A Hundred Gourds 2:2 March 2013
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page 4    

Kozue Uzawa – Tanka poet, Founder and Editor of GUSTS.

| Introduction | page 2 | page 3 | page 4 |

book coverIn the forward to I’m a Traveler, Michael McClintock says that Kozue Uzawa has “found a medium flexible enough to be grounded in tradition yet creatively free and responsive to the complex facts of contemporary living.” After reading this delightful collection of tanka, I certainly agree with him.

Kozue has such a light touch that readers could be forgiven if they thought writing tanka was easy, that it was just a matter of five short lines expressing emotions through the use of our senses. Sit with each poem for a while, however, and I think you’ll find many of these tanka have several layers to them that may not, on first reading, be readily apparent.

The book itself is perfect bound and includes 105 tanka, each on its own page. This is always a delight, for each poem is given room for our imagination to wander, to discover more about the poet and ourselves, to make the poem our own. There are between 10 and 17 poems in each of the eight sections. Beginning with Colour of Loneliness, Kozue recalls an Albertan winter and her longing for                                                     home.

minus thirty
windy today again
I stay in
as loneliness descends
with the falling flakes

  gusty winds
growl all day
all night
I miss cherry blossoms
in my home country


In the section that gives the book its title, Uzawa shows us how it feels to be a foreigner, not only in Canada, Europe, and Australia, but in her native land. It’s a painful look, both honest and heartfelt, and sometimes with even a touch of humour.

this is what I am:
in Japan
an outsider
in Canada
a minority

  September –
Sydney in early spring
lotus flowers
bloom in pink, and I forget
Vancouver in autumn rain
an airport
destination tag
I say to my suitcase
don’t get lost

It’s difficult to choose a favourite from the longest section, Flower Power, where the blossoms of pansies, peonies, and pumpkin flowers focus our attention on the season and emotion of each tanka. It is here that we really notice the poet’s loneliness, lost love, and unfulfilled dreams.

yellow flowers
of witch hazel
in February
loneliness shines
among winter trees

  white flowers of
wild strawberries
and your shy smile –
i fell in love
that early summer
    passion flower
dropped without opening –
I too had
dreams disappear
without blooming

Even though I relate strongly to the images and emotions in these tanka, I find some of the line breaks don’t work well for me. Uzawa often opens a line with a preposition, so I’m not sure why she wrote white flowers of / wild strawberries, rather than white flowers / of wild strawberries. Nor do I completely understand the inclusion of had in line three of passion flower. In speech, I think the pause would come after too, so would prefer to see I too / had dreams disappear. However, this may be simply my personal preferences. In the end, it’s the emotion and images I remember, not the line breaks.

A Small Universe deals with the experience of betrayal, racism, and inequality. The following tanka illustrate the depth of Uzawa’s pain and sorrow, without becoming sentimental or bitter.

it’s hard
to prove racism –
dark and intangible
accumulating inside me

when I murmur the word
heavy petals
of a blue flower
fall on my palm


One of the final four sections of I’m a Traveller contains Kozue’s responses to the Tanka Café challenge that appears in each issue of Ribbons, the journal of the Tanka Society of America. Others deal with feeling young, life on the prairies, and adventurous moments. Here are a few of my favourites:

one robin
drinking water
at the puddle
I will start the engine
after he finishes

  giving me
a bowlful of tears
mother disappeared
without trace
in my dream

These are lovely examples of Kozue’s easygoing style. In the first tanka, she may have been late for work or in a hurry to meet someone. However, as soon as she sees this robin, nothing else matters quite as much as enjoying the moment and taking time to reflect on what’s important.

In the second, there’s that feeling of loneliness which permeates Kozue’s tanka. Simple, unadorned images like these enable her to express emotion without sentimentality.

This is not a depressing collection, even though Kozue also writes of hope, love, and joy in somewhat subdued tones. From the concluding sections of this collection, we find:

in the summer sky
shooting stars appear
one after another
I have so many
wishes to make

  how it shines
white on the ground
the fresh snow…
I will step
into this new year
    one robin here
another robin there
and one more…
they bring spring
to my winter eyes

I’m a Traveller is a tanka collection to read and savour, not once, but many times. Successive readings have certainly enriched my appreciation of Kozue’s work and allowed me to see the world through her eyes.