By Margaret Van Every
Librophilia 2010  150 pesos
Review by Karen McConnaughey


pillowJim Tipton says in his introduction to Margaret Van Every’s delightful book of poems, “Those of us who love poetry have something else to celebrate this year… Margaret’s…collection of tanka, A Pillow Stuffed with Diamonds, [is] a remarkable collection of short poems that…celebrate life in Mexico.” I couldn’t agree more as I savor Margaret’s love for Mexico in every delicious and delectable piece of poetry.

This book pays poetic homage to life in Mexico, with all its beauty, love and romance, celebration of death, longing, joy, fun, laughter, music, incongruities, and even some warts. It doesn’t color everything rosy, but at the end you heave a sigh of contentment because…wow…you live in Mexico!

To appreciate the experience, you must read Tipton’s introduction describing what tanka (sing. and pl.) is. Though it dates back 1400 years, it’s a new art form for me. It has been described as the “grandmother of haiku.” The tanka form used throughout the book is a five-line, untitled, unrhymed poem that evokes a single moment with vivid precision and emotional truth. Those of us who live in Mexico can start relating to the fit of tanka to subject from the very first example:

Crossing this frontier,

hearts pound, palms sweat.

We dread we’ll get the red light,

strangers will unlock our bags,

rifle through our secrets.

Who among us cannot appreciate this moment in time, and wonder at Margaret’s ability to express the whole experience in one tiny five-line poem? From those who never liked poetry before to those who find the internal rhythm of tanka exhilarating, this book is a feast that teaches you there is much to be gained by paying careful attention to everyday objects and events. For instance:

The open window

admits the mixed aroma

of jasmine and skunk,

inseparable fusion

in the night air, in our bed.

Margaret’s poetry delights in word play and sometimes titillates the reader with double entendre. Who would think that the phrase “your music is insincere foreplay,” would be addressing a mosquito or “her blossom spent by dawn” not refer to a night of passionate romance--unconventional images that have you back-tracking to fully grasp the picture that has formed in your mind.

Margaret’s tanka are beautifully illustrated by Robert Burke’s superb graphics suggesting ancient Aztec stone rubbings. This book is simply a work of art that should be read and enjoyed by anyone living in Mexico, and especially by those in the Lake Chapala area who can easily visualize the person and place in “Her bright rugs hung high lure tourists on the beach.” In many of her poems, you will recognize local people and events. She has a talent for making the reader pause and think about this unique area we choose to call home.

If you like well-written poetry and delight in the richness and diversity of Mexico, I highly recommend A Pillow Stuffed with Diamonds by Margaret Van Every. You won’t be disappointed. And I guarantee, after reading it you will find yourself ‘thinking in tanka’ as you go about your day of ordinary tasks.

The book is available at Diane Pearl Colecciones, Galeria di Paola, Lake Chapala Society, Change of Pace, and Coffee & Bagels. A dramatic reading followed by a book signing will take place at Sol y Luna Little Theatre on June 8, 4:30 p.m. All are cordially invited.

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