Welcoming Speech at the Third International Tanka Convention

Speech presented on 27 September 2000 at the Third International Tanka Convention, sponsored by the Japan Tanka Poets’ Club, at the Renaissance Hotel, 1133 W. Hastings Street, Vancouver, British Columbia. As founder and president of the Tanka Society of America, I was invited to give the following welcoming speech, which was also translated beforehand into Japanese. First published in the Tanka Society of America Newsletter 1:2, Winter 2000, pages 12–13. Speech first written 13, 14, 21 September 2000, Foster City, California. I recall that I shared my speech before the conference with Pamela Miller Ness and Kristen Deming for their valuable input, for which I am grateful. See also my Report on the Third International Tanka Convention.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests:

        It is my great pleasure to join you in Vancouver for the Third International Tanka Convention. On behalf of the Tanka Society of America, I bring you greetings and hearty wishes of support and friendship from our new organization, formed in April of this year. I especially wish to thank Takeo Fujioka, Hatsue Kawamura, Mitsue Kurahashi, and Hiroshi Shionozaki for their work in putting together this convention, and in welcoming the participation of the Tanka Society of America. We look forward to a long and mutually supportive relationship with the Japan Tanka Poets’ Club and with all tanka poets worldwide.

        Today we stand poised, I believe, on the edge of a new era for tanka in English. We know that the genre has a long and rich history in Japan, but tanka is still a toddler in English. English-language tanka poets have much to learn. But, as beginners, we also bring much enthusiasm to the art of writing tanka. This new era begins with meetings such as this that connect poets writing tanka in English and Japanese. Here, today, we celebrate our mutual appreciation for tanka poetry and its lyrical expression of deep emotion through the use of realism and natural symbolism.

        Tanka has followed haiku across the Pacific and is now being written more frequently. In English, tanka has benefited from the groundbreaking efforts of such poets as Jun Fujita, Lucille M. Nixon, Tomoe Tana, Sanford Goldstein, Jane Reichhold, and Pat Shelley; from numerous translators such as Jane Hirshfield, Makoto Ueda, Stephen Carter, Donald Keene, and, Arthur Waley; and from current or recent editors of tanka journals such as Laura Maffei, Jane and Werner Reichhold, and Kenneth Tanemura in the United States, and John Barlow and Martin Lucas in England. These and other poets, translators, and editors stand humbly in the great shadow of tanka in Japan, and we all look to Japanese tanka poets—to you—for continued guidance and example in the art of your poetry.

        With the formation of the Tanka Society of America, I believe English-language tanka has reached an important milestone. It is a milestone that I do not think we could have reached without the forward-thinking international mission of the Japan Tanka Poets’ Club and like-minded tanka writers to lead the way. I am very grateful for this sense of outreach and dedication to the internationalization of tanka, exhibited by the very fact that this convention is here in North America rather than in Japan. I applaud the Japan Tanka Poets’ Club in working to broaden the international appeal and scope of tanka by holding such events outside Japan from time to time.

        The Tanka Society of America’s officers, who regret that they are not able to be here today, include Paul O. Williams as vice president, Job Conger as secretary, Larry Lavenz as treasurer, and Pamela Miller Ness as newsletter editor. Kristen Deming is also serving as an advisor and Japanese liaison. In the words of Mrs. Deming, “We are all fortunate to be involved with poetry and poets, our kindred spirits. It is an incredible bond. I am proud that interest in poetry is growing in America, especially because I have seen what a natural part of life it is in countries such as Japan. I cannot think of a more wonderful way to communicate with friends, whether here or in other countries.”

        In 1957, the Californian poet Lucille M. Nixon became the first non-Japanese person to ever participate in the New Year’s poetry party at the Imperial Court. In 1963, she edited a book of tanka called Sounds from the Unknown, which I believe to be the first anthology of tanka poetry outside Japan, or at least in English. At the time, in North America, tanka really was just a small sound from the unknown, lost in the din of haiku. Today, however, the sound of tanka is growing stronger. As Mrs. Nixon wrote in 1963, “While poetry is but one of the bridges that Americans and Japanese have built to meet each other, it is one of the least fragile, the least tenuous of them all.” These words are still true today. Indeed, the Tanka Society of America is happy to cooperate with the Japan Tanka Poets’ Club to meet the challenge of making tanka even better known, and to further the reading, writing, appreciation, and study of this celebrated and beloved genre of poetry. We are deeply happy to build a bridge with you today, and to celebrate tanka poetry at this prestigious international tanka convention. Dōmo arigato gozaimashita!

 

Michael Dylan Welch

President, Tanka Society of America