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Straggling into Winter
Kathy Kituai

Highly Commended, IP Picks 2007
Best Poetry

A serene and very human voice emerges from a year-long tanka journal in which the changing seasons reflect the poet’s thoughts on illness, love, and world events.

The great delight of the tanka is the jewel-like images it produces: how a bowl captures moonlight, willow twigs flaring at sunset, a poet wandering into a fog, pumpkin shoots, playing checkers when the doorbell rings.

Poems that chronicle the progress of illness, the black butterfly of cancer, alternate with visiting wild birds and animals and moments of humour, even in the hospital, where crutches are stolen by hospital terrorists, musings on the Israel/Palestine tragedy, and the nature of old age and love.

Kituai may be one of those rare writers who reject the idea that illness and death are things that have to be worked through and then left behind; rather, by beginning and ending with winter, she suggests death and loss are where we begin and what we work towards. There’s peace in that thought.

ISBN 9781876819699 (PB)

Poetry, 88pp

AUD $24 USD $18 NZD $26 GBP £12 EUR €14  
eBook ISBN 9781921869709
AUD $12 USD $9 NZD $14 GBP £6 EUR €7 Ebook
"Kathy Kituai is a skilled author and poet, with many years of experience writing in various genres. For this intriguing collection of new work she has chosen to compose a poetic journal in the form of dated tanka.

Tanka, meaning “short song”, is the modern name for the classical lyric verse that originated in Japan more than 1,300 years ago. Conventionally untitled, tanka are written in Japanese—and now in English—in five unrhymed phrases to a flexible short/long/short/long/long rhythmic pattern. In the Japanese tradition, these poems have just thirty-one syllables in total. However, due to fundamental differences between the two languages, most tanka in English are composed with a lesser number of sound units, in order to convey the essentially light and fragmentary nature of the form.

Straggling into Winter is Kathy’s charming contemporary English interpretation of this form, which continues today to be honoured and practiced as the epitome of Japanese poetry. Here we find some three hundred tanka, recorded under their respective dates of composition from 7th June 2005 to 6th June 2006.

Kathy is an Australian poet, writing with consummate ease of her country and home environment. Australian icons such as kangaroos and eucalypts, cockatoos and wattle, appear in this collection, which in authentic tanka style links and blends nature with human nature."

 – Amelia Fielden, Poet and Japanese Translator

"This collection is larger than it first appears: about three hundred tanka printed up to five to a page. It is, nevertheless, very readable, a very good choice of font making a real difference. The book is quite attractive, with a lovely work of original art, Spring, by Deborah Faeryglenn for the front cover. The collection is organized in journal format, with months as chapters, beginning with June 2005 and ending with June 2006. Dates, in a script font, and occasional head notes precede each tanka. The book is dedicated to the memory of Kituai's friend Rose-Mary Slade Swan, the last year of whose life coincides with the period of the collection and figures prominently in the poems.

The collection opens on June 7, 2005 with:

news that the cancer
growing in your uterus
must be pruned—
I write a requiem
for cut flowers

   settling in the ward
   she takes her medication—
   Rose is facing surgery
   I am safely in bed,
   facing a blank wall

in your own dim night
you have brought me a gift
of darkness
I had no other way
of knowing how to unwrap

   still holding leaves
   oaks straggle into winter
   too soon at the end
   of this tanka journey

One might expect, at this point, that this collection would have an overall elegiac tone. It does not. The poems certainly do treat matters of great gravity and the collection as a whole may reasonably to be taken as an elegy in homage to a dear friend's life.

Nevertheless, tllere is far too much awareness of the intensity and beauty of life for this to be mere elegy. Rather, it is a celebration of life, both its daily wonders and its sobering losses. Specifically, these poems celebrate life in Australia—the locale is a virtual character in these verses, so distinctive and engaging is it. With its cumulative richness of detail, this collection is almost novelistic. One feels that as one reads it—lives unfolding in their myriad aspects and interrelationships in a fully realized environment. Of course, the chronological ordering of the collection adds to that impression, being a virtual narrative of that year's passage.

Those who follow tanka, whether online, in periodicals or books, will be familiar with Kathy Kituai. Her fine tanka grace many venues. What is to be found in this book that is of special interest is her talent in handling long-form journaling in tanka. The risk of such projects, of course, is a deadening sameness. In the bands of an expert, that need not occur. Kituai brings fresh insights, imagery, and interest to each tanka while maintaining the thread of the days, weeks, and months connecting them. What rewards wait in these pages for the careful reader ... like this one:

no violin string
or concertos required just
yellowing leaves
and that chorus of poplars
against the greyest of skies

(March 11, 2006)

This collection was edited by the poet and translator, Amelia Fielden, who also wrote the fine afterword for the book. I heartily recommend Kathy Kituai's Straggling into Winter to anyone who loves tanka. For those with an interest in tanka as journal, it is a must-have."

– the Editor, Modern English Tanka


Kathy Kituai


Kathy Kituai has published a number of poetry collections and has been awarded numerous prizes, including the CJ Denis Poetry Award and the Annual St Kilda Competition. She has been the Assistant Editor of Bikmaus for the Institute of PNG Studies and Muse magazine and has served various organisations and festivals including the ACT Spring Poetry Festival, the ACT Writers Centre, and Arts ACT Peers Assessment Committee. She also shares her writing expertise as a private and group mentor. She has loved birds since childhood and aims to honour wildlife and humanity in her poetry.



7th June 05

news that the cancer
growing in your uterus
must be pruned—
I write a requiem
for cut flowers

settling in the ward
she takes her medication—
Rose is facing surgery
I am safely in bed,
facing a blank wall

encouraged yet again, to keep writing after reading
translations of Kawano Yuko and Kuriki Kyoko’s tanka

with each collection
translated into English
tanka perceived—
fountains flowing in still lakes
ripple water drop by drop


[Read More]


eNews 33: Commentary by Assistant Editor Mary Trabucco

eNews 34: Interview by Assistant Editor Courtney Frederiksen