An interview with Jodie Hawthorne

JODIE HAWTHORNE has a new haiku book WATCHING PILGRIMS, WATCHING ME, published by Pardalote Press. It was launched in Tasmania. Kaye Aldenhoven had an opportunity to talk to Jodie in Darwin, as she waits for the birth of her child, before returning to China.

Kaye: I enjoyed reading your newly launched book of haiku. I admire this village image:

where children play
the words of Mao

How did you come to write haiku?

Jodie: I remember writing haiku in primary school; year 5 or 6. At that time it was part of the school curriculum and we wrote it according to syllable count, which is perhaps not the best way but helps children to write to form.
I remember the haiku were hung from the school ceiling on coloured cards and I was very proud as the teacher made a special remark about my haiku in front of the class. I never forgot the experience and a whole 18 years later (year 2002) while I was staying in Melbourne with a friend haiku entered my life again.
My girl friend was asked to teach a practical writing class to an adult group but couldn’t think of any writing form that she could cover in 3 one hour sessions. I asked her if she had heard of haiku. She hadn’t, but was inspired by my brief description and raced off to the library to find some reference books. I read through the books as well to refresh my memory, learning more about haiku and its history, form etc. and began to compose some.

Kaye: What influences your haiku?

Jodie: Honesty and beauty are the main influences in my work. I try to tell things as they are, but at the same time I look for beauty within the rawness of life’s moments. Life is a constant journey, full of challenging experiences. It is when we face these challenges and accept them with honesty and grace we are able to grow and work our way through the units or courses of life; like completing a Diploma.

Kaye: I liked the images; for an Australian your haiku have very exotic contexts. Can you talk about how Shangri-la inspired you?

Jodie: As an “outsider”, China is a very hard country to live in. It is especially hard to live peacefully in a large Chinese city; I spent 5 years in Kunming, Yunnan before moving to the Tibetan Prefecture of Deqen. I moved up there because on my visits to Shangri-la County I felt the local people (Tibetans and other ethnic minorities) understood and accepted me in a way that I had never experienced in Kunming. Possibly the reason for this is that they too (ethnic minorities) have always been treated as being different and not as cultured as the Han Chinese?
Other inspiration came from the climate and landscape of the region. Deqen is one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived in, apart from my home state of Tasmania. Tibetan villages, wild rivers (Yangtze, Mekong and Salween), the holy mountains, grasslands and the mindset of simple people that live sustainably was what opened my heart and brought about my collection of haiku.

Kaye: Your book is a beautiful production. Please tell me about the design.

Jodie: The cover photo and the drawings were done by my best friend Anna Xue Yang, a fellow Australian. Anna and I met in Kunming. After I moved to Shangri-la she would often visit and she also fell in love with the place. Her drawings were done from images she collected on her trips to Shangri-la and at Makye Ame Tibetan Cultural Palace, a restaurant in Kunming.

Kaye: You dedicate the book to your true self. What does this mean to you?

Jodie: My childhood was not a very supportive or loving one, lacking completely in encouragement and I was constantly criticised. I always felt the need to prove myself as deserving of love as a young girl and then into adulthood. Moving to Shangri-la and writing Haiku changed my life completely. In Shangri-la I discovered my true self. I lost my insecurity and shyness and became myself. I sang, I laughed a lot, I cried a lot, I found myself, my soul had healed. The Tibetans allowed me to do that and I am forever indebted to them for showing me the way back to my true self.

Haiku is a poetry form that really opens one’s senses. This is possible because haiku focuses on each moment, the simplicity, the rawness, the truth. You can’t hide when you live each moment as it is. You just have to experience life and accept things as they are.

Meeting Lyn Reeves through the NT Writers’ Centre Festival and sharing my haiku with her was confirmation that my words were heard and understood. I was understood. My true self was validated through Lyn’s interest in my work and her offer to publish this collection.

Kaye: You said that haiku is a good way to cross to understanding of another culture. How?

Jodie: When we experience or live with different cultures we have two choices. We can be judgmental and fight with ideals, or we can be open-hearted, consider acceptance and learn new ways of being. Writing haiku in new environments helps this process considerably as we focus without judgment on the beauty of what is.

Kaye: I like this image but don’t have an understanding of its symbolism.

red barley
a ration of three
in each palm

When the Dalai Lama has public meetings in India he offers small handfuls of red coloured blessed barley seeds to his followers. The Tibetans often bring these back to Tibet as gifts for family and friends. It is a great honour to receive them. The custom is to swallow 3. I have been lucky to receive them on special occasions and I have a packet in my purse that I offer to friends who are sick or in need of support.

WATCHING PILGRIMS WATCHING ME: haiku from Shangri-la Deqen Tibetan Region, by Jodie Hawthorne is published by Pardalote Press.

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