Robin Anna Smith’s Alchemy

dusk gathers
with the alchemy
of ravens . . .
alone, in a clearing
my heart picked clean

Robin Anna Smith (USA)
UHTS Fleeting Words Tanka Contest 2019, First Place

There are a few short poems that inspire me deeply due to their brevity and brilliance. The beauty and the dimensions of our imagination are endless as one can grasp the attention of anyone through its majestic power and subtlety. This poem is one of them.

I loved the opening line of this wonderful tanka that pauses my thoughts and lets me feel the colours and the hues of dusk that tickle my slumberous senses to fully grasp the overall picture of that dusk.

The second and third lines, ‘with the alchemy/of ravens . . .’, is beautifully embedded in this dynamic poem and this may be the crux of the whole theme of this tanka. The word ‘alchemy’ depicts the magical power of the dark that purifies our thoughts and heart through contemplation and maybe through meditation. Ravens here depict the sign of intellect that pass through the trials of time before getting into proper shape. This is the experience of wholeness where a person walks alone in this journey as it varies from individual to individual. This highest level of personal experience also touches the spiritual boundaries where a person wants peace at heart, which is the ultimate goal of life. This only comes through the self-awareness that is reflecting very clearly in this tanka and brings one’s thoughts and feelings together to enjoy the subtle experience of wholeness.

Looking at the technicalities, the ellipsis placed after the word ‘ravens’ makes it significant to ponder in our day-to-day experiences before we finally get to the path of our ultimate destiny. By uniting the first and the last lines, one can understand the ultimate purpose of life.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

The power behind this tanka lies in its imagery and the connection between its two parts. Also, the poem packs in a lot of substance within five lines, while allowing the reader to imagine and fill in blanks.

I like that Robin embraces the more metaphorical and free approach to tanka that many western poets don’t delve into. Some western adherents of tanka practice it as a longer haiku and don’t utilize its more abstract and imaginative side.

Let’s break this tanka down line by line. “dusk gathers” sets the time and scene. We can feel that this poem will contemplative.

“with the alchemy” is a surprising line and makes the reader excited to see what will happen next in the tanka.

“of ravens . . .” is highly symbolic. In Native American culture, the raven is sacred and in some tribes, was the creator of the world. This could be the connection to alchemy. Also, in many cultures, ravens are seen as mystical creatures that are either seers, magical beings, or harbingers of something to come. The ellipsis makes the clear sign of this part of the tanka ending and shows that this process of alchemy and dusk gathering is gradual.

“alone, in a clearing” is concise but delivers substantial symbolism with the clearing being like the poet’s sense of being alone. The comma puts more emphasis on the word “alone” and allows the reader to feel it more.

With “my heart picked clean”, Robin does not say, but as a reader, I can imagine the ravens picking the poet’s heart clean. Maybe this could be part of the alchemy mentioned earlier. Alchemy is about transformation, and the process of cleaning one’s heart can be said to be a type of metamorphosis.

In terms of the format, this tanka follows the traditional Japanese rhythm faithfully. Looking at its sound, the letter “c” is most prominent. It reminds me of the clicking of beaks. In this case, ravens’ beaks.

A tanka packed with imagery, symbolism, and feeling, it’s clear why this poem won first place in the UHTS Fleeting Words Tanka Contest.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

Raven painting– Painting by Claudelle Girard

Elancharan Gunasekaran’s Raft

raft anchored
to the full moon…
shadows dive in

Elancharan Gunasekaran (Singapore)
Published in Wales Haiku Journal, summer, 2019

Not only is the imagery striking but the way the poet plays with the senses is highly creative. The full moon, reflected on the water, appears to be anchoring the raft either by a string or a chain. This, of course, isn’t factual, but it looks this is actually taking place. This type of imagery is prevalent in haiku and was used often by the old masters, such as Basho.

In the second part, we have another play on our perception. The shadows diving into the full moon could be from anything around: plants, trees, people, animals, etc. But not everything has to be spelled out in haiku. It’s often key to allow space for the reader to imagine a scene from their own experience and ideas so that they can participate in the poem.

With these two fantastical images, the poet merges the cosmos and the earthly. They interact with each other and the distance between them is bridged. I think this connects well with the Zen concept of non-dualism.

Looking at the technical aspects of this haiku, the ellipsis slows down the pace of the scene and hints at its peacefulness. The length of the lines is in standard fashion, connecting to the rhythm of traditional Japanese haiku. In terms of sound, the most interesting part is the two “f”s in the poem. It’s a heavy letter that seems to correlate well with the weight of an anchor, as noted in the haiku.

Full of intriguing imagery and plays of perception, this haiku makes for an enjoyable and mysterious read.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

I liked the opening line of this, where there is a sense of proximity and closeness. It puts my ongoing thoughts on a halt and I start exploring my deep connection with the deep water and its mysterious shades. I feel as if my thoughts are anchored for a short while and the sea becomes a subtle ground for anchoring myself to the moon.

It sounds meditative. The full moon is another reason for this mesmerism as the moonlight takes me deep into my profound inner self and I run my imagination wild where strings of the moonlight anchor my thoughts and feelings.

The ellipsis pauses our thoughts to fully absorb the feelings and to enjoy the imagery. The last part of this haiku is a shift from light to dark which seems more like yin-yang where there are comparisons and contrasts in feelings where one can see the moonlight clearly on water due to the shadows that define its boundaries.

The overall imagery of this haiku is subtle and surreal but it’s very well crafted with a fact that there’s a very deep connection between Earth, water, and celestial bodies and one can feel this deep connection with a peaceful mind. It’s definitely beyond seeing.

In terms of sound, the letter “o” creates an uninterrupted rhythm of mystic feelings where there’s no concept of time and space but a continuous cycle of an extraordinary experience.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)


– Painting by Shoda Koho, “Moonlit Sea,” c. 1920

Goran Gatalica’s Night Loneliness

night loneliness —
a line of hoofprints
in the snow

Goran Gatalica (Croatia)
The Mainichi, 3/9/2020

In loneliness, sometimes we feel empty yet alive at the same time. I think the poet wanted to express this by showing the image of a line of hoofprints in snow. As a reader, I’m imagining fairly fresh deer prints in snow. They are impressive in their emptiness, similar to how grand a lonely night can feel. Since the haiku mentions snow, it’s safe to assume this poem refers to winter. In this season, loneliness is even more acute. Winter loneliness can feel like a stamp on the mind like a hoofprint in snow.

In terms of the structure of the haiku, it has a standard rhythm of a short first line, a longer second line, and a short third line. The dash allows readers to have more time to let the feeling of loneliness soak in, plus it associated well with the word “line.”

For sound, the most prominent letter is “i” with “night,” “loneliness,” “line,” “hoofprints,” and “in.” Tn my eyes, this succession of sounds brings about a sense of starkness that is akin to winter loneliness.

All these elements point to a haiku rooted in feeling, season, and a connection between human nature and mother nature.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

This haiku contains all the mysteries of a night that we usually imagine when sitting near a fireplace. If we dig deeper into this haiku, I find a melancholic self who is desperately looking for some dawn light.

Night loneliness depicts the winter night when nothing prevails but deep silence. I feel the loneliness symbolizes both inner and outer conditions. So, we can interrelate our loneliness with the outer world where our thoughts and feelings are in sync with the environment.

A line of hoofprints may indicate the long but slow journey of a person’s life that is more static at the moment. These hoofprints are in the snow which indicates the intangible struggle of life where we have to use extra energies to wade through tough periods of life.

In terms of sound, the letter “o” here shows the endless cycle of struggle that a person goes through to survive.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

Hoof prints

Srinivas S. Chennai’s Evening Rain

the gossip spreads
evening rain

Srinivas S. Chennai (India)

(Haiku Presence, Issue 64)

We daily come across a lot of information that’s based on the individual perceptions and understandings of various realities and experiences spread all around us. This is the era of information and news where a small expression or thought may take less than a minute to spread like a fire.

In this haiku, the gossip silently spreads all over because of the sensitivity of its nature. I may take the gossip as part of certain taboos that need to be broken. This gossip might not be accepted by the masses but still finds its place among people. This gossip may be less important before it’s being spread but becomes significant once it gets highlighted.

Evening rain is barely noticed by many as everyone is quite busy or tired due to their daily life routines. But, evening rain can subtly bother our mind or feelings. So, there is a deep connection between the sound of evening rain that is almost invisible due to the darkness and gossip that still finds it worth among people before they go to sleep.

Hifsa Ashraf (Pakistan)

I like that this haiku can be read in two ways:

“silently the gossip spreads/evening rain”


“silently the gossip spreads evening rain”

In the first way, the evening rain is being juxtaposed with gossip spreading silently. In the second version, the gossip is spreading evening rain. This is one of the joys of haiku, that a reader can pass through a haiku in various ways and arrive at myriad interpretations.

“evening rain” is not quite a kigo (seasonal reference) because every season can have evening rain in many areas of the world. However, with the poet residing in India, it might reflect the monsoon season. That’s why it’s important to know the context in which the poem is written to understand kigo.

Evening rain can be sometimes silent or loud to us. With all the events that have gone on during the day, our minds might be cluttered. With this buzzing mind, we might not be able to appreciate this sound of evening rain. However, there are times in the evening when we’re lonely and introspective when rain is a welcome sound to soothe our spirit. In this sense, “evening rain” might be either a comparison or contrast with the first part of the poem. It might also be associating each droplet as a piece of gossip.

The most prominent letter used in this haiku is “s,” and I believe there’s a reason for this. The poet might have wanted the “sss” clamor of rain reflected in the haiku. In the last line, the strong presence of “n” brings a serious tone and a sense of finality.

The structure of the haiku is standard with the rhythm of traditional Japanese haiku. The lack of punctuation gives rise to varied readings of this poem, which adds to its strength. A fine haiku written with an introspective mind.

Nicholas Klacsanzky (USA)

If you enjoyed this haiku and commentary, please leave us a comment.

Evening rain

– Night Rain at Omiya, 1930 by Kawase Hasui (1883 – 1957)