Report on Bowerbird Tanka Workshop #11 – 23 February 2014

Bowerbirds drifted down to Beverley George’s home at Pearl Beach on a perfect summer day to share everything tanka. Beverley’s trademark hospitality was much appreciated. The effort made by those who arrived from as far away as Geelong, Canberra and Bathurst as well as the continuing support from the group as a whole was acknowledged by Beverley. Those who could not attend were remembered and missed.As usual we started with appraisals of a favourite tanka, this time presented by Jan Foster, Carole Harrison and Kent Robinson. Each appraisal provided unexpected insights and left us with much to reflect on.

We then read aloud a favourite tanka that had meaning for each of us. Tanka were selected from the work of Izumi Shikibu and contributors to Eucalypt and other tanka journals. No commentary after the reading. Each tanka allowed to stand by itself.

Kathy Kituai’s workshop “Where the poem begins” drew on the work of Natalie Goldberg. We were prompted to find different ways to start a poem. Kathy reminded us, “Don’t go looking for it; let it come to you.” Our gaze turned to objects inside as well as outdoors. Each letter of the alphabet was allocated to the naming of an object. We connected objects with shapes and colours. We noticed how we felt during this exercise (eg. tense, peaceful) and where shadow and light fell. Allowing the writing process to ‘feed’ us in this way helps us on the journey. When we become meditative or mindful during the practice it helps to elicit an emotion in the reader.

Inspired by the rengay session at the last Bowerbird workshop Anne and Yvonne were given an opportunity to read out two of their first attempts at the form: “Jigsaw Sky” and “Quiver of Bottlebrush”. They talked about how it all started, how they work together and what they enjoy about the process. Both appreciated the positive and generous feedback.

The ways in which tanka can ‘work’ with other art forms was explored in Dawn Bruce’s workshop “Tesselating Tanka”. Verses from the Tao Te Ching (trans. Ralph Allan Dale) inspired us to look for “the hollow within”, “the inner space” – beyond what you see. We looked at common elements of both surrealist art (images of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo) and tanka (abstract themes used by Japanese tanka poet Kozue Uzawa). Both surrealist art and tanka evoke images “beyond the everyday”, images that may not strike the viewer/reader at first. We changed the tone of a tanka by re-writing the last two lines to give an opposite meaning. Using abstract words we practiced describing how artwork inspires or speaks to us.

Delegates from other tanka groups reported a growing interest in tanka among mainstream poets and writers. Kathy Kituai and Lizz Murphy are presenting a program called “No Small Thing” at the Dixon Library in Canberra this winter to promote tanka in the wider poetry and prose community. Breathstream members Ken, Lorraine and Jan, took tanka to a local prose group, Scribes Writers, in the form of a workshop entitled Tightening Your Writing, to show the value of using metaphor and imagery, the essence of tanka, in other writing genres, how five simple lines can tell a whole story. Beverley George was invited to speak about the tanka component of Angela Johnson’s new book of free verse, ‘Endlessly Passing’, at a well- attended launch at Pearl Beach Village Hall on the day previous to Bowerbird. Beverley also commented that the Sydney launch of 100 tanka by 100 Poets from Australia and New Zealand, which she co-edited with Amelia Fielden and Patricia Prime, was very successfully launched by mainstream poet and author and Australia Day ambassador, Libby Hathorn at Hornsby Library on February 16th.

Some delegates brought along recent tanka publications; Limestone poets had enjoyed a retreat; Tanka Huddle has re-grouped with dynamism. Once again, it was a satisfying and inspiring day.

Yvonne Hales