Thursday, April 2, 2020




EVOCARE: Collected Tankas by Ayo Gutierrez, Eileen R. Tabios, and Brian Cain Aene
(GMGA, Philippines, 2019)

Before beginning to read this collection of tankas, one would do well to have a brief sense of the history of tankas.  Tanka, which translates to “short song,” is the lyrical, five-line poem that has historically served as the basic form of Japanese poetry.  Despite its shifts in style over the centuries, tanka has remained a poem that captures the nuances of human experience by exploring the simultaneous simplicity and complexity found in nature, relationships, and situations.

Evocare offers tankas of love and lust, solitude and togetherness, the familiar and the unfamiliar, hope and heartbreak, strength and weakness, among other themes.  The authors leave room for readers to draw their own connections to the poems.  Upon reading Evocare, I admired its sense of fluidity within structure, and depth in meaning within such simple, compressed form.  Each tanka offers spiritual nourishment through practical teachings that are embedded in the lines.
Some of what you will find in these pages are teachings that help us to cultivate a conscious awareness and acceptance of contrast:
Nature is balance
Between birth and death of all
Demand and supply
Too much birth brings extinction
Too much death makes life grow strong. (Gutierrez)
Ayo Gutierrez asserts that a balance is possible between contrasting realities.  By using juxtaposition, she explores these notions of contrast and balance in other tankas, as well.  In one poem, she tells of the powerful policeman who was once skinny and, presumably, powerless.  In another, she highlights the difference between elevating above ground level and being on ground.  Gutierrez teaches us to be aware of balance, changes that time can bring, dichotomies, and contrasting forces as we navigate through the complexities of life and living.
There is, as well, much in these pages that helps us to bridge the past and the present:
“If only bullets
Could create peace, not make wars”
A schoolchild once hoped

This fantasy pays homage
To the students as they march. (Tabios)

Here, Eileen R. Tabios uses tanka to allude to a 2018 United States gun violence protest.  Likewise, she uses tanka to refer to the Marvel universe.  Tabios illustrates that modernity and tradition can interweave and hold hands.  Her innovative approach to tanka is present in both content and style.  In particular, Tabios introduces readers to her experimental tankas, including the “ducktail tanka” and the hay(na)ku.  Her inventive tankas corroborate the fluidity of poetry while maintaining structure.  These dualities between fluidity and structure, and past and present show that a deep connection between contrasting forces can generate new meaning, development, and understandings.
In addition, the book reveals that we can find a wealth of lessons from experiences that have challenged our values or hurt us:
Portrait 72:
When things break apart
Think back how He broke bread in
Pieces to feed men;
Sometimes, it takes broken heart
To feed souls with great lessons. (Aene)

Brian Cain Aene reminds us that pain can be transformed into power.  Similar to Gutierrez and Tabios, Aene forges a connection between contrasting forces, namely the negative and the positive.  Moreover, Aene’s tankas provide a sensory experience for readers, engaging the senses with insightful portraits about complex subjects that cannot be easily defined, such as home, love, and lust.
An underlying theme in this collection of tankas is the power of connection.  The following tankas, overall, manifest a connectedness between things that are unseen, but authentic—our feelings and evocations—with the observable world in which we live.
The tankas in Evocare connected me back to my own beginnings as a poet.  I was reminded of the loneliness and despair I felt as a teenager who was bullied and my reliance on poetry as a source of comfort.  I used poetry as a means to understand my feelings and to transform all negative energy into strong, connective energy, weaving together words, symbols, feelings, and rhythms that empowered me.
Poetry projects power and can touch the soul in myriad ways.  I hope that the authors’ humble efforts in this book present you with profound mantras for living, inject you with a renewed passion for life and living, and instill within you a sense of connection to something that evokes feelings of comfort and empowerment.


Arienne L. Calingo obtained her master’s degree in International Education Policy from Harvard University, where she was the only Filipino in her graduating cohort. Prior to studying at Harvard, Arienne worked in the Philippines, Thailand, and United States, as well as competed in national pageants. She is the 1st Runner Up to Catriona Gray at Miss World Philippines 2016 and semi-finalist of Binibining Pilipinas 2017.  As an educator, Arienne has had the opportunity to teach and deliver talks about cultural diplomacy, diversity and inclusion, and international higher education around the world, including in Malaysia, South Korea, China, Thailand, South Africa, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and United States. During her free time, Arienne enjoys writing poetry and tries to write at least one haiku per day.  Her poems Until They LearnThe Drive, and Palms of Promise were featured at the ASEAN@50 Art Exhibit by the Harvard University Asia Center (October 2017). Her all-time favorite poet is E. E. Cummings, and her all-time favorite poem is “The Square Root of Three” by David Feinberg.

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