Bowerbird Tanka Workshop #12 – 23rd November 2014

Members of the Bowerbird tanka group gathered for their twelfth workshop at Beverley George’s home in Pearl Beach, NSW, on 23 November, 2014.

Bowerbirds arrived at their Pearl Beach meeting place in twos and threes with smiles and good spirits. Hot summer temperatures (35°C) were tempered by the cool and relaxed surroundings at Beverley George’s home where once again we all appreciated her generous hospitality. All heralded a relaxed yet lively meeting. Conversations rose and fell as Bowerbird friends settled after their long journeys. Beverley welcomed all delegates including those who had travelled great distances (Geelong, Tamworth, Bathurst, Canberra and Sydney) and those who had recently visited Japan together. Absent Bowerbirds were remembered and missed, particularly Carmel Summers who remained in our thoughts that day.

Cynthia Rowe, Sylvia Florin and ML Grace each selected a favourite tanka of theirs; a time for us to share in other poets’ work from around the world. Their appraisals are on the Eucalypt website under Bowerbird.

Each of us read aloud a tanka that had meaning for us. The aim was to immerse ourselves, without analysis, in sharing resonant tanka read in the different voices of our tanka friends and fellow writers. Without any sound or commentary accompanying the recital the tanka stands by itself and lingers.

The morning workshop presented by Marilyn Humbert took us through ‘The Essence of Tanka Prose’. This form first appeared in The Tales of Ise (translated by H. Jay Harris, published in 1972). It is a collection of waka and other narratives and is thought to have been compiled and published in Japan in the 9th or 10th century. Tanka prose is still in its infancy in the West. Some of the earliest tanka prose was written by Sanford Goldstein and published in 1983. A feature of this style is the different ways in which the two forms (tanka and prose) can be combined. There are no rules for writing tanka prose. Rather, the guidelines that Marilyn outlined provide the writer with freedom to express thoughts. We read and discussed various styles of tanka prose from The Tales of Ise to the present day. Each example highlighted the freedom offered by this form regarding structure, subject matter, expression, rhythm and flow.

The work of Izumi Shikibu and Ono no Komachi published in The Ink Dark Moon (translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani, Vintage 1990) was familiar to all of us. In the afternoon Michael Thorley asked us to consider what makes their tanka so energetic and vital today? Why do we read and re-read their poems? Their lives and emotions were portrayed with honesty. Yet once you begin to intellectualize the energy goes away. They are spontaneous and natural. Straight to the point. The universality and timelessness of their writing is appealing. Their poems are very personal – written about ‘I’ and ‘you’. They wrote about love, loss and longing – the same difficulties, events and sensualities present in our own lives – they are psychologically true. Many of their tanka contain rhetorical questions – why? how? Most of them draw upon images from the natural world. If we took the first line of one of their tanka and wrote the next four ourselves, what would it look like?

David Terelinck wrapped up the day by highlighting the quality of the work presented and discussed throughout the sessions – writing characterized by no padding, “show don’t tell”, poems that turned on images from nature. It is the poet who teases out the commonality each one of us has with nature, with life around us and with other people.

The day flowed with gentle ease. Hot weather does not deter the Bowerbirds who, as always, bring laughter and friendship to share.

Yvonne Hales

N.B. Under Bowerbird, this piece can also be found on the Eucalypt website:
www.eucalypt.info