Notes from a Tanka Diary
By Harryette Mullen
(Graywolf Press, Paperback, 9781555976569, 120pp.)
Publication Date: November 5, 2013
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“Harryette Mullen is a magician of words, phrases, and songs . . . No voice in contemporary poetry is quite as original, cosmopolitan, witty, and tragic.” —Susan Stewart, citation for the Academy of American Poets Fellowship
Urban tumbleweed, some people call it,
discarded plastic bag we see in every city
blown down the street with vagrant wind.
—from Urban Tumbleweed
Urban Tumbleweed is the poet Harryette Mullen’s exploration of spaces where the city and the natural world collide. Written out of a daily practice of walking, Mullen’s stanzas adapt the traditional Japanese tanka, a poetic form suited for recording fleeting impressions, describing environmental transitions, and contemplating the human being’s place in the natural world. But, as she writes in her preface, “What is natural about being human? What to make of a city dweller taking a ‘nature walk’ in a public park while listening to a podcast with ear-bud headphones?”
Harryette Mullen is the author of seven books, including Recyclopedia and Sleeping with the Dictionary. She teaches in the English department and African American Studies program at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Praise for Urban Tumbleweed: "A gorgeous book. . . . The tankas are delightful because they evoke the jubilation of discovery that the practice of seeing and then finding language to give life to what one sees is like, the very core of what poetry can do. . . . Mullen brings her love of form and syntax to a rhetorical intersection with the transitory natural world in an exciting portrayal of postmodern ecology, an ambitious and subtle work." —NPR “Mullen is a walker, and in many ways, this is a walker's diary, a record of her interactions with the city at the level of its streets. But even more, it is a portrait of her mind in the act of reflection, sharply observed and deeply felt.” —David Ulin, Los Angeles Times, “Top Books for Fall” "Tanka after tanka, [Mullen] illustrates the landscape with brevity, humor and crisp detail. . . . Mullen is a magician. . . . The book is an instant classic." —KCET LA Letters "The pleasure in reading this minor masterpiece from one of America's best poets comes from its invitation to contemplate, to actually see and feel all the small delights of the world of which we are so often unaware. This book makes us envy the opportunity for introspection that it delivers, and it has the power to reinvigorate our relationship with the world outside our windows." —Coldfront,
"Top 40 Poetry Books of 2013" Praise for Harryette Mullen: "Harryette Mullen's influences have ranged from language poetry to the rhythms and playfulness of the black vernacular. . . . Suffused with both politics and literary theory, Mullen's language refuses to be weighed down by either." —The New York Times Book Review "Harryette Mullen is a magician of words, phrases, and songs. . . . No voice in contemporary poetry is quite as original, cosmopolitan, witty, and tragic." —Susan Stewart, citation for the Academy of American Poets Fellowship “[Mullen’s poetry is] brilliant and enigmatic, familiar and subversive. Like jewels, her poems are multifaceted and shoot off lights. Mullen uses the techniques of sound association, innuendo, and signifying, and in this way makes the reader alert to the cunning of the English language.” —Jackson Poetry Prize judges’ citation