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A Frayed Red Thread: tanka love poems by Linda Jeannette Ward, 2000. Soft cover, perfect bound; 48 poems, one per page; 64 pages; 6” x 9” ISBN 0-9702457-0-X. Clinging Vine Press, P.O. Box 231, Coinjock, NC, US 27923. $12.00 ppd

Review by Thelma Mariano

Linda Jeannette Ward has been widely published in literary journals and anthologies, and her work has been translated into French, Croatian and Japanese. 

Her poems in A Frayed Red Thread are reminiscent of the passionate tanka of Heian women in Japan (794-1185).  In the introduction, Laura Maffei, editor of American Tanka, explains how the tradition of this sensual poetry has been carried into the West and is followed in this book.

Illustrations by Jeanne Emrich are interspersed throughout, enhancing the evocative beauty of the tanka, which are written in contemporary form. These black and white ink drawings reflect the elegance of Japanese art while depicting an aspect of nature mentioned in the accompanying poems - such as pine needles, lotus or magnolia blossoms. The cover art, also by Ms. Emrich, is based on Rodin’s The Kiss.

In this sequence of poignant tanka we are pulled through the gamut of emotion of being in love - from the intensity of longing, to the throb of passion, to feelings of loss and sadness.

The poet succeeds in linking the heart-felt emotion in these tanka to the splendour of the natural world around her: 

how long, you ask
for another world to appear. . .
       the length of one kiss
       the time a raindrop travels 
       to pine needle's tip. 

Throughout these poems, Ms. Ward makes skilful use of metaphor and often engages more than one sense in her juxtaposition of images: 

you have never told me
             your regrets. . . 
through thickness of sultry night
             rumbles of thunder 
drawing closer.

True to the form of a tanka sequence, the poems follow a clear progression of mood as the poet feels her lover slipping away, writing of her anguish and sense of bereavement: 

         late night ring – 
in this darkened hallway
         the cricket's song 
cannot cover the sound
          of my tears. 

Again the longing returns but it is now directed towards the past, and there is a sense of irrevocable loss: 

carefully-built plans
of my life crumble
with each passing year
more and more of these dunes
fall away to the sea.

The reason for the lover’s departure is never explained - yet suddenly he returns and the reader feels the tentative joy of love renewed.

At the end of the book an allusion is made to the ephemeral nature of love and even of mortal existence, emphasized by repetition of this poem: 

awake tonight. . .
dreads  and darkness dispelled
by fairy lights
of a thousand fireflies
i see, i am but stardust.

A Frayed Red Thread will appeal to any lover of tanka and to anyone who wishes to re-experience the sensual and at times turbulent journey of love.

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