“Once More, the Moon”

Melissa Frederick created “Once More, the Moon” from English translations of Hyakunin Isshu by William N. Porter (1909) and Clay MacCauley (1899). Please click here to read.

About her process of composition, Melissa writes:

I love Japanese poetic forms, and I especially love how modern poets have experimented with the traditional rules of Japanese poetry we’ve all been taught (the 5-7-5 haiku, for example). Completely by chance, I discovered Hyakunin Isshu, a famous 13th century collection of 100 tanka from 100 poets writing as early as the 9th century. The pieces in the anthology present interior landscapes suffused with natural imagery and rich in the allusions and double meanings the Japanese language allows for. During later explorations, I discovered two English translations of Hyakunin Isshu from the turn of the 20th century (A Hundred Verses from Old Japan by William N. Porter, and Single Songs of a Hundred Poets by Clay MacCauley). These earlier collections, which include bombastic Victorian reconstructions as well as direct translations from the Japanese, introduced new linguistic filters and word combinations through which to read the tanka.

In my own work, I formed word banks from the language I found in the Porter and MacCauley editions and drew on those banks for the text of my poems. I decided to stick to the usual five-line structure but allowed myself to explore new ways of shaping meaning within those five lines. Most importantly, I couldn’t get away from the image of the moon that appears in the Hyakunin Isshu so prominently. In the original poems, the moon is character, emotion, chronology, and memory. The moon is one of the stars of the show, and so I made it the center of mine.


Also by Melissa Frederick at HERON TREE: [43], [32], “Summer Isotherms,” and “While I Lie with the Beehives.”