The most direct and simple poetic forms, like haiku and tanka, offer the means for direct and simple moments to touch the eternal. They combine subjective observation with objective imagery that hooks brief moments into universal, repeating cycles.
The challenge for working with these forms and making them relevant to a modern reader is the quaint view many of us have of their inherent Muse: that is, Nature. Readers are more likely to recognize simple truths through a pop culture meme than the weather on Mount Fuji.
The UK-based Snapshot Press takes this as a challenge, offering explorations of small slices of modern life through compact traditional works, from the haibun to the haiku. Their publishing schedule includes a yearly contest that results in a trove of echapbooks that yield a variety of answers. In the 2017 batch, tanka and haiku offer sharp moments of emotional and/or philosophical revelation. Some of the collections are familiar, grounded in flora, fauna and reflection; others reveal more inward gazes and sombre sighs.
The most markedly contemporary is A Dawn of Ghosts, in which Thomas Powell combines the power and familiarity of the short line with a modern vernacular, as he observes “the darkness beneath/pond skaters” or “the wool and bones/of a passing winter”. His are enriching examples of how language can make form relevant and contemporary.
And all are examples of how to find the eternal in the briefest, most transient snapshots.
By Anthony Madrid
Try Never actually tries a little bit of everything in its 50 brief pages. As a result, they are overflowing in poetic styles, allusions, music and imagery. Whether voiced out loud or sung in your head, Anthony Madrid’s collection presents a rhythmically diverse and dynamically alive universe, but one in which consciousness is trying to grasp identity in an ultrafast, cluttered, post-modern existence.
Rhythmic and rhyming (whether internal, end, or otherwise) poetry can easily trip into sing-songy triteness. But Try Never is built on a solid frame of verse that still flexes with enough rhythmic variance to keep up a challenging, sometimes syncopated, beat.
The stanzas are drum-tight, with rhyme, half-rhyme and alliteration pounding out the syllables. In a poem like ‘Quinacenera’, the rhymes also tumble from one verse into another in a continuous rhythmic cartwheel. The effect can be like listening to a virtuoso guitar player who thrumbs a steady bass-line on the bottom strings with his base digit, while the rest pluck up and down the frets of the four highest ones.
Think of a truncated Gerard Manley Hopkins mixed over a slighly funkier Tuck Andress.
In content, Try Never is not narratively cohesive. The poems present a multitude of ground-level snapshots of a sort of apocalypse of the mundane: a “Boarded-up shop” faces a “Severe terror rain”; a “basketball held underwater/Wants violently to come up”. You may have to piece meaning together out of the disparate images throughout the poems, but once you do, you get a full view of quiet desperation.
Try Never delivers a blurrying amount of potential significance in the rush of imagery. But the repetition, rhyme and rhythm keep it all in focus.
Try it right now, right here.