A Hundred Gourds 4:1 December 2014

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A Solitary Woman – Pamela A. Babusci

reviewed by Susan Constable

book cover

A Solitary Woman by Pamela A. Babusci
Self-published 2013
76 pp, 5 ½” x 8 ½”, perfect bound
Available through Amazon $15.00 USD
Signed copies available by contacting the author
ISBN 9781492846741

Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt,
and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.

This quote from Leonardo da Vinci is an apt introduction to Pamela A. Babusci’s second book of tanka, coming five years after A Thousand Reasons. Within the first few pages of A Solitary Woman readers will understand that Babusci is an artist as well as a poet. The book overflows with painterly tanka, including several about other artists such as Cezanne, van Gogh, and Picasso. Themes include romantic love, the poet’s childlessness, Babusci’s relationship with her parents (especially her mother), and her own experience with ovarian cancer.

Gathered from over 40 publications and/or contests, the 146 tanka are presented two to a page in large, clear type. While this simple layout makes it easy on the eyes for readers and gives each poem room to breathe, it would be more aesthetically pleasing if the layout varied a little from page to page.

The dominant theme of A Solitary Woman concerns male/female relationships and the love shared, longed for, lost, and mourned.

he tattooed
his heart into hers
a crimson hibiscus opens
scattering pollen

he leaves
this morning
without touching her
between sips of java
a bitter taste

Although the vast majority of tanka in this collection are written in the first person, there are exceptions, like the two just quoted. Even these third-person tanka feel, to me, as though they’re really about the author, and appear to reflect her own longing, loss, and loneliness. I can’t help but wonder if they were originally written in the first person, but changed by the poet for the purpose of variety or at the request of previous editors.

Pamela Babusci is known for her candor, and approaches her topics with original metaphors and descriptions. Her tanka are intensely personal, as these examples demonstrate:

what gives me
more ecstasy
a calla lily opening
or your fingers
exploring me?

you altered my body
to fit into yours –
how gracefully
the paper-whites bend
towards the moon

In addition to the theme of romantic relationships, the unsatisfactory mother/daughter connection is also well explored. Among the twenty-some-odd tanka in this category, these two stand out as particularly honest and poignant:

i cannot separate
my feelings of love
from hate
mother on the horizon
in her flowing white gown

never living up
to mother’s
now, i visit her grave
in silence

Other commonalities, beside theme, bind the poems in this collection. There are, for instance, over 50 direct references to colour. The word ‘white’ occurs the most often (12 times) with plain ‘blue’ following close behind. ‘Red’ occurs five times but vermillion, scarlet, and crimson make if feel even more prominent.

Flowers are also mentioned frequently: poppies, chrysanthemums, and asters among them. Babusci often uses them as metaphor and, along with a colour, establishes a mood. Think of the difference in your emotional reaction to red poppies, blue asters, and white chrysanthemums. Here’s a beauty that includes a flower and its colour:

the intense white
of chrysanthemums
while making love
i become
a thousand petals

The word ‘heart’ shows up 25 times – sometimes close to cliché, others times with a much greater degree of freshness. When published as stand-alone poems, many of the tanka are superb. In a relatively short collection, however, repetition becomes noticeable. Sometimes it’s wise, even necessary, to omit favourite tanka in order to avoid a ‘sound the same’ quality in a collection of work. That said, there are tanka in A Solitary Woman which use all three motifs (colour, flower, and heart) to good effect.

how translucent
the heart
of this pink waterlily
& yours walled off
like steel petals

The attractive cover and the insightful introduction by David Terelinck lure us into this collection of tanka and the many enticing first lines of these poems (“her love was voiceless,” “as you undress me”, “after the affair”) continue to capture our attention. Unafraid to tell it like it is, Pamela Babusci invites us into her life. We feel her loss, loneliness, and grief, but also the intense love and passion of this award-winning poet.

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