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.