An invitation to perform with a Japanese-style drumming group inspired Oz Hardwick and Amina Alyal to look East for their latest book of poems. STEPHEN LEWIS reports

THE links between poetry and drumming – rhythm, tempo, expressiveness – are pretty obvious.

But what when that drumming is Japanese?

York poet Oz Hardwick was intrigued when he was invited, a few years ago, to write poetry to accompany the York-based Kaminari drumming ensemble.

Kaminari drumming is energetic, dynamic and theatrical – and it incorporates traditional Japanese rhythms.

So it was natural that Oz, a professor of English at Leeds Trinity University, should turn to traditional Japanese poetry when he began to think about words to accompany the sounds.

He teamed up with his English department colleague Amina Alyal, and between them they wrote a series of poems based on Japanese five-line tanka poetry – but blending it with references to medieval English poetry and the cosmology which are Amina’s passions.

Now, after performing the poems widely in public with Kaminari, the pair have published a selection in a new book, Close As Second Skins.

Tanka poems are very enigmatic, says Oz. “They suggest more than they describe.”

That is certainly true of Oz and Amina’s work.

The title poem seems to be about separation and isolation.

But it also deals with parallel universes and the closeness that, at a different level, may bind everything together.

It is the kind of poem you can lose yourself in:

“Two planes streak apart
“leaving robust plumes fading
“you are miles away
“but there are universes
“close to us as second skins.”

Or how about this, from a poem entitled Poles Apart:

“Far on lonely roads
“he watches birds flying home
“north south east or west
“all roads stretch long beneath clouds
“all journeys last a lifetime.”

There are just 29 short poems in this collection. But give them the time and the space in your mind that they deserve, and you’ll be richly rewarded.

• Close As Second Skins by Amina Alyal and Oz Hardwick is published by Indigo, priced £6. The book has been shortlisted in the Best Collaborative Work category of this year’s Saboteur Awards.