Erin Thornback Reviews Andrew Lansdown

By | 13 February 2017

The collection does, however, allude to the cadences of other poets, such as ‘Imagine’, which is dedicated to Arakida Moritake:

A master’s haiku
moved me to imagine them
among the cherries:
butterflies like petals resting, 
petals like butterflies wafting!

Placing Moritake at the centre of this poem, the reader cannot help but find the subtle allusions and tells of his most famous poem:

A fallen blossom
returning to the bough, I thought –
But no, a butterfly. 

Taken together, these cadences concentrate each line of Lansdown’s ‘Imagine’, bringing every word and its allusions into focus and opening up his poem as an accessible Kyoto that is gradually expanding.

In ‘Issa’s Style’, the lyrics are an evocation, the poem in pursuit of master poets:

In the old pond near
Basho’s grave, a small turtle
rides a big one’s back: 
a subject suited perhaps	 
more to Issa than Basho.

The image and poem conflate into an act of philosophical perception; the culmination of the turtle riding one’s back presents a jocular regress to life’s transience and the problem posed by the ‘unmoved mover’ paradox (‘it’s turtles all the way down’). Essentially, the poem suggests it’s Basho and Issa all the way down, Lansdown unintentionally working himself out of the hierarchy, but eternally in pursuit of a place within it.

But as in Aiden Coleman’s review of Lansdown’s Inadvertent Things – Poems in Traditional Japanese Forms, there are instances within Kyoto Sakura Tanka where the writing borders on the kawaii and the extreme use of rhyming is out of place in the grand tanka tradition, as in ‘Newly Flowering’:

The newly flowering 
Cherry will keep its pink ruff
Intact for the days yet – 
So, let the spring breezes cuff
And the wild sparrows play rough!

Yet, if it has been Lansdown’s intention to inspirefueki ryūkō and encapsulate Wabi Sabi, then he has been successful, but perhaps to a degree near on saccharine. It is poetry which easily moves between subjects and awakens the world of invisible spirits where cherry blossoms come alive and humans have the power to morph with nature – but it lacks the unexpected and falls into formulaic poetic devices such as couplets and juxtapositions.

Throughout Kyoto Sakura Tanka, Lansdown has aspired to capture the transience of nature and evoke the delicately personal experiences and perceptions of time within sakura fragments of tanka, immaculately captured in his camera lens for the reader to experience and relish. Towards the beginning of the collection comes one of my favourite tankas, ‘Tricky Kitsune’, a poem which I think encapsulates the fueki ryūkō of Lansdown’s collection, and is evocative of the transient nature of Kyoto and humanity within the waka tradition:

Would ghost-foxes
appearing as young women
dress in fox masks? 
How like the tricksters to work 
concealment by revealment!
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