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Selected Tanka

Marianne Bluger

4 X 6 inches, 112 pages

Penumbra Press Poetry Series, No. 44

BLUGER'S POEMS ARE ELEGANT AND SPARE. They are also pure, powerful and uncompromisingly modern. Although Japanese poets have been writing tanka for more than a millennium, Gusts is the first book-length collection of tanka published in Canada.

Since the late sixties, when she was married to a zen master, Marianne Bluger has been experimenting with Japanese forms. Her previous work, Tamarack & Clearcut, is a significant and beautiful collection of haiku. Professor Sanford Goldstein, a gifted tanka poet in his own right and translator of Tangled Hair, Red Lights, and several other classics of modern Japanese literature, has been a mentor and sometime editor in the compilation of this book. To read Bluger's tanka is to experience a fresh aesthetic and to feel the quickening of one's own heart. Each fleeting moment is captured with passion, precision and eloquence.

a red-eyed whino
slouched in the sun
on the Bank Street Bridge
watching everyone

from sweet- grass

Resting our oars
we drift
in the mysterious
forest of married silence

from the marriage cryptic

Marianne Bluger


Marianne Bluger has a corpus that includes ten books of poetry, numerous essays, and countless poetic fragments that have surfaced in publications across the globe. She was born in Ottawa (1945) and has lived in various small towns along the periphery of Ontario. Bluger took up poetry seriously while attending McGill University in Montreal, where she studied under poet Louis Dudek. After graduating with distinction, Bluger entered medical school. Her studies were cut short when she left school in 1968 to marry Zen master, Samu Kim, with whom she went on to have two children.

Blugers first published work, The Thumbless Man Is at the Piano (Three Trees: 1981), was a collection of her early lyrics, a form she remained committed to for over a decade. In 1997 Clearcut and Tamarack (Carleton University Press) marked the first book-length appearance of her ongoing engagement with Japanese poetic forms. In collaboration with photographer Rudi Haas, Bluger produced a work of disciplined, lyric vision — one that foregrounds the shared temporal and epistemological terrain of both haiku and image. This work was followed by Gusts: Selected Tanka (Penumbra Press: 1998), the first tanka collection ever published in Canada. With these publications, Bluger earned her place at the forefront of nascent Canadian haiku and tanka traditions — now healthy movements that are, in many ways, still guided by her voice. As proof of her continued influence, the editors of a new publication dedicated to contemporary English-language tanka chose Gusts for the title, describing this "as a lasting tribute to Marianne, who has been such a pioneer of tanka in Canada."

Beyond numerous poetic contributions to the haiku and tanka forms, Bluger has been instrumental in establishing an infrastructure for the development of a tradition in Canada. She co-founded Kado Ottawa, a group of over thirty haiku poets living and writing near and in the city. She was treasurer of Haiku Canada from 1988-1991 and the author of its constitution in 1997. She is a member of the American Tanka Society and has been an adjudicator for its annual awards.

Her most recent book of tanka, Zen Mercies Small Satoris (Penumbra Press: 2005), is yet another example of the meticulous poetic sensibility that motivates her craft. Each poem in this collection is the site of a negotiation between the tanka form and its content, between the poet and her poem. The elemental, the daily rituals of exchange, the here and now — these motifs enact a poetics of dialogue, relation, respect. To Bluger the tanka is neither a fetish, nor an exotic object; rather, it is skilled poetic work.

Marianne Bluger has won several awards, including the 1993 Archibald Lampman Award (Canada). She won the supplementary prize in the Canadian division of the 2002 Hoshi-to-Mori Co. contest (Japan) and submitted a prize-winning haiku at the 2003 Master Basho Festival (Japan). Her work has been translated into French and Japanese.

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