Report on Bowerbird Workshop #10

Saturday 19 October 2013, Pearl Beach, NSW, Australia

by David Terelinck

‘Wirraminna’, the home of Bowerbird Tanka, saw the 10th convocation of this immensely popular twice-yearly workshop. Gracious as always, Beverley George opened her home to poets from Sydney, Canberra, Bathurst and the central coast region on Saturday 19 October 2013.

It was a smaller group than usual; ten in total. This was unusual as numbers often creep into the low to mid-twenties. However the impact of the NSW fire situation meant several people were unable to attend on the day. We wish them well as fires continue to rage out of control and threaten the homes and safety of many people.

The intimate atmosphere of a smaller group was enjoyed by everyone, and it allowed tanka poets present more time to ask questions. It also meant those attending could be more closely involved in the discussions and activities arising during the course of the day.

The day commenced with a segment that everyone who has been to Bowerbird knows and loves. It is where Beverley has asked three people, in advance, to prepare a critique or discussion on a favourite tanka by a poet they have never met. This session continues to be informative and insightful and really sets the scene for the quality day ahead. The critiques are thoughtful, carefully prepared, and take us deep inside tanka that are strong, resonant and have lasting impact.

Jan Dean was unable to be with us, but had emailed her prepared talk. Her critique of Yosano Akiko’s tanka was read out to the group by Yvonne Hales.

Gently, I open
the doors to eternal
mystery, the flowers
of my breasts cupped,
offered with both my hands

Next was Dy Andreasen giving us her appreciation of the following tanka by Claire Everett.

cold water
and chrysanthemum petals
our ‘tea for two’
the cup of memory
i can barely hold

David Terelinck rounded off this session by explaining why the following tanka by Susan Constable will remain with him for all time:

a large bruise
deep inside the mango
the way you turned away
when I needed you most

Common to all assessments are the rich layers within all poems, the strength of the structure, the dreaming room, the skilful building of the poem, and the multiple interpretations that each tanka can offer. They were all seen as excellent examples of tanka that are well constructed, ring true with each reading, are lyrical with clear imagery, and have the power to linger long after the words have drifted away. All critiques will be available on the Eucalypt website and make excellent reading in showing why a particular tanka has meaning for an individual. Visit for all Favourite Tanka assessments to date and additional information on Bowerbird Tanka Workshops and the Australian tanka journal Eucalypt.

The next session has also become a standing, but by no means standard, agenda item that is loved by everyone who attends. Every person brings a tanka to read aloud that has meaning for them. There is no commentary on the poem, either by reader or audience. This space is simply about experiencing the spoken poem and total immersion in the magic of the tanka and the moment. On the day we had readings of tanka from contemporary poets, some who have attended Bowerbird workshops in the past, and tanka of the court poets such as Izumi Shikibu and Ono No Komachi. A true moment of tanka beauty for all.

Unfortunately Kathy Kituai could not be with us at short notice as a result of the fire emergency. As such her workshop onWhere the Poem Begins has been postponed to the February 2014 meeting. Beverley George and David Terelinck adroitly stepped into the breach and pulled a rabbit out of the hat with a workshop on link & shift in response poetry, specifically related to rengay.

Beverley and David outlined the history of rengay and the development of the form. They spoke about the importance of linking and shifting within the verses to create progression and retain reader interest. They gave examples of judging comments in relation to rengay and discussed what makes an award-winning rengay in terms of theme and construction.

Following this the attendees then paired up to write rengay themselves. An hour was allocated for poets to work in their pairs and explore the joy and satisfaction in the creativity of this short collaborative form. Only a handful of people present had written rengay before. But you would never know this when the writers came together after sixty minutes to share their works. Each pair had created a vibrant piece of writing, many with unexpected twists, imagery and lyrical turns of phrase.

All the pieces read out displayed great strength in the skill of link and shift to progress the poem. Without a doubt many of these rengay will go on to be published, and perhaps even win awards themselves. Each of the people involved expressed how much enjoyment they had in attempting this genre, and their desire to pursue it with their writing partner in later email exchanges.

Beverley then presented a short challenge in the form of a crossword puzzle. There were many creased foreheads and perplexed faces as everyone worked through her clues . . . all of which were relevant to the Bowerbird workshops. It was a lot of fun, and a little cerebral stimulation, before we broke for lunch.

Following lunch the group were well fortified for a fascinating workshop facilitated by Anne Benjamin entitled Tanka and the Sacred. In this session Anne explored tanka as a poetic form where there is engagement with the profoundly human and how this dovetails into the realm of the sacred. Writing about sacred space and events is not necessarily about specific religions, and is not about moralising. It is an exploration of the depth of humanity and finding the sacred within the everyday moments of our lives.

The sacred in tanka can deal with “the essence of life” and the elements of mystery. It taps into that deep inner part of what makes us human; what causes us to exist. Anne showed us that there are different kinds of touching the sacred from reverence to nature and awe of the natural world to formal religious writing, poems of grief and the human condition, and poetry of acceptance and transcendence. The sacred within tanka is often a journey and a pilgrimage towards acceptance and understanding of the human place in the world and the universe.

Writing about the sacred in tanka is not just about “being there”, but more about being “present in the moment” and the space where person, experience, emotion and nature come together. It is a conscious contemplation and a thirst to understand. Anne identified many themes common to the “literature of spirituality” be that tanka or other forms. And these were abundant in the many fine examples that Anne shared with the group. It is evident that the sacred within tanka has been with us for centuries from the times of the Court poets to today.

It is clear that in our search for meaning and to understand our existence in the universe, tanka is still an important vehicle for poets to express the journey of their discovery of the sacred. Out thanks to Anne for the engaging and highly interesting workshop, and for the detailed hand-out notes she prepared for the group.

The day concluded with a wrap-up of news and events from the various Australian tanka groups across the south-east of the country in NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

Once again Bowerbird was a tremendous success and everyone appreciated the ability to come together to share, collaborate, learn and revel in the joy of tanka.

Plans are afoot for Bowerbird Tanka Workshop #14 to meet at ‘Wirraminna’ in February 2014. There will be a cut-off of 16 people, so please place your expression of interest early with Beverley George. When 16 is reached the list will be closed and other names will go on a cancellation list.
David Terelinck

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