Philadelphia poet Dawn Manning brings a historic influence to her writing in Postcards from the Dead Letter Office, using a form of Japanese lyric poetry called the Tanka to create quick, hard-hitting poems that float on the tongue and leave lasting images on small pieces of page. In an engrossing debut, Manning weaves snippets of time and space into beautiful encounters with people, places, and experiences.
Nothing appears to be more than what it is, yet each poem contains multitudes more than what it first suggests. In [spring tanka], ideas of the season encompass rebirth and cleaning house, simply enough at first with the image of a newborn child (“the husks / of their eyes must split open / to pull in the world”) then more deeply (“spring winds sweep goslings / like loose lint / from under their mother’s downy skirt – I only / throw out most of your old things”); and in a beat the reader is pulled from the clear surface to the foggy, deeper meaning within, swept gently enough to make the discovery an inviting and mysterious part of the poem.
Manning continues this theme of subtle, powerful imagery through Oranges in Winter, where the thoughtful description of fruit so elegantly gives way to the silent destruction of two people that it hits us right in the chest: “and we carry bitterness / in our skins like the Clementines / we peel together, carefully / pulling up the veins / with the rind.” The quiet thoughtfulness of each poem before and after this one leaves the reader with something to consider long after they’ve closed the book.
From a simple observation of everyday Venice life in [Venetian tanka] (“pastel laundry / strung between windowsills / prayer flags and flypaper / for photographers / on the tourist’s pilgrimage), to the innocent discovery of a deceased cat by a group of children out for a bike ride in Hit, Run (“We keep vigil from our bicycles / as life scurries back into the cat, / ant by ant.”), Dawn Manning manages to dig deeper into the seemingly monotone ways we are connected to bring the reader the discovery of something that may just have them pausing an extra moment to soak in the world.