A Hundred Gourds 2:1 December 2012
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Peggy Heinrich’s Forward Moving Shadows

reviewed by Susan Constable

Forward Moving Shadows
– a tanka memoir
by Peggy Heinrich
Photographs: John Bolivar
paperback: 92 pages; 9” x 6”
ISBN 978-1-4759-3809-8
ebk: 978-1-4759-3892-0
Price $9.95 (pbk) $3.99 (ebk)
Pub: iUniverse, Inc.,
Bloomington, Indiana. 2012

book coverPeggy Heinrich is a well-known, award-winning American poet. Among her eight other published works is a haiku collection, Peeling an Orange (2009), which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Forward Moving Shadows is, however, her first collection of tanka. Compiled as a memoir, it progresses from the innocence of childhood through to the wisdom of maturity that comes with age and experience. Although the poems touch on a range of themes and emotions, the major focus is on the poet’s marital relationships and her ensuing loss and grief.

After looking forward to the book’s arrival for several weeks, I found the cover photo by John Bolivar to be eye-catching and a perfect match for the book’s title. However, my initial reaction upon opening the book was one of disappointment. Unfortunately, the paper is not of sufficient quality to prevent the many photos from bleeding through the pages and detracting from the visual appearance of the poems. However, it didn’t take long to find myself immersed in the poetry and paying less and less attention to this weakness in production.

Most of the tanka appear on the right side of a two-page spread, with John Bolivar’s sensitive and complementary black and white photos on the left. The photos are strong on their own but, like the link between image and haiku in the most successful photo haiga, images and poems enhance one another. The variety in the layout, with either three, four, or five tanka to a page, is pleasing, though I find that five per page feels a bit crowded.

The 127 tanka are a pleasure to read and savour. Beginning with a section called sound of summer rain, Peggy gives us poems about self-discovery, and her relationships with both her parents and her brother. The images are clear, the emotions honest, making the tanka feel completely believable.

in my teens
despite the fear
I used to pray
don’t let me die
a virgin

on my birthday
the warm thought
that they made love
in May
    my brother
always being scolded
for his behavior . . .
I became a good girl
to live my lies in peace

It takes courage to acknowledge our fears and self-doubts, to admit (even in adulthood) the thoughts that were part of our youth.

The section fog on the day we met moves from a broken relationship to divorce, her two daughters, a second marriage, widowhood and grief. These are poignant poems written straight from the heart.

too young,
my parents said,
and when
the marriage fell apart
I never told them why

  for the first time
I find myself
and yet . . .
winter sun
until a movie matinee –
when the actor
strokes his lover’s hair
my sudden tears

he writes
after so many years
nothing’s impossible . . .

I reread the phrase
feeding on possibilities


I like the substitution of italics for double quotation marks. To me they are far less intrusive in short poems and suggest either a direct quote, a foreign phrase, titles of books or movies, or even a hint to the reader that says ‘look me up’.

Thankfulness, memories, doubts, and the paranormal are addressed in the section silent carousel. There’s less cohesion to this section, indicative perhaps of the poet’s search for herself after so much loss and heartbreak, and yet she says:

I can reel off jobs,
books I’ve read, men I’ve loved –
how comforting
to sail through memories
blind to icebergs floating by

the sweater I knit him
into the Goodwill bin . . .
a snow plow
clears the road

The use of juxtapositions in these two tanka enable the reader to link two apparently disparate images and find layers of meaning nestled between them. In the first, the poet has all the facts at her fingertips, but realizes that she doesn’t see everything for what it is and has ignored signs of approaching trouble in the past. Will she continue to do so? In the second tanka, there’s the suggestion that by letting go of her material possessions and their emotional connections, the road ahead will be clearer.

In the section, wind carries messages, the poet looks back on her long life, while still struggling with accepting what was and what is. Unanswered questions still remain, along with a sense of longing and impending death:

when did I cross
the border from Alice
in Wonderland
into the world
of Miss Havisham?

  upset again
by the evening news
when will I learn
to just stare at the stars
and breathe?
    scent of lilies
when the time comes
tell me
that I’m dying well
ever hungry for praise

Although read-through tanka can be too simplistic at times, the first tanka – with its two diverse images – gives the effect of a two-part verse. The reader is invited to think about Alice and Miss Haversham and how the poet might feel as one or the other. Question-style tanka invite the reader’s involvement, especially when the poem is written from the first person perspective. In the third tanka, the opening line acts like a haiku fragment, giving us a sense of season as well as the hope for friendship and praise at the end of life.

The final section of Forward Moving Shadows is a vivid and poignant series of tanka on 9/11. Whether this section is in its proper chronological order is not apparent, nor does it really matter. It isn’t exactly clear who the ten tanka are addressed to, but they are a direct testament to the poet’s love and loss for the deceased.

It is my hope that the above selections illustrate the beauty and craft of Peggy Heinrich’s tanka. There’s certainly variety in the way each is presented, whether in one, two or three parts; questions or statements; concrete images or abstract thoughts. Of course, there are tanka that do not resonate with me as well as others do, and there are poems that I’d like to tweak to my own liking. However, I think most readers will find a large number of these tanka a pleasure to read and remember.


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