In Conversation with Two Poets, Mariko Kitakubo and Beverley George

— a special Limestone Tanka Poets event, 13th August 2011.

It was easy to understand why fifty paying guests followed the trail of balloons leading to The Gods @ Hedley Bull café at the Australian National University last Saturday at noon, 13th August, once Mariko Kitakubo rang temple bells and commenced her reading of her selected tanka in Japanese from ‘Footsteps of Basho Tour’ in collaboration with Beverley George, who read English translations by Amelia Fielden.

Candlelight reflected in the café windows as well as in the eyes of guests seated around each table and a vase of japonica hinted at spring. The initial “Footsteps” reading included poems by Beverley, translated by Mariko Kitakubo.

Audience attention deepened further as the conversation on tanka between Mariko and Beverley was underway. On behalf of Limestone Tanka Poets, Kathy Kituai, as interviewer, asked questions like, ‘Why is haiku better known in the western world than tanka?’ and ‘Given the syllabic difference between Japanese and English language, is it possible to write tanka in English?’ This was an opportunity to explore how the Japanese feel about English speaking countries’ adaptation of a genre that originated in their country, as well as to unravel the mystery and nature of tanka in all its complex simplicity.

When invited to read a favourite tanka, first Mariko, then Beverley, illustrated the depth possible in tanka if written by skilled poets with these tanka.

a boy
with skin peeling off
his entire back
still wore new shoes
not having lost them

Hiroshi Takeyama

The above poem by a Nagasaki survivor and poet was translated by Aya Yuhki

where are you woman
waving a white cloth
in my heart
I rescued you
again and again

M L Grace (Eucalypt 10, 2011)

The formal side of this special meeting closed with Mariko reading Australian tanka she had written and translated just for this event and Beverley reading some she had created in Japan, translated by Mariko.

Special thanks go to David Terelinck, Geoff Page, Lois McRae, Michael Thorley, Kate King and Liz Hess who helped with preparations on the day and we extend our appreciation to managers of The Gods, Tony and Judy, who not only opened their restaurant on a Saturday especially for this occasion, they provided us with a sumptuous lunch of soup and sandwiches.

Kathy Kituai
Founder and Facilitator of Limestone Tanka Poets