Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Poetic ruralism

NPR featured this review today of poet Harryette Mullen's Urban Tumbleweed:  Notes from a Tanka Diary.  (A tanka is a 31-syllable Japanese poetry form typically featuring "a refined awareness of seasonal changes and a classical repertoire of fleeting impressions.")  Reviewer Carmen Gimenez Smith calls the collection, published yesterday, "a gorgeous book that should establish Mullen as a poet with wide appeal."   

Urban Tumbleweed's 366 tankas describe 
a year of living in Los Angeles and traveling to places like Texas, Ohio and Sweden while taking careful note of the natural world around her. The book is dense with jacaranda, rainstorms, bedbugs, epazote, and neighborhood watches, while faithfully evoking both the form and ancient spirit of the tanka.
I especially like this description of the work as at the intersection of pastoral/natural/rural with the built environment, the urban:  
a quiet argument about living in two worlds: the insistent, natural world, as well as the civilization that sometimes complements nature and other times complicates it.
I am reminded of this New York Times Magazine cover story, "Jungleland" from spring, 2012, about the tension between the natural--even "wilderness"--and the built environment in New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward several years after Hurricane Katrina.

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