Kathy Kituai introduced me to tanka last year, with her splendid collection, Straggling into Winter, a tanka journal. I experimented with five-line poems but as they are not strictly tanka, I decided to give them another name – quinta. The idea of journaling in poetry [I have written prose journals for almost as long as I can remember] was also appealing. So the book, a selection from the many quinta I've written over the past year, has just been published by Cestrian Press. I was reading from Gold Tracks, Fallen Fruit, in Chester last Thursday. Kemal Houghton was also reading from his new collection, Pastizzi, and Edwin Stockdale played ethereal music on the harp.
Journal and journey of course share the same root, and within our long – or short - passage through time and space, our lifetime, a journey that everyone makes, there are also forays into the unknown, geographical, psychological and metaphorical, the wanderings and the stories, and how we are changed by the features of the landscapes we pass through.
As I was travelling back through Italy and France earlier this year, in the summer, I was thinking about the effects that travelling can have on us, very positive effects, so it seems to me, as one is removed from one's usual context and one's usual identity. With these familiar accretions of identity removed, who are we really? For although we 'identify with' all kinds of familiarities, it has been my experience at times, that there is another identity waiting in the wings. Our usual associations and patterns of thoughts and feelings are removed by some circumstance or other, either deliberately sought out, or seemingly accidental. Travelling in unknown places is just one way of making space, leaving a door open for this other to make its presence felt. In an extreme form it can be like Inanna's journey to the underworld where everything is taken from her. But that's not the end of the story. Death is followed by transformation and rebirth.
the journey strips us of possessions -
language, context, self-importance.
Sunlight on sea and bougeainvillea,
scents of lime – here our travelling soul
feels perfectly at home
Later, I came across this quote from Albert Camus which evokes similar feelings, describing both the fear and the treasure that we find on the journey.
“.....For what gives value to travel is fear. It breaks down a kind of inner structure we have. ….......travel robs us of …..... refuge. [We are] far from our own people, our own language, stripped of all our props, deprived of our masks (one doesn't know the fare on the trams, or anything else) …...... But [we] also...... restore to every being and every object its miraculous value. A woman dancing ….... a bottle on a table, glimpsed behind a curtain: each image becomes a symbol. The whole of life seems reflected in it.....
From l'Envers et l'endroit - Amour de Vivre
And, from Nikos Kazantzakis (Odyssey – a Modern Sequel )
'My soul, your voyages have been your native land!'
The Christmas lights in Chester are already up, delicate nets of white lights strung between buildings in the narrow streets of the city centre. These lights are, of course, a celebration. But they also remind me of clusters of constellations, pinpricks of light, reflections of the night sky.