Australian Tanka Reading
by David Terelinck
for Tanka Sunday, Albany, NY: 18 October 2015

a Eucalypt article

Tanka in Australia has increased in popularity as a poetic genre over the past two decades. Between 1997 and 2006 tanka, tanka sequences, articles and critiques were regularly published in the journal Yellow Moon. Beverley George edited Yellow Moon from 2000 to 2006.

Sadly for many contributors, 2006 saw the last issue of Yellow Moon published. However there was a new tanka light on the horizon; Beverley published the inaugural issue of Eucalypt, Australia's first tanka-only journal, the same year. The subsequent popularity of this quality tanka journal over the past ten years means Beverley now receives upwards of 750 tanka, from Australian and international poets, for consideration in each issue.

In recognition of Beverley's unstinting contribution to quality tanka publication in Australia, and her significant influence on my personal tanka journey, I would like to commence my reading with some work of hers that have become personal favourites:

after you ring off
I go to find the moon -
like you
it's north of here
and just as far away

losing your love
I learn the strength
of mine . . .
a she-oak whipped by wind
thrusts deeper roots

a lightning strike
splits our old apple tree -
I never dreamed
the death that parted us
would not be one of ours

out there
in this war-torn world
people who
collect stamps, press flowers
gather shells at daybreak


Eucalypt, under the editorial guidance of Beverley George, was where my first published tanka appeared. I would now like to share a handful of my tanka published in various issues of this journal:

palm trees
heavy with dates
hard to believe
just one day in seven
is treated as Holy

garden beds
overrun with loosestrife -
you point out
faults you find in her
that I may never know

mountain fruits
on the turn from full
to fading -
each letter marked
'return to sender'

morning twilight,
slipping away with the last
of the stars -
how brief the courtship
between arrow and bow

the mellow notes
from a stilling vesper bell -
and when god is done
how shall I fill
these wingless hours . . .

Beverley George often runs tanka challenges associated with Eucalypt. The first of these was in response to an exhibition of Rengetsu's work in the National Gallery of Australia from September 2007 to January 2008. The challenge was published in chap-book format and titled Tea Towel Tanka. Kathy Kituai was the winner of this challenge with the following tanka:

every night
I raise to my mouth
your tea bowl
whose idea was it
to glaze it with the moon

Kathy has continued to publish quality tanka in Eucalypt and other international tanka journals. Her first tanka collection, Straggling into Winter, is a tanka diary that celebrates the cycle of joy, discovery, loss and heartbreak over twelve months of her life from June 2005 to June 2006. Her second personal collection, published this year, is the result of many years collaboration with Fergus Stewart, a potter from Lochinvar, Scotland. Kathy has also been a significant person who has made my tanka journey rich with laughter, friendship and quality collaborations. Some of my favourite tanka from these collections includes:

a thought I hold close
whenever necessary
and alone
on the darkest winter night -
storms gather behind mountains

like all things unsaid
dark clouds
behind each and every
doctor's diagnosis

they linger
in the corner of the kiln
tea bowls
glazed in deeper hues,
smoke the colour of sorrow

she finds him
outside his studio
on the lawn
pricking holes in colanders
and thoughts she had on potters

I am also fortunate to have had invaluable guidance and feedback from Julie Thorndyke on my tanka pathway. As facilitator of the Tanka Huddle group, Julie has also been a constant promotor of quality on the Australian tanka scene:

bundles and bags
never unpacked
all around the hospice bed
who will carry
these burdens home?

little griefs
linger beneath my skin -
every so often
I lift the bandages
and still find fresh blood

they continue
to spill sand, these shells
lined up on my desk
. . . so many words
fall from my heart

Tanka poets on the east coast of Australia are fortunate to have access to skilful workshopping groups on a regular basis. The Bowerbird Tanka group meets twice a year under the guidance of Beverley George in her home on the Central Coast. Julie Thorndyke convenes the Tanka Huddle Group that meets for monthly workshopping at North Rocks, and Kathy Kituai coordinates the monthly meetings of the Limestone Tanka Poets in Canberra. Once a month Marilyn Humbert facilitates the critiquing and workshop sessions held by the Bottlebrush Tanka Group in the northern suburbs. Closer to the City at North Sydney, Dawn Bruce oversees the meetings of the Moonrise tanka group.

These groups have been instrumental in allowing Australian tanka poets access to constructive critiquing sessions on a face-to-face basis. The result of several groups in close proximity means the tanka community in New South Wales and the ACT is very cohesive and supportive of each other.

I would now like to share the following tanka from some members of these various tanka groups:

aged laughter
from three stooped women
fill the cloisters
in the Hospice garden
trees bow down with ripened fruit [Anne Benjamin]

green tea
and tanka beneath
an indigo moon -
Ono and Izumi
sipped from a china cup [Hazel Hall]

how lightly
the layer of garlic skin
floats to the floor
like a dragonfly
with punctured wings [Jan Dean]

death's door
for most of my life
shut tight -
until you passed through
and left it ajar [Michael Thorley]

sleeping outdoors
perhaps for the last time
this balmy night
will you hold me
as I fall into the sky? [Carmel Summers]

only windfalls
never market apples -
the middle child
in hand-me-down shoes
still dances in shadows [Michelle Brock]

time to prune
roses and sons
how much
will curb unruly growth
promote abundant blooms [Catherine Smith]

the early sun
brings colour and patterns
to my day
each morning I wonder
what time's left for my shadow [Jo Tregellis]

from Europe
your daytime calling
my deep night,
our voices making love
along the sea bed [Amelia Fielden]

the almost full moon
this solstice night
when magic works
in unexpected ways [ M L Grace]

through fading light
your voice
and the raven's call
filters through shadows [Dawn Bruce]


Tanka is an ideal genre for Australian poets to record the beautiful, unusual and sometimes unique fauna, flora and geography of our wide brown land. In 2011 fifty-five Australian tanka poets were published in Grevillea & Wonga Vine: Australian Tanka of Place. I would like to share a handful of tanka from this collection that was edited by Beverley George and myself:

his breath
through the didgeridoo
travels my spine -
there's nothing but pulse
and homecoming [Shona Bridge]

hessian waterbag
hanging on the ute
far from home
your letters
slake my loneliness [Kate King]

planted last year
are shrivelled and burnt -
I should have chosen
grevillea and wonga vine [Marian Morgan]

five pigeons
and a galah share
the barren branch -
is there one who feels
as I did, as a child? [Barbara Curnow]

in an outback cemetery
the children's headstones
almost worn smooth,
ochre angels point the way
through a bramble of roses [Ron Moss]

desert wind
finds celestial music
in the dog-fence
a dingo bitch howling
dead stars still shining [Jack Prewitt]

Australian tanka poets are not just writing tanka as individuals, but are also busy collaborating with other Australian writers. This includes projects involving sequences, tanka collections, anthologies, calendars, bookmarks, chapbooks, and also successful collaborations and exhibitions with other visual and fine arts masters.

The convenience and speed of the Internet has not only brought the tanka world to Australia, but has been an invaluable means for Australian poets to reach out and join with others around the globe. Australian tanka poets are creating meaningful and life-long friendships with poets they may never meet except through the broadband networks that connect them. They are writing more and more with these global poets and actively participating in creating and publishing quality international collaborations.

The internet is responsible for my being able to attend Tanka Sunday today and meet the many friends I have made through this medium. I would like to close by sharing a handful of my tanka written whilst collaborating via email and Facebook with overseas poets:

the international
date line
a whole extra day
without you in it . . .

a drone of bees
in summer lavender
trailing our fingers
through slow-running waters
and childhood memories

you light candles,
draw a bath for two . . .
the many paths
of mist and memory
that journey back to us

the watchmaker mends
and rewinds each frozen hour -
not the first time
she calls her adult son
by his father's name . . .

dead ends
and darkened alleys -
those film noir nights
when I played Bogie
to your Bacall . . .

trees heavy
with the taste of summer
their daily prayer
that she carries her third
pregnancy to term . . .

a flash of red
and orange in her
mother's ring
the fire in the stone
that's missing from the man

on the sirocco
a hint of cinnamon
and rose . . .
at the rim of the world
every shadow . . . a shroud

chanting sutras
from the mountaintop . . .
dissolved of flesh
I am no more, or less,
than a silvered gust of air

Thank you everyone for listening. And deepest thanks to the organisers of Tanka Sunday for allowing me to read here today - it has been both an honour and a pleasure.

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