tanka from recent walks

eucalypt leaves
i search for the unblemished
realising
the beauty is in
the speckled and scarred

 

 

walking
on pink clouds
in wave washed sand
my toes encounter
the first touch of spring

 

ocean waves
roll in   roll out
give and take
as if they are the most
attentive listeners

Bowerbird tanka Workshop at Pearl beach Arboretum

Report on Bowerbird Tanka Workshop No. 21 –

by

Colleen Keating

 

Congratulations. The Bowerbird Tanka group, which convenes at Pearl Beach, has come of age. This is the 21st Tanka workshop. Thank you to Beverley for her constancy and dedication. I am a fairly newcomer but am amazed at her focus in the midst of so many other activities. 

The tanka date on our calendar is very special. And thanks to the delegates some of whom traveled from as from Tamworth, Canberra, Newcastle and Bathurst to share in the love of tanka.

Of course the drive to Pearl Beach is a journey in itself. One can notice the burdens being left behind as you drive down into its calm repose, cradled between forest and sea. When I arrived, there was already a buzz of friends meeting at Crommelin Cottage in the sanctuary of the Pearl Beach Arboretum. The tankaists so gathered were Beverley George, Michael Thorley, Carole Harrison, Beatrice Yell, Catherine Smith, Julie Thorndyke, Kent Robinson, Anne Benjamin, Dy Andreasen and Colleen Keating. Unable to attend – Marilyn Humbert, Hazel Hall, Kathy Kituai, Gail Hennessy, Samantha Hyde, Carmel Summers, Margaret Grace and Yvonne Hales .

Despite the pall of smoke that covered most of NSW,  the Arboretum continued to have its own ambience with a brush turkey that scratched through the leaf litter for its insects and bugs, mostly nearby the cottage as if it was eavesdropping on us. 

The first session on the programme – Share a favourite tanka written by someone you have never met but which had an influence on how you came to tanka. The presenters were Julie Thorndyke on a most appropriate tanka for the fire haze and acrid air we have been breathing, written by Debbie Strange, Canada.

Carole Harrison appraised a tanka by Sandi Pray [USA]

Kent Robinson appraised a tanka by Claire Everett. [UK]

Taking the time to focus on a tanka and listen to  the insights of one who has pondered on it for some time is a valuable and enriching exercise.

These sharings are available on the Eucalypt website under Bowerbird.

In the second session everyone then had the opportunity to share ‘a tanka which lingers.’ 

For this, each of us stands and shares a tanka without comment. The silence between each, is like the silence between breaths.  A moment of time to let the tanka resonate and become part of you. For me the power is like the collected wisdom of a group doubled, as we read and reflect on what another has reflected on and written.

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The next hour we were really spoilt with the presence of Tomoko Oka, a Japanese Calligraphy Artist.  Tomoko-san gave us a very gentle introduction to Calligraphy which was a practical exercise in brushing several kanji. It was an honour for all of us to be in her presence.  We all entered into the spirit of the exercise, which was centering and some of us found ourselves in a meditative state. This is one of the many arts that is done as only the Japanese know how.

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To finish off our morning, a local artist and musician Philip Rich played his guitar and sang a song he wrote and composed himself.  It was inspired by an acknowledgement to country he once heard. The refrain was ‘If you’re a friend of mother earth you tread softly on this land’. During our lunch it was time to share with each other and be serenaded by Phillip singing for us some of the work of Nobel winning poet, Bob Dylan and our own Casey Chambers.

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A highlight for all of us was the afternoon workshop given by Michael Thorley. 

The title of his workshop was  shasei – Where Tankaists Fear to Tread? Let’s Go There’.  

And go there we did, lead by Michael’s skilful presentation. For some of us, ‘shasei’ was a 

new term, a new concept and a very interesting style of writing Tanka.  It originated withwhose home some of us have had the honour of visiting in Matsuyama City on Shikoku Island, Japan.

It is a style of writing tanka where you emphasis ‘a sketch from life’ – writing of what one observes however mundane, so that the reader also experiences the scene and understands what has moved them. We had the sanctuary of the Arboretum to walk around and find our moment to try out writing our idea of shasei. We gathered again and shared our thoughts and words. 

The day ended with several reports from other tanka groups and our plan to regather in the Autumn of 2020.

Colleen Keating

FIRE ON WATER

fire-on-water-cover 2

 

FIRE ON WATER

It is an honour to have Beverley George with us this afternoon.

Beverley is renowned  nationally and internationally in the field of Japanese Poetry . She is a Writing Fellow of the Fellowship of Australian Writers and past editor of the journal Yellow Moon, the Society of Women Writers NSW Newsletter 2004-2006 and Eucalypt: a Tanka Journal which she edited for 10 years. Currently she edits Windfall: Australian Haiku .
How does one sum up such a body of work? How does one begin to speak about this talented writer, her achievements, publications and awards?
She was president of the Australian Haiku Society 2006-10 and has served as an international judge for Japanese poetic genre competitions in Japan , UK, US and Canada. Beverley has presented papers at two poetry conferences in Japan and has served as literary adviser to Mitsui Travel for six small group tours to Japan.

 

Beverley’s launch speech for “Fire on Water” by Colleen Keating

Welcome everybody and especial thank you to Colleen for inviting me to launch her lovely poetry collection: Fire on Water. An honour indeed.
The poetry in this book engages with so much that truly matters to the human heart and mind. Reading it, I am reminded of the words of the American poet Mary Oliver
“. . . For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

[― Mary Oliver, ‘A Poetry Handbook’]

Even when writing on complex subjects, Colleen speaks clearly, without artifice. She doesn’t use ‘clever’ words; she uses right words; those words that fit best with the ideas she presents to us. Much thought and care have gone into their selection.
Many of the poems are concerned with social justice: such as the plight of refugees, or aspects of indigenous history but the poet’s voice remains compassionate, not sentimental.
The book itself is physically attractive, easy to use and isn’t that imaginative cover illustration by Elizabeth Keating-Jones, Colleen’s daughter so appealing? I love it.
You will soon notice that the poems are pleasingly grouped although not strictly sequential within those groups. Advantages of this formatting are that the reader can consider aspects of a particular topic at one reading and choose another topic the next time one picks up the book. It also makes it easy to relocate poems for further contemplation; those that we have particularly read and enjoyed. What did Colleen write about downsizing? About refugees? About aspects of nature?
An extremely relevant section for me right now, and I would presume for some others in this room is that of downsizing; disposing of some possessions treasured for a life-time; selling the family home with all its treasured memories of loved family members and pets.
Of particular impact is the brief poem on p. 35 “where’s home, Ulysses”. Lines such as
“where there is a home
make a house depersonalise
the real estate agent says

ebay vinnies salvos
devour my story
on the footpath garbage pick-up
my life exposed”

clearly convey the loss of control, the loss of property, the uncertainty that too often accompanies this rite of passage.

But Colleen’s poems travel through this difficult period with honesty and directness and resolve into thoughts not of just acceptance but of positivity and optimism for what is now possible; what lies ahead.

What comes through clearly and consistently in Colleen’s work, is a strong sense of social justice; deep concern for the plight of those others helpless to improve their own lives.
A particularly powerful poem can be found on. p.75 ‘Stillborn’. Colleen writes of:

“people seeking asylum
returned to face those they flee
history like a drawbridge is pulled up
closed off
humanity is stillborn”

and concludes with the challenging lines
“the everywoman in me weeps […]
if you are not weeping
ask why”

You’ve probably all heard of the Roland Barthes’ theory that once a piece of writing is public the role of the reader becomes active, as they bring their own experience and knowledge to interpreting the text; an interplay between writer and reader results. This suggests we each may read a poem slightly differently and of course you will choose which parts of this book are most relevant and intriguing for you. And this is as it should be.
In a few moments we will have the pleasure of hearing Colleen read some of her own work. Here’s a little advance notice; something I am hoping Colleen might tell us more about. Her fascination with the woman musician, herbalist and healer, Hildegard of Bingen.
A rich source of pleasure in this book comes with Colleen’s approach to writing about nature. These poems are detailed and convincing. The poet is looking hard and appreciating the world around her.
Whether she is writing about a physical location such as The Entrance; plants such as sunflowers, or a felled tree; creatures like a wood pigeon, a dragonfly or a hawk, her words reach out to us; draw us in.
Again, thank you for coming. It is now my very great pleasure to announce Fire on Water by Colleen Keating launched and ready for sharing. We will now hear from the poet, herself…over to Colleen.