A Favourite Tanka: Brian Tasker

First published in the Tanka Society of America Newsletter 2:4, Winter 2001, pages 6–7. Also available on the Tanka Society of America website.


the wind-blown clouds

lighten and darken

lighten and darken

the room

in which we argue


        —Brian Tasker


In this multivalent poem by Brian Tasker, featured in his tanka anthology, In the Ship’s Wake (Iron Press, 2001, page 84), the reader has a great deal to experience, feel, and contemplate. This is not merely an argument but a particular squabble where even the weather outdoors underscores the mood of tension. And perhaps the bickering is on an old topic, repeated again and again like the room’s changing shades of light. Thus nature melds with humanity through an internal comparison between the human emotional state with the state of the immediate natural world (arguing and the shadows of wind-blown clouds). And though we may argue, we are still affected by nature, and perhaps, in a positive way, that tempers our tempers. Somehow, the natural world knows our feelings and seems to echo them. We also enjoy the musicality of repetition in this poem, and feel a sense of completion, perhaps even surprise or alarm, when we reach the final word that twists the whole poem together. In addition, the poem has natural language and natural simplicity. What’s more, the focus on “the room” on a line by itself makes us think not only of the physical location where the people argue, perhaps at home, but also think of the mental “room” where these people repeatedly return, over and over again like the clouds that lighten and darken the physical room. In this tanka, I see a husband and wife, or some other pair of people who have known each other for a long time, because this argument strikes me not as isolated but as a repeated disagreement. We might see a ray of hope in that the clouds lighten as well as darken the room, but we cannot know how the relationship will end, and the poem reverberates on this point of mystery.