Review: More Farewells

Amelia Fielden, Ginninderra Press, 2020

More Farewells is Amelia Fielden’s eighth book of original tanka poetry in English. She’s also collaborated with other poets in six volumes, translated or co-translated 28 volumes of Japanese poetry and edited or co-edited seven anthologies of tanka verse — all in the last twenty years or so. 

In the preliminaries the poet describes the double intention behind the title More Farewells. The collection marks the passing of individuals in her own life and (referencing the repeated ‘farewell’ performances of Australian operatic soprano Dame Nellie Melba) having published her ‘final’ volume in 2018, she found that there was more to say. 

Although Japanese tanka has over 1300 years of history, the modern tanka in English is a relatively simple form: five unrhymed lines, around 21 syllables in a short/long/short/long/long rhythmic pattern, and plain though lyrical language (a more detailed discussion of the form is here). Yet in this collection Fielden shows us the rich variety of this ‘simple’ form: tanka, tanka in response to prompts, tanka strings of related but independent verses, tanka placed within prose (which the poet calls ‘tanka tales’), and collaborative tanka strings where two poets alternate in a conversation of verse. Fielden is a master of all these forms and like a painter in their mature works, the technique becomes invisible and the art shines through. 

I particularly like the gentle, sometimes wry humour in the poems. A current favourite is a sequence called Pineapple Daze. This takes us to a resort in Hawaii: the tiki bar, lounges by the pool, the ‘commands’ from the early morning yoga class.

luxury resort: 
expecting a tip 
my waiter 
removes the crumbs
I had left for the birds 

A sense of place anchors the poems: Oregon, Hawaii, Canberra Australia, Nara Japan, Norfolk Island. The collection also moves across the poet’s lifetime. There’s a touching piece about a young woman’s unrequited love and then the death of the beloved in the Vietnam war; another on love’s betrayal in wintry Paris, where we move from cold streets to the cheer of a bistro and then to (I imagine) the small bedroom — ‘ah Paris, / City of Light, what passions / have smouldered, then died here.’ There’s the poet as mother, wife then widow, and as grieving older person: 

cherry blossoms
more fragile this spring 
without a dog 
walking the park trails 
I turn back halfway

In this generous collection (183 pages) there is work that has been previously published in international journals and anthologies, as well as new material. More Farewells is a wonderful accessible collection and well worth your attention. You can purchase More Farewells through Ginninderra Press or your favourite online bookseller.

Image: Jacaranda c/- the author and pulpitis @ iStock and here’s Nellie Melba’s Farewell Performance at the Royal Opera House, London in 1926. She returned to Australia the following year and commenced further farewell performances.

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