to ten tanka &/or one tanka sequence (set or string), tan renga, tanka prose, or responsive tanka. Well-crafted tanka with strong imagery (no matter the syllable count) are encouraged.Memorable tanka allow the reader to experience a particular moment in time as if it were his/her own. Such tanka allow room for the reader’s own interpretation. Vivid contemporary tanka often retain the essence or spirit of the Japanese form, but do not seek to imitate it. Like the skylark, the tanka poet spends much of his/her time grounded, but finds expression in this most versatile of forms, in the heights of a vast, ever-changing sky.
balmy the spring sunshine pouring down down onto this bamboo cage with its two feet of sky where the skylark sings and sings
from Songs from a Bamboo Village Shiki Masaoka (1867-1902)
. . . and your great grandfather was no more a stay-a-bed than the sun is when England wears her hawthorn crown and is ripe for wooing. At the first splash of ewe's milk, when the snowdrops freckled the woods with light, he'd be following the fox through the morning dusk, or climbing the stile, ready to go wherever the day might take him. How he loved to watch the ploughboy, Jack, and his team of shires, carving an earthsea of ridge and furrow; the horses, one black, one bay, the feathering on their fetlocks like kicked-up surf. Life then was slow and sure, a gentle giant plodding along, soothed by the click of the ploughboy's tongue and his light-hearted songs as he harrowed and sowed.
When the bright and early days giddied-up and the sun shone the brass of spring, it was Jack who pointed out that ink-speck hanging between the sky's endless blue and the corn's tender green. The composer's quill had alighted on the staff. The skylark soared, silently sank and soared to sing.
And while he might have been distracted by the courting white butterflies that danced on the wing like the tips of the flautist's fingers, nothing could call him away from the skylark's song. Not once did he discover that grail of grass and hair amidst the million stalks, although twice he saw himself become stock-still in a leveret's eye. But he did find, for his pocket, three fragments of an olive-speckled shell. Sometimes, as the sunny moments slid towards noon, he would caress the shell's inner sheen, imagining the egg-tooth's tiny baton-tap.
And the skylark's mate sat listening long, even longer than your great grandfather did.
laid bare on the windswept heath or between corn stalks a hairsbreadth between dream and song
chapel bells up hill and down dale on a grass-green breeze . . . lifting the latch on the parish of May
here in the steeple-heights of blue bard of spring take up your flute take up my pen!
the fading contrails of a marriage proposal . . . skywriter your every song is a declaration of love
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Note:(with apologies to Christina Georgina Rossetti)