Tancho   (September 2014)

By J. David Cummings

ISBN: 978-0-912592-78-7

Winner of the 2014 Richard Snyder Memorial Book Prize, selected by Alicia Ostriker

Available from:  Ashland BookstoreAmazon

Praise for Tancho by J. David Cummings:

Tancho is a book that needed to be written and needs to be read. Its account of terrible beauty is itself beautiful, speaking of "hope and despair, the promise of each to other." Nagasaki, Hiroshima, "ruined human beings," a peace park, a sounding bell, a thousand paper cranes. Does the arc of history bend toward hope? One of the many haunting poems in this book describes the body of a boy in one of Yamahata-san's photographs of Nagasaki after the bomb, and concludes with a haiku:

      There are butterflies
warming in broken sunlight
      wake up, child, wake up.

Perhaps we all humanity are that child.

—Alicia Ostriker, final judge of the Richard Snyder Publication Prize


Perhaps we can never take adequate spiritual and moral measure of the first use of atomic weapons at the end of World War II, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying. J. David Cummings' TANCHO is a book of what he calls 'fierce remembering,' and I would add that these poems are also a fierce imagining of that world-historical event and its long aftermath. A former nuclear scientist himself, Cummings journeys to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in both Japanese and English poetic forms, he takes us with him in a sustained meditation on the most bewildering of human sufferings. Like Sadako-san's colorful, folded paper cranes, these poems present us with a deeply moving and much-needed prayer for peace.

—Fred Marchant

"This impressive and moving collection rings with the 'terrible beauty' Yeats wrote about. David Cummings Tancho is a work of conscience whose language, like the red-crown crane of the title, flies through the darkest night, with the wind of grace at its back."

—Elizabeth Biller Chapman, author of Light Thickens (Ashland Poetry Press)


"These are careful poems, full of care. These poems remind us how (and why) we must observe devastations from which we might otherwise turn away. These are graceful poems, full of grace. I am grateful for the scope of their vision."

—Camille Dungy, author of Smith Blue (Southern Illinois University Press)

About the Author

J. David Cummings was employed as a theoretical physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for more than ten years. He resigned his position in 1973 out of the conviction that he could no longer work in nuclear weapons development, and never returned to defense work or physics research. In the early 90s he traveled to Japan, which afforded him the opportunity to visit the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park. Later, meditating on his experience at the Park, and in response to the controversy over a planned Smithsonian Institution exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he began the nearly two-decade project of writing the poems that culminated in his book, TANCHO (Ashland Poetry Press, 2014).

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