Poetry in Japanese forms in Canberra

Translator, editor and poet Amelia Fielden facilitated two significant poetry events in Canberra on Friday, October 14, and Saturday, October 15. Held at Manning Clark House, the first was an engaging launch of two poetry books in Japanese-derived verse forms, “Colouring In” (featuring tanka exchanges by Amelia herself, as well as by Gerry Jacobson, each working in collaboration with American poets); and “Poems To Wear”, a collection largely comprised by tanka – but with numerous haiku also included – exploring the theme of clothing/ apparel. The second event – held at the Australian National University – was an Australia/ Japan Tanka Workshop, where the first of two discussion sessions was led by Amelia Fielden, supported by Japanese poetry expert Noriko Tanaka and Dr. Carol Hayes (from ANU’s Japan Institute). Giving feedback on tanka strings/ sequences offered anonymously in advance, the afternoon session – likewise rewarding – was co-ordinated by Kathy Kituai, facilitator of the Limestone Poets Group.

Showcasing striking work on the theme of clothing and attire, Australian poets to read haiku from “Poems To Wear” at Manning Clark House included Greg Piko, Marietta McGregor, Beatrice Yell, Rupert Summerson and Glenys Ferguson, with haiku by Margaret Mahony and Jane Le Rossignol also read out on the poets’ behalf.

Likewise in order of appearance, other Australian poets with haiku appearing in “Poems To Wear” include Simon Hanson, Mark Miller, Gail Hennessy, Teresa Ingram, Scott Thouard, Jeffrey Harpeng, Vanessa Proctor, Beverley George, Heather Gordon, Ramah Juta, Samantha Sirimanne Hyde, Lyn Reeves, Bett Angel-Stawarz, Lynette Arden and Kate King.

Readings of a wide range of tanka proved to be another genuine highlight of this Friday night launch, featuring work from various Australian poets – including Anne Benjamin, Barbara Curnow, Hazel Hall, Marilyn Humbert, Kathy Kituai and Carmel Summers – that were thought-provoking and resonant, emotive and amusing, as celebrated by Carol Hayes in her lively speech to launch “Poems To Wear”.

Earlier, Canberra poet P. S. Cottier had launched “Colouring In” on behalf of Amelia Fielden and Gerry Jacobson, who then read engaging tanka sequences in interchange.

Rupert Summerson helped set the mood by leading a series of musical presentations throughout the launch, playing his shakuhachi  (a Japanese end-blown flute made from bamboo), supported by piano and a Western style-flute.

Japanese poet and literary expert Noriko Tanaka provided a further highlight for the launch evening by wearing her kimono, complete with obi sash.

The next day – at the Australian National University – Noriko offered fascinating insights into Japanese culture, focusing on questions of clothing, particularly in a traditional context. Supported by Carol Hayes as an interpreter, Noriko developed themes already explored in her intriguing commentaries about Japanese verse featured in the first half of “Poems To Wear”. This analysis complemented discussion led by Amelia Fielden concerning questions she had faced in translating this body of work, supported by Saeko Ogi not only in the process of rendering such verse into English, but also during discussion itself at ANU.

Issues attached to translation were topical, given that Saturday morning’s seminar session was underpinned by responses – prepared in advance by participants, by arrangement – to various tanka written by well-known Japanese poets, and nominated by Amelia herself, as featured in “Poems To Wear”.

After a Japanese luncheon generously provided through the Japan Institute, Kathy Kituai led another valuable discussion, this time providing blind critiques/ feedback on sequences/ strings/ interchanges of tanka on the themes of clothing, colours and spring (again, as offered by various seminar participants in advance).

Both the Friday night book launch and the Saturday tanka seminar were rewarding experiences, increasing understanding about Japanese poetry, language, culture, clothing and music, in ways that were engaging, instructive and inspiring, while also promoting a sense of fellowship between Australian poets dedicated to writing in Japanese-based verse forms. Thanks and congratulations to everyone involved.

Rodney Williams