A Metaphor and a Milestone

The upstairs room of The Children’s Bookshop at Beecroft was filled to capacity on Saturday 28 May with an appreciative audience attending back-to-back afternoon events celebrating collaborative poetry and the tanka form.

In the first event Vanessa Proctor, President of the Australian Haiku Society, launched A Shared Umbrella. This joint project by Beverley George and David Terelinck is a collection of ten tanka sequences and thirteen rengay written over several years of collaboration.

Vanessa elaborated on the title metaphor, illustrated so enchantingly on the book cover by South African artist Tumi K. Steyn.  The cover, in a pleasing shade of gold with autumnal notes, features a traditional Japanese umbrella, or wagasa. To quote Vanessa:

“To share such an umbrella with someone, you need to stand close in order to be able to share the space together, to walk in step.  That walking in step is an art which Beverley and David have mastered beautifully.”

Vanessa reminded us that Japanese poets have been composing renga for nearly a thousand years, and stressed the value of collaborative writing as a way to create community amongst writers with “unseen threads that bind us”. Beverley and David read a sequence of linked verses from the book, demonstrating the intimate poetic conversation they have developed over time, in two distinct yet highly compatible voices.

The graphic design work of Matthew George in producing the book was gratefully acknowledged by the poets. Themes in the book were highlighted, the overwhelming emphasis being on the “transformative alchemy” of collaboration and a unique tone elicited by underlying trust and friendship. Beverley and David ended this segment of the afternoon by reading the poem containing the verse that provides the metaphor of the book title:

a shared umbrella
our fingers tracing lines
on the same map

A short intermission allowed for book purchases and networking.

In the second event Michael Thorley, a distinguished poet whose long-standing sensitive practice of the form is evidenced by publishing poems in every issue of Eucalypt: a tanka journal, took the podium to celebrate the release of Issue 20, the culmination of ten years dedicated work and expert editing by Beverley George.

Michael entertained us with a long list of diverse visual images employed by tanka poets throughout the history of the journal:

“a great flock of birds – geese, crows, spoonbills, ducklings, kookaburras, jacanas, owls, herons, magpies, cormorants and finches; herds of animals and insects – tortoises, crickets, caterpillars, bats, lizards and horses;  a varied garden of flowers – dandelions, paper barks, rose petals, sunflowers, lichen,  cherry blossoms… catacombs, cobblestones and coffins, rugby and rowboats, bats, surf, creeks, drummers, photos, fingerprints, waltzes, rowboats, pyjamas and nighties, pearls and pianos, and polliwogs and poppy petals.”

In pondering the essential qualities of tanka, Michael quoted British writer Paul Johnson:

“…[poetry] must contain or rather express a thought: a real thought, whole and entire, not necessarily weighty. The thought must be true, and recognised as such – welcomed as such – by the reader. It must be true but it must also be either significant, or blessed and gentle, or poignant, or beautiful or sublime.” [i]

Michael congratulated Beverley on maintaining a high standard of poems in Eucalypt. Also acknowledged were the professional design of the journal by Matthew George, original illustrations by Pim Sarti and consistently high production values that have worked together with Beverley’s editing prowess to create a tanka journal of the highest calibre.

The afternoon concluded with an enjoyable tanka reading from a number of poets, both local and inter-state, who read selected poems from past issues with accompanying musical notes by Hazel Hall on a Japanese hamon. The receptivity of the audience and the personal responses to each poem aptly demonstrated Vanessa Proctor’s earlier remark that the “deep-seated need for connection with others is as important today as it ever was.” The ability of tanka writing to draw people together is remarkable and valuable.

A publication milestone deserving of celebration and an encompassing metaphor under which to unite the tanka community on a rainy Sydney afternoon.

Julie Thorndyke

[i] Johnson, Paul. “What makes a poem?” The Spectator, May 19 2001 p.28. http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/19th-may-2001/28/what-makes-a-poem-and-what-all-poets-must-know


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