The Bowerbird Tanka Group
The Bowerbird Tanka Group meets twice a year at Wirraminna, Pearl Beach, the home of Eucalypt. It is a full day event to which many of the delegates and presenters travel long distances. The format comprises two to three main sessions, but may also include a lunch time speaker or several additional brief presentations.

The number of delegates is strictly limited to allow maximum individual participation and feedback. The emphasis is on encouragement and fostering the development of tanka, written in English, by Australians. The convenor is Beverley George, founding editor of Eucalypt: editor of Eucalypt issues 1-21: 2006-2016. Editor of the commemorative anthology ‘A Temple Bell Sounds’. 2017

Eucalypt hosts contact information about several regional tanka groups
Meeting Reports
&
Appraisals by Bowerbird Members


Meeting & Report   Appraisal by Of a Tanka By

#16
March 11th 2017
Report

#15
November 19th 2016
Report

#14
March 12th 2016
Report

#13
March 14th 2015
Report

#12
November 23rd 2014
Report

#11
February 23rd 2014
Report

#10
October 19th 2013
Report

#9
February 16th 2013
Report

#8
February 19th 2012
Report

#7
November 19th 2011
Report

#6
March 26th 2011
Report

#5
September 19th 2010
Report

#4
4 February 27th 2010
Report

4th Haiku Pacific Rim Conference September 2009

#3
February 22 2009
Report

#2
October 26 2008


#1
May 18th 2008
Report

Dy Andreasen
Carol Judkins
Catherine Smith

Samantha Hyde
Kent Robinson
Carole Harrison

Marilyn Humbert
Kathy Kituai
Crys Smith

Carmel Summers
Hazel Hall
Michael Thorley

Cynthia Rowe
Sylvia Florin
M L Grace

Jan Foster
Carole Harrison
Kent Robinson

Jan Dean
Dy Andreasen
David Terelinck

Dawn Bruce
Keitha Keyes
Catherine Smith

Gail Hennessy
Sylvia Florin
Marilyn Humbert

Yvonne Hales
Anne Benjamin
Beatrice Yell

Jan Foster
M L Grace
Shona Bridge

David Terelinck
Carmel Summers
Jo Tregellis


John Quinnett
Margaret Dornaus
Ken Slaughter

Susan Constable
Simon Hanson
Lisa M Tesoriero

Margarita Engle
Bob Lucky
Kirsty Karkow

Simon Hanson
Linda Jeannette Ward
Barbara A Taylor

Bob Lucky
Carole MacRury
Belinda Broughton

Yosano Akiko
Claire Everett
Susan Constable

Max Ryan
Chen-ou Liu
Claire Everett

Keitha Keyes
Margaret Chula
Pamela A Babusci

Matthew Paul
Julianne King
Jeanne Moreau

Carmen Sterba
Tony A Thompson/Kirsty Karkow
Tony Beyer

John Quinnett
an'ya
Barbara Fisher

















Appraisal by David Terelinck
(Given at the 5th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 19th September 2010)

A favourite tanka of mine is taken from Eucalypt 8, and is by John Quinnett.

in the cellar
an unopened jar
of sourwood honey –
only the bees knew
he had a sweet side

Within this deceptively simple tanka, Quinnett says much about the sting of dysfunctional relationships. On the surface this is a tanka of someone who has died who was less than convivial. However, the use of the lines only the bees knew/he had a sweet side indicates that quite a lot was known about this man by many others – but none of it positive. We don’t need this spelled out to enable us to envisage what it may encompass within our own soured relationships.

We are invited into this tanka with the use of words like cellar and unopened. These words appealed to my childhood instincts to explore dark and forbidden places. And in doing so I am encouraged to examine my own relationships: what will be remembered as sweet and sour of myself after I have died?

The alliteration of the s-sound can almost be construed as the soft buzz of bees hard at work making honey.

Seasonal polarity is offered in cellar and unopened juxtaposed with honey and bees. Here we have the inward turning of autumn to winter – the storage of produce in cellars and the dormancy of lying fallow in the ground. The unopened jar alludes to emotions kept bottled and pushed deep down out of sight, perhaps even hidden. Yet the honey and bees indicate spring, new blossoming, and the approach and openness of summer.

These succinctly align with the incongruent sweetness of sourwood honey. But beyond all of this is another layer of foundations set within the specific choice of honey type – sourwood. By all accounts, sourwood honey is anything but sour and is one of the most highly prized, and rare, of the American honeys. The choice of this honey also neatly narrows the geographic scale of this tanka, making it very specific to the southern United States from Georgia to Pennsylvania.

Sourwood honey comes from the Oxydendrum arboreum or sourwood tree – also known as sorrel or lily of the valley. It flowers only from late June to early August; a time when very few other flowers are blooming. As the bloom time is very short, timing of production is critical to achieve purity and rests in the expertise of a skilled beekeeper. If the bees are brought to the area too soon, they will harvest from the sumac trees that bloom before the sourwood, and if they are brought too late, they will miss the beginning of the flow of nectar altogether.

Thus we are given a hint at the exacting skill and precision of this man. And an insight into the tenuousness of connecting, and the short window of opportunities that life can present to us. Not just within nature, but also perhaps within relationships too. It further illustrates that although this individual may have been less than adroit at human interaction, he did possess a sense of timing and a unique relationship with nature. That although his own kind may not have understood him, he developed a close alliance with nature, and especially the bees and honey production.

This leads me to ask more questions. Why is this person so much more comfortable alone in a stand of sourwood trees than with his family? And who is this man? Is he father, brother, grandfather, or uncle? What prevented this man from connecting with his own kind? Was his window of opportunity cut short?

Despite the sweet and alluring taste of the honey, the leaves of the Oxydendrum arboreum are sour-tasting with a laxative effect. This is further proof of the subtle use of light-dark, sweet-sour, summer-winter imagery of this tanka. That from sour roots sweetness can blossom, and vice versa. Evidence that within good there is bad, in light we have shadows, and we would have no measure of sweetness if we did not understand and experience the sour in life and in others.

in the cellar
an unopened jar
of sourwood honey –
only the bees knew
he had a sweet side




















Appraisal by Carmel Summers
(Given at the 5th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 19th September 2010)

old memories
like tangled fish hooks
impossible
to pick up only one
without all the others


                      an’ya, Lapine, Oregon
(1st place, Tanka Society of America Competition, 2008)

When I first read this tanka, I thought “oh yes” that’s just how it is, without even thinking through the full extent of the simile, and hoped that one day I might be able to write a tanka almost as good as this one. Over the years I’ve returned to it, each time coming away with a fresh insight into how the right words are used in the right place in the right number. I found that for me, this tanka has layers of suggestion, evoking layers of response.

At the first layer, this is a visual tanka – you can SEE the tangled snarl of fish hooks and, like that old game of fiddle sticks, it would be almost impossible to gently extract one fish hook without disturbing the others. As a simile for memories it works well, you can imagine fishing in the storehouse of your mind to find a particular memory and savor it, only to find a flood of other memories that you can’t stop. I’m sure that everyone has experienced that.

This is where the power of the simile works to enhance the impact of the tanka. The first part of the simile is about the act of fishing. I get the sense that the poet is reaching for a very particular memory, just as you dangle a hook to catch a fish, where you choose not just the hook, but the bait and tackle to cope with a particular type of fish.

At the same time, the tanka starts with a very general statement, “old memories” – not just any memories but “old” ones – deep buried and perhaps they’ve been buried for a reason. There is also a sense that having lurked below the surface for so long, these old memories have become interwined and perhaps confused. We don’t know for sure but there’s a possibility there.

The next layer is going into the particular side effects this shock of memories can yield. Fish hooks are barbed, treacherous objects, designed to trap the unwary. The poet implies that memory, too, is a risky business. Memories can be joyful, but often have painful edges so the experience can be bitter sweet – a mixture of pain and pleasure. Because you can’t be selective about the memories that surface – the “ambush” effect of them, the memories might represent something that you would much rather forget.

Finally I looked at the particular words in this tanka. It is a deceptively simple tanka – simple language, many of the words just one syllable. Yet every word plays an important role. The key words to me were “old”, “only” and “all”. Very simple, basic words, not particularly poetic in their own right.

I mentioned earlier the significance of “old memories. What is the significance of the word “only”? To me the poet is striving to reach a particular memory. If you remove the “only” and read the line as “impossible to pick up one” – the meaning is the same, but it isn’t as strong as “impossible to pick up only one”.
The word “all” in the last line serves a similar function. The line has the same meaning without it: “without the others” – almost, but not quite as encompassing as “without all the others”. The “all” becomes slightly menacing – it suggests that “resistance is futile” – there is absolutely nothing the poet can do to stem the flow and deny some of these past memories.

This tanka was described by the judges of the TSA competition in the following words:
First prize: Aphoristic, to be sure, but appropriately so and a wonderfully apt choice of image and metaphor, an’ya’s poem caught and kept our attention. The poem’s imaginative leap from “old memories” to “tangled fish hooks” carries remarkable force; it may not be a pretty image but it is, without doubt, a psychologically valid one, conveying both the character of fish hooks and the mixture of pleasure and pain that is human memory. There is nothing fancy here; the tone is matter-of-fact. It is a classic poem of the singular, durable image. [Note 1] ”

I agree with these comments, but to me, they underestimate the careful crafting of this poem that gives it its resonance and appeal.


Carmel Summers
19 September 2010
----------------------

Note 1.
McClintock, Michael and Strickland, Johnye, Tanka Society of America website: http://www.tankasocietyofamerica.com/Contest2008.htm June 2008





















Appraisal by Jo Tregellis
(Given at the 5th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 19th September 2010)

I have chosen a tanka by Barbara Fisher from Eucalypt 8.

how strange
to see tree ferns
bent with snow
and the rough red road
silent and white

The opening line provides a sense of mystery, a sense that something unusual will be revealed in this tanka. I wasn't disappointed.

Barbara Fisher's tanka is deceptively simple, gliding off my tongue with ease, and creating mind pictures.

I see two opposite scenes, one cold, one hot; one white and green, one red; one delicate, one harsh. I smell both moistness and dust.

There is a sound contrast. I hear the sound of wheels crunching the unsealed road, and then silence. My experience of falling snow is nil, but I don't think tree ferns grow in snowfields but I could be wrong. The ferns bent with snow would not be out of place in a ballet.

The rough red road is like a child ruining a painting with uncaring strokes. Then in three words I'm gently led back to the graceful tree ferns. The word "bent" reminds me that in Australia particularly, scenes may change so dramatically.

I find the balance of alliteration and assonance very pleasing to my ear. Not one word is wasted by the poet.
Since choosing this tanka I have decided to look for and read more of Barbara Fisher's writing.





















Appraisal by Jan Foster
(Given at the 6th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 20th March 2011)

        an Amish woman
        dressed in grey
        her heartsong
        in the vivid colours
        of her prize quilt
                                                Carmen Sterba

        On the surface, a simple tanka, traditional in shape and expression but, like all the topnotch tanka, a layering of thoughts which provide a wealth of concepts for the reader to come back to many times over. In the true tanka tradition, it begins simply, each line adding to the thought, growing to a crescendo in the final line, where the whole theme is laid before the delighted reader.

        ‘an Amish woman’
        This first line presents us with the foundation for the thought to follow. This lady is no ordinary woman. She belongs to an enclosed community who live under strict rules designed to separate them from worldliness in all its forms. The Amish believe that everything should serve a purpose and anything that doesn’t is considered a distraction from the worship of God and therefore sinful and pointless.

        ‘dressed in grey’
        So they dress in dark colours and their homes are similarly decorated, but the Amish women are renowned for their glorious quilts. Most Amish communities are in the northern states of the USA, where it is extremely cold in winter and quilts are a vital part of any household. Amish girls are taught from early childhood to sew these, both for their future homes and for gifts to give to others. Quilting is also a sensible way of using up scraps of fabric, thus fitting the Amish ethos of practicality.

        ‘her heartsong’
        This is a beautifully crafted line, fitting both the previous two lines and the two which follow. She is a devoted community member who firmly subscribes to it’s principles, thus her Amishness and her subdued clothing. However, she is also appreciative of beauty and freely expresses it in the acceptable complexity and skill of her quilt. During the long housebound hours of winter, she would be sewing together her scraps, all to the carefully crafted design she has planned. But in the warm months of summer, she would join with other women of her community to help each other construct the backing and batting these large quilts require. Here in these gatherings, she would find her joy in friendship, exchanging news, opinions, recipes and cementing community relationships.

        ‘in the vivid colours’
        Since she doesn’t wear or use vivid colours in her own clothes, these scraps have obviously been carefully gleaned from other sources. The reader can imagine the hours of thought and planning she has put into this beautiful and acceptable expression of her creativity, her heartsong, a true and revealing display of her nature

        ‘of her prize quilt’
        Here is the payoff line of the tanka. This woman, despite the strict rules governing every aspect of her life, has not only not felt her celebration of beauty stifled, but has soared to a point where her quilt is prized. By whom, is not important. Whether it be her family, her friends, the wider community, where many Amish women now sell their quilts, or simply herself, this quilt has been the pinnacle of her expressive personality.

        I’ve come back to this tanka many times since I first read it, yet I still find new aspects of it to ponder. To me, this represents the true essence of tanka, a whole story told in five short lines.

        an Amish woman
        dressed in grey
        her heartsong
        in the vivid colours
        of her prize quilt
                                                Carmen Sterba

© Jan Foster 2011




















Appraisal by M L Grace
(Given at the 6th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 20th March 2011)

Tanka Revisited
From the Heian court period of the 10th century to present day tanka, we see, woven through the turning seasons and the phases of the sun, moon and tides, the full gamut of human emotions expressed in an endless variety of loss and longing, love and unrequited love, birth illness and dying, compassion joy and sorrow, acceptance and resignation.

I often muse that tanka writing should be called tanka therapy.

I have chosen two tanka to discuss for their less commonly expressed emotions ie.
guilt and jealousy —

The first tanka is from Eucalypt Vol 3 by Tony A Thompson:

a rope
hanging from a tree
swings in spring wind . . .
the tightness around my throat
when I lie to her again

Here we have a juxtaposition of two images.
‘a rope hanging from a tree swings in spring wind’ . . .
An innocent Rococo image in itself, until placed in the context of the last lines, which then evoke a sinister connotation with the words hanging, swings and even spring. Why was it a spring wind?

The guilt compounds.
Does the word spring suggest an association with youth, a younger woman or perhaps a developing relationship in its infancy?

In the fourth line; ‘the tightness around my throat’ with the alliteration of tightness and throat, makes sure we feel it, here the tension builds and the last line . . . ‘when I lie to her again’, that word again tells us it is not the first time.
Who is the person lying to? A wife, a de-facto, a mother, a daughter and why?
I can only weave my own story yet still I feel the guilt.

This tanka uses ‘feeling images’, more kinetic in nature rather than clear visual images and has the potential to penetrate the conscience.

a rope
hanging from a tree
swings in spring wind . . .
the tightness around my throat
when I lie to her again



The second poem, another tanka from Eucalypt, vol 2 written by Kirsty Karkow appeals to me for its simplicity of words, yet covert in suggestion. An innocent snap-shot at first glance, as a proud mother holds out a photo to us and points out her son.

a snapshot
of me and the girl —
between us
handsome as ever
is my only son

When layers are peeled away questions arise. Why does the mother refer to her son’s, assumed friend, as the girl leaving her nameless?

And then the following lines :

between us
handsome as ever
is my only son

The phrase ‘handsome as ever’; does this insinuate the girl is not the perfect one?
The son centred between them as in a tug of war hints at a level of jealousy and that word ‘only’ implies to me she is not giving him up easily.

A difficult emotion to portray, presented in the visual medium of a photograph, which disguises hidden complexities . Karkow does it very well.

Both poems reflect an emotional honesty.

The first poem, a rope . . . a juxtaposing of nature (the outer world) with human nature (the inner world), along with the second poem, the snapshot . . . are examples of tanka that reveal to me hidden depths, forcing me to come back to them again and again.

For me both poems have the elements of immediacy and truth.

a snapshot
of me and the girl —
between us
handsome as ever
is my only son

Soetsu Yanagi, in his wonderful book, ‘The Unknown craftsman, A Japanese Insight into Beauty’, suggests the practice of creating through nonconceptulisation rather than relying on the intellect. * I feel this equally applies to Tanka writing.


*ref. The Unknown Craftsman. A Japanese insight into Beauty.By Soetsu YanagiAdapted by Bernard Leach ISBN 0-87011-948-6 © M L Grace 2011




















Appraisal by Shona Bridge
(Given at the 6th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 20th March 2011)

I have chosen a poem by Tony Beyer from Eucalypt (Issue 6, 2009).

awkward
as if eight limbs
between us
were too many
to arrange

             Tony Beyer

For the next few minutes, I would like to discuss some of the striking qualities of this tanka.

The most immediately obvious thing about this poem is its brevity. It has only 12 words – 12 short words. All but four of these words are single-syllabled, which creates a total of only 16 syllables.

Here we have a tanka where there’s nothing unnecessary. There’s no distraction. There’s no punctuation. Every word is working to create meaning. The brevity of language and lack of punctuation creates a sense of space around this poem, and to me this has the effect of sharpening the lens on the moment presented on the page.

So let’s look more closely at this moment.

The subject of the poem is ‘we’ – so we have two people, reduced for now to the acute self-consciousness of their physical selves. We don’t know the nature of the relationship between these people but we do know that in this moment there’s a sense of nothing else existing between them but these 8 limbs… and what the limbs represent. There is nothing else in their environment. There are no distractions. The spare shape of the poem mirrors its content – there’s nowhere to hide.

The moment on the page is one of human vulnerability, but it is also one of possibility. It is a moment on the threshold of intimacy.

And this, quite simply, is one of the reasons I think this poem is so extraordinary: In 12 short words it reveals and contrasts awkwardness and intimacy, vulnerability and possibility, self-consciousness and emotional clarity. It gives expression to the true complexities of our human experience.

Tony Beyer is a New Zealander but his poem shares some of the qualities described by Julie Thorndyke in her recent article about a unique Australian tanka style.

In particular, Tony Beyer (like many contemporary Australian tanka poets) provides the “hint of narrative – without explaining too much.” As Julie suggests, he allows room for the reader to “…follow the narrative thread that has been dangled tantalizingly before them.”

The narrative thread of this poem begins with an emotion – awkwardness – rather than a dominant image. In fact, there’s only one noun in the whole poem – limbs – and these limbs aren’t described in any more detail than their number. But even so, I don’t think the lack of concrete imagery diminishes the poem in any way.

Why? Because the image of the limbs is built powerfully and indirectly through the narrative of the human relationship to those limbs. That is:
· There are too many
· They are coming ‘between’ ourselves and someone else in a significant way
· The responsibility to do something about it (ie. to ‘arrange’ them in an acceptable manner) brings us back to the awkwardness we have begun with.


Finally I would just like to comment on the musicality of this tanka.

Again, there are only 12 words, but the rhythm of these words, the placement of the line breaks, the echo of the ‘w’ and ‘t’ sounds through-out. Let’s listen to it one more time…

awkward
as if eight limbs
between us
were too many
to arrange

             Tony Beyer

So these are my thoughts on this tanka from Tony Beyer. I am certainly not an expert on tanka, but I have enjoyed this opportunity to reflect more deeply on the qualities of this beautiful and resonant piece of writing.


REFERENCES
EucalyptA Tanka Journal, Issue 6, 2009.
Thorndyke, Julie. Tanka – is there an Australian Style? In Eucalypt: A Tanka Journal, E-News, No.28, February 2011.


© Shona Bridge 2011




















Appraisal by Beatrice Yell
(Given at the 7th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 19th November, 2011)

The centuries-old tanka, once carefully brush-stroked on hand-made paper, was sent with a flower or some other token, on foot or on horseback. It survives today using modern technology – the immediacy of the internet. Via Jane Reichhold’s site I’ve taken a poem from a recently published (January 2011) tanka sequence of linked verse ‘doors’ by June Moreau of the US and Giselle Maya from France. Their poems alternate and they don’t necessarily use ‘door’ or ‘doors’ to start or finish each one, it is merely the central theme. This one by Moreau uses and needs no punctuation.
I opened
the door this morning
the whole sky
came in and fields
of white clover
A simple, matter of fact first two lines describe an everyday moment –
I opened
the door this morning
but then it changes to convey the writer’s heightened level of awareness on a particular Spring morning. With
the whole sky
came in
she conveys the immediacy of light coming into her house from the vast expanse of sky, and then in line 4, skilfully conveyed, there is a pause, a catch of breath as she sees the fields covered in white flowers - clover – which have probably appeared overnight. Her other senses are invaded.
        and fields
of white clover

One can almost smell the faint sweetness emanating from the small blooms and hear bees as they hover over the clover. Through her deceptively simple words of one and two syllables we are able to share in her joy of being alive in the moment, to enjoy this unexpected pleasure in her day. I’m interested in attempting to share fleeting sensory experiences through tanka.
I opened
the door this morning
the whole sky
came in and fields
of white clover


© 2011 Beatrice Yell




















Appraisal by Yvonne Hales
(Given at the Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 19 November 2011)

One of my favourite tanka is by Matthew Paul. It appears in Eucalypt 8.

climbing Bredon
to an iron-age camp
towards dusk
fallow deer skedaddle
over terracotta fields

           This tanka invites us to put our lives into perspective. As we locate ourselves among the ruins of Roman occupation and its battles we are reminded of past struggles and lives lost. Yet we also awake to the fragility of human life and the constancy of the coming and going of each day. I need to be reminded not to look too deeply or to intellectualise too much - simply to be present in the here and now. The setting of this tanka is worth taking in …

Climbing Bredon / to an iron-age camp
           Bredon Hill is a nature reserve in the outlying Cotswold Hills of Worcestershire (West Midlands, England). It is home to many endangered species. A climb to the top (about 300 m high) gives spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. On the horizon are the Malvern Hills. The Severn and Avon rivers flow through the wide valley between Bredon Hill and the Malverns. The views take in a gently undulating landscape - small areas of open woodland and a patchwork of grasslands and wheat fields.
           At the summit of the hill are the remains of earthworks from an iron-age hill fort known as Kemerton Camp. The fort was attacked and destroyed early in the 1st century A.D. after a significant battle prior to Roman invasion. A steep escarpment drops away on the north side of the Hill. The inner ramparts of the hill fort have been found to date back to 300BC.
           I was interested to read of the recent discovery of Roman coins. They are thought to have been owned by a Roman soldier. The coins were found among pieces of pottery on Bredon Hill during the recent English summer. Just last Thursday the local newspapers reported that the hoard was declared to be treasure at an inquest. Over 3,800 coins were found inside a storage jar of the same period and feature 16 different Roman Emperors. They are on display at a local museum after which they will be sent to the British Museum for valuation.

towards dusk
           It’s approaching that time of the day of an English summer’s evening – at the end of sunset and before darkness falls ….. around 8.30pm - 9.00pm.
           At this turning point in the day, as the sun sets on the Roman ruins of the hill fort – on the lives lost and the brutality of war 2,000 years ago – our attention is also turned towards the present … as the

fallow deer skedaddle / over terracotta fields
           Skedaddle – so descriptive isn’t it. We can picture the deer delicately and quietly moving among the landscape down below then suddenly fleeing in haste – startled perhaps, across the fields.
           Terracotta pottery was made during the Iron Age and Roman occupation. Pieces of pottery are scattered around the hill slopes of Bredon. We might draw a parallel with the shades of terracotta among the wheat fields as the sun goes down.
           The sounds of the words ‘climbing’ and ‘iron’ seem to suggest a slower pace, the effort of walking up to the hill fort. While the quicker movements of the fallow deer are aligned with the words ‘skedaddle’ and ‘terracotta’.
           I can’t put this tanka aside without paying homage to the local poet, A. E. Houseman, who wrote a poem called Bredon Hill. It was published in 1896 and was #21 in his Shropshire Lad series. In the style of traditional English verse. It is spoken by a young man to church bells, which are personified as summons to worship, a prelude to the joy of marriage and, sadly, the end of life and love.
           We don’t need to climb Bredon to get a perspective on the fragility of life. Any vantage point will do. Any sudden movement in the undergrowth reminds us that we share the land with other forms of life. But there is surely something special about a walk up to the old hill fort one summer’s evening – among the ruins of the past – to catch a glimpse of the present.

climbing Bredon
to an iron-age camp
towards dusk
fallow deer skedaddle
over terracotta fields

                  Matthew Paul


© 2011 Yvonne Hales




















Appraisal by Anne Benjamin
(Given at the Bowerbird Tanka Group meeting November 19, 2011)

Gran
used to walk by the water
in an old yellow slicker
heavy with stones
and unspoken poems
                                Julianne King*

This tanka is simple. There is a strong visual image with a twist in the last line. The words are plain. The third line is unconventionally long, but balanced by the last two shorter lines. The tanka may not meet Martin Lucas’ standard of “poetic spell”, but it certainly has an impact.

The tanka begins with an image: a woman beside water. We imagine a lake, perhaps, or a river or the ocean. She is mature, old enough to be a grandmother, but not necessarily elderly. The water is grey and the sky is overcast and the yellow jacket she is wearing stands out. She moves slowly because of the load she carries. We can perhaps hear the soft jumbling of the stones against each other as she walks. Is she a collector of rocks and stones and coloured things, such as a child would be, and such as a grandchild would notice? Is she an artist who chooses them for their beauty? Or a geologist? Is she collecting stones to skim across the water? To throw at dogs, children or some danger or enemy she perceives? The woman walks beside the water, and if she is not alone, at least she is solitary.

The tanka gives few hints about the relationship between the observer/writer and the grandmother. The writer makes observations – is it as a child? Or as an adult? Is the older woman watched with affection? Or is there concern in the observer’s watching? Is the writer simply amused by an old woman’s idiosyncrasy? Somehow, there is affection in the warm intimacy of the title, “Gran”. In her yellow rain jacket, she appears as a bright spot on her grandchild’s horizon.

For me, the tanka suggests sparse details about the older woman and her life. The “old yellow slicker” conveys something of the woman who was “Gran”: a practical woman not worried by vanity, content with a coat that was worn and perhaps a little shabby. It is past tense: she “used” to walk, as in, there was a time when she walked by the water, but doesn’t do so anymore. However, the same line can also imply that she was accustomed to walk by the water referring to something the woman repeatedly did. All we know for sure is that now she doesn’t walk that way anymore. Has she died? Has she gone away? Does someone or something prevent her? Yet, it is a bright and warm-hearted memory.

Gran
used to walk by the water
in an old yellow slicker


In the last two lines, there is a change.
Gran
used to walk by the water
in an old yellow slicker
heavy with stones
and unspoken poems


With just six words, the mood of the tanka shifts. With the use of “heavy”, the tanka becomes layered with possibilities: “heavy with stones” as in weighed down. Are they more than random pieces of rock? Are these stones of sadness, abuse, dementia? Or of imagination, reflection and ideas? “Heavy” also can be read as pregnant as in “heavy with child” and about to give birth. The tanka tells us that this brightly-clad woman is “heavy with poems” rattling around within the pockets of her conscious and subconscious. What opportunities were denied her for speaking out her poems? What opportunities did she choose not to take? Inter-generational relationships hold this tanka together and lead the reader to retrace the paths of other “grans”, “mums” and grandchildren in their similarities and divergence.

What does it suggest to us about the creative process? What happens when a poet takes what is felt and known from the private pockets of experience and shapes it into words? Surely, there is a lightness of spirit when the unspoken finally is released as a poem? But this tanka seems to be about “unspoken poems” and what is suggested is the thwarting of the creative process. And so, it moves into shadows. Why did Gran seek out the water so habitually? Was it, that burdened by her stones, she constantly was drawn towards the water, just as the writer Virginia Wolf is thought to have been, in choosing her death? One does not need to walk physically into water to have the experience of drowning. And we wonder at the relationships in her life – other than that of her grandchild. After the sound of the tanka has fallen away, the disturbance of this allusion continues to ripple.
Gran
used to walk by the water
in an old yellow slicker
heavy with stones
and unspoken poems

But then, the slicker is bright and yellow, not sinister. Perhaps, this tanka is about how a mature woman can gather cold stones, warm them in the deep recesses of her experience and create something of meaning and beauty. Did Gran, perhaps, return to the house, refreshed by her wanderings, and pour her unspoken poems out onto paper? Or into pancakes and home-making? Or were her poems always hers only, unshared, and kept within the privacy of her room? The satisfaction of reading this tanka is its potential to suggest so much with so few words.


*Julianne King in Take Five, Best Contemporary Tanka, Vol Three, Edited by M.Kei,, A. von Vaupel. A. Antononovic, M. Dale, A. Fiedlden, A. Riutta, J. Tipton. Modern English Tanka Press, 2010


© Anne Benjamin




















Appraisal by Marilyn Humbert
(Given at the Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, Feb 19th 2012)

i walk for miles
after your betrayal
my black beret
white and heavy
in the endless snow

Pamela A. Babusci
Ribbons Volume 7 Number 3 Fall 2011

I was drawn to this poem by the overwhelming sadness expressed. So much emotion in five short lines. There is no punctuation in this poem. None is needed; the line breaks do their job well.

i walk for miles
after your betrayal

The first line of the tanka is straightforward and to my mind unremarkable, a simple statement of fact. The use of first person draws the reader in. The second line, the pivot line, allows the reader dreaming room. There is no hint in the poem whether the duplicity is that of a lover, a friend or even someone from a workplace. Perhaps the author is speaking of the death of a loved one, a confidence or a relationship. Walking for miles works well to demonstrate the loneliness and aloneness and hints at moving on in life afterwards.

The next three lines tell us more.

my black beret
white and heavy
in the endless snow

The clever use of black and white, aids in visualising the scene. The starkness of white snow against the only other hint of colour, the black beret, is a photograph in monochrome. The scene is created so I can feel the physical weight of walking alone through a never-ending snowfall, but I don’t think the author wants us to take these lines literally.

These three lines work together to express the depth of her sadness and loss. The use of white hints at death and sorrow, weighed down by the coldness of the betrayal - endless snow suggests she will never get over it. The betrayal must have been significant.

This poem flows, as it creates the trudge of feet in the desolation of cold, white snow by using bb – black beret and the assonance in endless and snow. This tanka fills me with sadness and empathy for the author and creates vivid imagery.

i walk for miles
after your betrayal
my black beret
white and heavy
in the endless snow






















Appraisal by Gail Hennessy
(Given at the Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 19th February, 2012)

I have chosen a tanka by Keitha Keyes from ‘Grevillia and Wonga Vine’, edited by Beverley George and David Terelinck (2011).

gashes of lightning
summer storm in the mallee —
smell the first raindrops
exploding on red earth . . .
the dams have their mouths open

I have chosen this tanka because I find it so quintessentially Australian. The effect of drought is a recurring theme in all our lives from the city to the country and 2010 saw the breaking of a drought that had devastated so much of our land for over a decade. Not only was the countryside dry and parched but all Australians in suburbs and cities felt the absence of rain. While farmers struggled to sustain crops and livestock our cities and suburbs where in crisis as the water in the dams dropped to critical levels. So this is a very contemporary tanka and yet the description is also timeless.

There is something spiritual I believe in the breaking of drought. That spiritual sense is evoked by the accumulation of very concrete images and with every image building to a climax.

It begins:

gashes of lightning
summer storm in the mallee —


A scene is set. We see the approach of the storm heralded by the lightning. I found the use of the word ‘gashes’, an arresting choice of word. A more predictable choice, one that is linked with lightning, would have been ‘flashes’ but the choice of ‘gashes’ heralds a different possibility. Lightning may come to nothing, a mere electrical storm that passes without consequence. However a gash suggests a wound and this links our thoughts with the idea of the sky being torn open. This is no mere electrical storm.

We are given a sense of place - this is mallee country, it is country Australia. Southern Victoria and South Australia are linked by the Murray Darling Rivers, one of the highest producing agricultural areas of Australia, and we are aware that this part of the continent has been in a state of crisis for decades decimated by the lack of rain.

gashes of lightning
summer storm in the mallee —
smell the first raindrops

If the traditional tanka hinges on the third line then ‘smell the first raindrops’ captures exactly the notion of the breaking of drought. After drought rain has its own distinct smell. For I think it is the smell of the rain that is our first sensory perception when at last the drought breaks. I can remember, as a child and adult, running outside, mouth open, to dance under those first raindrops at the same time as inhaling the welcome smell of the rainfall.

smell the first raindrops
exploding on red earth . . .

Not only is our sense of smell brought into the tanka but we can see the raindrops ‘exploding on red earth’. The use of the word ‘red’ brings sight through colour back into the poem at the same time as it delineates the barrenness of the land, mallee country devoid of pasture. ‘Exploding’ is such a wonderful choice of word. Not only for its onomatopoeic resonance but for the way it conjures up the visual. The dry earth cannot absorb the rain. Rather it ricochets off, each drop exploding in its density.

exploding on red earth . . .
is followed by three dots — an ellipse

I am very fond of the ellipse. To me it not only invites the reader to pause but it signifies a change in direction. The scene has been action filled in terms of our senses, each line referring to the natural world, and now we are asked to contemplate a very different image. The writer makes the leap to a man-made construction, purpose-built to store water for both man and beast.

the dams have their mouths open

This final image ‘the dams with their mouths open’ is such a powerful use of personification – we can see the gaping thirsty dams waiting for the life giving water. It is what they are built for. It is what we have longed for. The poem links country and city dwellers in that wonderful image. It’s a line I wish I had written! A tanka that works on a level both concrete and spiritual capturing a very real Australian experience. And what I like most about it is the way it dissolves the dichotomy between bush and city that often divides Australian poetry.

gashes of lightning
summer storm in the mallee —
smell the first raindrops
exploding on red earth . . .
the dams have their mouths open
                              Keitha Keyes




















Appraisal by Sylvia Florin
(Given at the Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 19th February, 2012)

yesterday’s desires
what were they?
      a vase
without flowers
holds only itself

                Margaret Chula *

I chose this poem by Margaret Chula because it lingered in my mind, even though when I first read it I didn’t understand it very much at a conscious level. I was happy to use this occasion as an opportunity to explore it further.


Overview

The poem is in two parts. The first part is an abstract question about an aspect of human life or of a human life. And the second part contains a single and seemingly simple image of a vase without flowers.


Line by Line

yesterday’s desires

is one of the two longer lines in the poem and this length and relative wordiness seem congruent with its meaning. Desires take up a lot of room in our lives - both in our minds and in our external lives. We spend a lot of time entertaining them mentally, trying to manage them and enacting them physically – be it learning to write tanka , going travelling, planning a garden..…. And it seems fair to say that many of them do pass, become yesterday’s. Some disappear quickly, others change their shape or quality with time, and a few may endure for all or most of a lifetime

what were they?

Is a short and sharp line as befits the realization that those desires didn’t amount to so much after all / not from the vantage point of today. They were ephemeral, have passed. This clipped line conveys, for me, a sense of perplexity or wonder or disappointment.

I was unsure how to read this line, where to place the emphasis – on were, or on they. The poem could be read either way. I chose to emphasize were because it generated thought of both the passing of the desires and of their nature.

a vase

is a spacious and capacious vessel, and the sound of the word is similarly generous and open.

It is central in the poem in both position and in meaning. It is the only positive and concrete image in the poem.

Its indentation creates a vase like-shape to the poem.

Although an integral part of the poem’s image of a vase without flowers, having it on a separate line from without flowers, underlines its independence from the flowers. A vase can be overlooked, when filled with eye-catching flowers.

a vase without flowers

the image is a surprisingly effective one and I think that is because it is presented in the negative. I could not imagine a vase without flowers without first imagining a vase with flowers – a bit like trying not to think of an elephant - and so those few words generated several images in my mind: a variety of vases with a variety of flowers, and then a vase without flowers. I wonder if the fact that I had to make the flowers pass in my mind to reach the vase without flowers, the secret of the image’s effectiveness, - that it made this reader anyway, do that work, and so live out in my mind, the experience of something passing, like the desires.

Flowers are often a symbol of what is ephemeral, and of beauty and so a good pairing with the desires that have gone, many of which may have seemed beautiful at the time.

holds only itself

this line holds the mystery of the poem. At the same time it feels a gentle and satisfactory ending to the poem. It is the softest line in the poem and carries a sense of settling, of conclusion, of beauty. What does an empty vase hold? Air? Emptiness? Nothing? Its structure? Potential? Completeness?


Taken as a whole

The long half rhyming vowels in desires, vase and flowers make the poem quite sizeable to say and so give the poem a weight commensurate with its subject, As well they tie the lines together and are pleasing to the ear.

There is a sense of movement in the poem from busyness – the desires, the perplexity – to a peaceful stillness at its conclusion – traveling via the imagining of a vase with flowers and a vase without flowers.

The poem is very spare, so few words, so few syllables. And it makes use of the negative, of absence – the vase without flowers, the desires that were yesterday’s. This use of negatives, the conjuring of phenomena and their passing, and the sparseness of the words in dealing with a big subject – create for me, the feelings of spaciousness, mystery, possibility and weight that I continue to enjoy so much.




* This poem won 1st Prize, The 6th International Tanka Contest 2009 (Tokyo Poetry Society) and will be published in Margaret Chula’s new tanka collection.




















Appraisal by Dawn Bruce
(Given at the 9th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 16th February 2013)

work boots
on the sand? he sips tea
from his thermos lid,
drifts on the endless blue
of a lunch-time sea
            Max Ryan from Eucalypt Issue 7, 2009

First some personal notes about this tanka.

Reading this ancient form of poetry written by the moderns can help us discover more about ourselves in this 21st century.

I chose this tanka because it invites me to enter a mediative space where I can appreciate again the simple pleasures of life.
A favourite pastime of mine when travelling is people watching. I think Max Ryan shows he too enjoys this activity. His observations are keen and sharp.

At first glimpse I imagined a worker tired after a morning's toil ...on some beach project ... maybe a council man resting in the shade under a big boulder or under trees like those at Pearl Beach
Thermos tea shows us he is probably a self sufficient, older man ...a younger one would nip into a café for a take away coffee.

Here is the moment where he can rest after a rewarding morning of labour, have the non- demanding companionship of nature ...the sea, sand, smell of the briny, all about him, while enjoying a simple lunch break. Max has used the senses well.

Work boots on the sand suggests they have been taken off and so further extends that relaxed tone.

The poem is imbued with a reflective quality radiating a sense of calm and happy acceptance. It is very much about living in the now...a quiet period in this person?s life.

This tanka is like a painting, using delicate brush strokes and the softest of hues to create an impression of 'alls well with the world' mood.

Some points about structure.

The poem has the almost s/l/s/l/l form... L5, though not visually long, seems long, because of the image of a lunch-hour sea...it seems to go on and on like the wide expanse of ocean...allows the magic of dreaming time.

The dramatic L1 work boots is an eye catcher...hardly what we expect to start a reflective poem...but how strong an image. Is this what the author first saw and so was drawn to write further? We wonder what will come next.

L2 on the sand...again unexpected...how many work boots have we seen on the sand...usually sandals.

The use of an ellipse is a special touch so we can dwell for moment longer on the one and a half lines then drift to he sips tea. 'sips' again not expected...such a delicate action...he is truly savouring the moment.

from his thermos lid...a concrete detail of information to keep us within the picture and help that build up to L4 and 5
drifts on the endless blue
of a lunch-hour sea


How special is the use of endless blue and lunch-hour sea. When you think of all the descriptions you?ve read of the sea, how fresh this one is, how individual for just this man, at this time.

Max too knows what to include and what to leave out and so we are caught in the mid story of an experience.
In general then, the power of this tanka was for me in its gentle simplicity.

I love the way different forms of art intermingle
Although the images are clear and concrete the poem still has dreaming room.

While reading this tanka I thought of one of my favourite artists ...Vincent van Gogh and his painting of work boots...'A Pair of Shoes' 1886.

Here are two quotes about van Gogh's painting as described by a critic

Symbolic of the hard yet picturesque life of the laborer.

finding beauty in simplicity

In my mind Max Ryan has captured this in words.

Some research.
I knew nothing about Max Ryan and as Eucalypt doesn't have a bio section I had to Google him up.
The fine lyrical quality of this tanka did not surprise me after I'd read about the author.

MAX RYAN

Max Ryan lives on the far north coast of NSW and is a keen member of local haiku group, Cloudcatchers. He is twice winner of the Byron Bay Writers? Festival Poetry Prize. His book of free verse, Rainswayed Night, won the 2005 Anne Elder Award. He also collaborates with musicians including Melbourne duo Kid Sam and north coast violinist, Cleis Pearce. His collaborative CD with Cleis, White Cow, received several music industry awards.




















Appraisal by Keitha Keyes
(Given at the 9th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 16th February 2013)

I used to be …
from an immigrant’s mouth
stretches his story —
the pin-drop silence
fills an ESL classroom

             (ESL…English as a Second Language)

       Chen-ou Liu
       GUSTS No. 16

This tanka really spoke to me as it reminded me of when I taught ESL to adults.

I used to be…

This is one of the saddest things you hear immigrants or refugees say. Their identity is often based in the past, left behind in their country of origin. They are sad and confused. Perhaps in their home country they had a profession which is now out of reach because they cannot get formal recognition of their skills or their English is not good enough. And without their job they feel as if they are nobody. Family relationships are also often shattered in the transition.

from an immigrant’s mouth
stretches his story —


Sometimes when students start to share personal details it is like the opening of a flood gate of thoughts and emotions. The use of the verb stretches is very apt here.

The other students listen in silence. There is no need for a teacher to impose silence on the class. They listen out of respect for their classmate. Perhaps they have had a similar experience. The silence is absolute, captured by the poet

the pin-drop silence
fills an ESL classroom


At the end of the tanka we are left in our dreaming room. What was his story? What is his future?

The language in this tanka is simple and concise.

The punctuation when it is used is very effective.
The ellipsis at the end of the first line suggests that the student pauses before he tells his story. It also invites the reader to focus on the student. The em dash at the end of the third line shifts the perspective from the speaker to the rest of the class.

This is a memorable tanka which rings of authenticity.
I used to be …
from an immigrant’s mouth
stretches his story —
the pin-drop silence
fills an ESL classroom





















Appraisal by Catherine Smith
(Given at the 9th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 16th February 2013)

transformed
by the breath of your love
I am no longer sand
scattered to the wind
but the beauty of blown glass               Claire Everett  –  Twelve Moons

The first word of this poem transformed drew me in immediately. The Australian Oxford Dictionary definition of the word is to make a thorough and dramatic change in the form, outward appearance, character etc. So I knew that something or someone was going to change significantly. A great hook to begin the poem.

Reading the second line, I became aware that this was a love poem and especially liked the use of the word breath. It made me think of breath of life, breath of spring, a breath of fresh air; a beautiful way to describe the love and at the same time continuing to indicate a change and then later in the poem becoming the breath of the glass blower.

I am no longer sand
scattered to the wind

With these few words we learn that this person has previously felt insignificant, disconnected, perhaps at the mercy of a strong force, maybe tossed aside, and a sense of helplessness.

but the beauty of blown glass
This line has so much strength. The main raw material in glass production is quartz sand, tying in with the scattered sand in the third line. Glass is transformed by heat enabling a glass blower to shape a piece. It is a delicate and sensitive operation with quite a few stages and three furnaces all at varying temperatures. Much like the process of love.
The poet uses alliteration which slows the pace and this last line brings the poem and the person to wholeness, completeness, beauty, substance and form.

Whether the words are talking about divine love or human love doesn’t matter, a wonderful transformation has taken place as suggested in the first word and the reader is uplifted.

transformed
by the breath of your love
I am no longer sand
scattered to the wind
but the beauty of blown glass


Catherine Smith    16th February 2013




















Appraisal by Jan Dean
(Given at the 10th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 19th October 2013)

My favourite tanka by someone I haven’t met.

Gently, I open
the door to eternal
mystery, the flowers
of my breasts cupped,
offered with both my hands.

This tanka is from River of Stars: selected poems of Yosano Akiko (1878 – 1942) translated from the Japanese by Sam Hamill and Keiko Matsui Gibson. Yosano wrote more than 75 books including 20 volumes of original poetry. Hers was the definitive translation into modern Japanese of the Tales of the Genji. She was a champion of feminism, pacifism and social reform. Passionate and direct work exposes complexity of everyday emotions in poetic language stripped of artifice, presenting the full breadth of her poetic vision.

I chose the tanka for its layers: Images of light and dark are revealed. The first is of a door open from darkness allowing a rush of light to dazzle. Perhaps a newborn enters the world. The converse is also possible, as when people report near death experiences of being in a tunnel moving towards light. Breasts offered is a generous gesture which suggests nurturing and also openness to what the world may bring.

For me, enjambment at the end of line two gives rise to speculation: No matter how many times I read it, I expect it to say the door to eternal life so the added dimension of spirituality has great appeal.

Stretch the imagination and make unlikely connections. I like to connect this tanka with the best-known of Edward Hopper's paintings, Nighthawks (1942), which was painted the year Yosano Akiko died. The tanka and painting have mystery in common. It is possible to look at the painting especially in black and white form and imagine many narratives from the highlighted figures. The tanka is ambiguous which makes it all the more interesting.

Jan Dean October 2013





















Appraisal by Dy Andreasen
(Given at the 10th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 19th October 2013)

The poem I have chosen is by Claire Everett Published in Blithe Spirit Vol.23 No.1. I have returned to this poem many times since I first read it.

cold water
and chrysanthemum petals
our ‘tea for two’
the cup of a memory
i can barely hold

‘cold water’
In this first line my response when reading it was there was more happening than the water being cold I felt that the atmosphere sounded chilly too.

‘and chrysanthemum petals’
My thought was perhaps it is a vase of chrysanthemum flowers in cold water and the petals have fallen. Chrysanthemum are flowers that bloom in autumn when the weather is cooler, this would tie in with fallen petals and the first line of ‘cold water’.

‘our ‘tea for two’
This line brings more information to the first two lines, we now know the ‘cold water and chrysanthemum petals’ is in fact a cup of tea being shared between two people. This was a ritual between the two, were they friends, family or lovers we are not told.

‘the cup of a memory’
Here she is remembering a time shared over a ‘cup of chrysanthemum tea’ that no longer happens. Perhaps because of a death or a parting of ways.

‘I can barely hold’
This line tells us more about the memory and its affect on her. This is a painful memory this cup of chrysanthemum tea that she is reflecting upon. When you read this line together with the 4th line

‘the cup of a memory’
‘ i can barely hold’

To me it sounded as tho the cup is full of memories, not just one and the weight of these memories is heavy with emotion. She is sad that she no longer has the other person there to share this ritual with. The fifth line ‘I can barely hold’ takes you back to the first line ‘cold water’ maybe she has held this cup of tea for so long whilst reflecting on happier times the water has now become cold.

cold water
and chrysanthemum petals
our ?tea for two?
the cup of a memory
i can barely hold


Presented by Dy Andreasen




















Appraisal by David Terelinck
(Given at the 10th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop, 19th October 2013)

There are true moments of tanka perfection. Those times when a poet pens a poem that connects so strongly with the reader that it becomes indelibly etched into the reader’s consciousness and soul for all time.

a large bruise
deep inside the mango
unexpected
the way you turned away
when I needed you most

                                                Susan Constable

I first read this tanka in Simply Haiku in May of 2011. It has stayed with me from that moment. I have had the joy of being able to recite it by heart ever since.

For me this tanka has it all. As a lover of the classical form, the short-long-short-long-long structure is highly appealing. There are no redundant words or phrases and the entire tanka works in harmony to create a powerful piece of writing.

Specifically it is the choice of words, construction, and powerful imagery and metaphor that make this tanka sing for me. The tanka opens, not just with a bruise, but with a large bruise. This is our first clue to significance of the theme and story behind this poem. Small bruises can be easily covered over; forgotten even. Not so with a large bruise. These are unsightly and are much more difficult to hide or disguise. And large bruises are apt to leave large scars on the psyche, if not also the body.

And where is this bruise? It is not superficial, something we can see when we first admire the fruit or enter the relationship. But it is hidden, deep down out of sight. Beyond the bounds of where we make daily allowances for the smaller trifles, and say that it doesn’t matter.

a large bruise
deep inside the mango


It leads us to wonder what else is not perfect with this situation and relationship. What else lies hidden? Is this bruise just the tip of the iceberg . . . is there more beneath the surface that we will not see until it is too late and we capsize?

The third line makes us wonder how this has remained hidden for so long – it is “unexpected” when found. A shock. From the outside this was never envisaged. It looked so ideal, so promising, perhaps even perfect, until the layers were peeled back to reveal this imperfection.

a large bruise
deep inside the mango
unexpected


The poet then pivots on the unexpected to fully reveal the human element of this tanka. The large bruise, deeply hidden, is a metaphor for a loved one or close friend who has turned away. More than this, it is someone who was trusted, considered faithful, and who should NOT have turned away . . . under any circumstances.

a large bruise
deep inside the mango
unexpected
the way you turned away


This bruise runs very deep for another reason. The betrayal becomes complete when we realise this is the one time that the narrator really, intensely and so completely, needed this person to be there – to support them. The time when they were needed the most. There is now no denying the impact this bruise has when discovered.

a large bruise
deep inside the mango
unexpected
the way you turned away
when I needed you most

As shown, this tanka builds, line by line to a powerful ending that carries a strong theme of loss and betrayal. It climaxes to exposes the uncharted human depths of someone we may never really know until we need to call upon them in crisis and then find they are not there. And it raises so many questions about what we should do if someone is not there when we most expect them to be.

This particular tanka by Susan Constable will stay with me for many years to come. It will be one that I return to again and again for sheer enjoyment, for teaching purposes, and for personal inspiration about constructing excellent tanka.

a large bruise
deep inside the mango
unexpected
the way you turned away
when I needed you most

                                                Susan Constable

© David Terelinck, 2013




















Appraisal by Jan Foster
(Given at the 11th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop #11 - 23 February 2014)

crunch of gravel
in the school parking lot
every day
a little more worn down,
a little closer to dust
                                                Bob Lucky
From the very first word – crunch - the loaded nature of the words chosen comes to the fore, and the full power of the message is built with each additional word. Each successive reading, as with any good tanka, only increases its power.
crunch of gravel
Crunch is a jarring sound, establishing the feeling of grinding pressure that is the message of the poem. It carries the added meaning of the bottom line, the end of a thing, as in crunch-time. The author is in despair of his circumstances, dreading the remorseless monotony of it all, feeling pressurised by his circumstances. With this opening line, the overall sense of harshness is established. Gravel is a hard, unyielding, sharp-edged substance, but even that can be eroded by constant grinding down.
crunch of gravel
in the school parking lot
This is what the author hears each day as he leaves, or even worse, as he arrives, a reflection of his state of mind and soul. It sets the place at a school, but for the reader, whose senses are already engaged, it could be the office, the shopping centre, their own home, such is the universality of this feeling at some time in our lives.
crunch of gravel
in the school parking lot
every day
It is the 3rd line that tells of the unrelenting weariness with it all, the remorseless repetition of circumstances which are grinding him down. It is a perfect hinge between the poem’s first and second halves, where the opening imagery is linked to the poet’s situation.
crunch of gravel
in the school parking lot
every day
a little more worn down
a little closer to dust
The repetition of the words a little speaks of the accumulation of small things that do the damage, the slow erosion of what was once a firm sense of purpose, trickling away, while the last word hints of man’s own end, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The two lines form an underscoring of each other, like the beat of a chorus. If tanka is a song, then this one is the blues or even a dirge.

Jan Foster




















Appraisal by Carole Harrison
(Given at the 11th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop #11 - 23 February 2014)

I have chosen Carole MacRury's tanka from Eucalypt 15 ....
will this be
you or me one day —
a fifth goose
flapping furiously
behind the other four
I chose this tanka because I relate to Carole's love of nature, especially birds, and because it relates to what's going on in my life.
Seemingly simple, unpretentious words, flow smoothly. What seems like a reference to geese flying in formation, becomes an analogy for the poet's family or friend unit, opening up to layers of meaning and space for dreaming, for the reader to enter and complete the story for themselves.

It opens with a question, drawing us in, asking us to get involved...

will this be
you or me one day —
The universal themes of ageing, family hierarchy, role reversal, co-operation and sharing.

a fifth goose
... maybe the lead goose, head of the family, cannot hold that position forever. Why 5? Maybe five children or friends. Maybe we are all that lead goose, who eventually tires and falls behind..... flapping furiously

These wonderful onomatopoeic, alliterating words, provide a great pivot, a little bit funny, a little bit serious, appealing to the senses.
They are so significant, setting the tone for this tanka, a light hearted, yet deeply meaningful, look at ageing, and change. Nature is always changing, never static. Even so, we don't want to be left behind, so we hang onto our youth, health and family position. Maybe this makes us angry with life.

behind the other four
The poet draws the poem back into the family unit. Once the head of the family, the leader, now falling behind in the natural scheme of things. Will acceptance come?

Words and lines flow, we are taken deeper, line by line, into themes of 'time and its passage, ageing and change', but it's not all gloomy.
There's a lightness of spirit and I think, acceptance , within these words. Plus, the more I read and fly with the geese, the more layers emerge. Unexpected themes, like communication and teamwork, (Just Google 'geese V formation'), sharing, journeys, etc.

The imagery is light but powerful, poignant but beautiful, simple but evocative in its depth. We will all still be beautiful, one day, just flapping a little faster!


Carole MacRury . . . you would all know her work. She has a deep love of the natural world and acceptance of death. She invites nature into her poetry, working with it to process life events. She's a very experienced, award winning poet. My words about her poem are just -- my words.


Critique by Carole Harrison
Bowerbird Tanka Workshop
23 February, 2014





















Appraisal by Kent Robinson
(Given at the 11th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop #11 - 23 February 2014)

    kneeling
    for her first holy communion
    a crack
    across the sole
    of the child’s shoe

            Belinda Broughton
            p.6, Eucalypt #15


A well written tanka.
The lines are written in the standard short/long/short/ long/long syllable tanka form. As I thought about this tanka, more and more possibilities occurred to me.

The Feast of the Assumption of Mary in August is the time of Holy Communion for people taking the third step on the journey of the Catholic Faith.

For a poor family, one pair of shoes will often have to suffice on numerous occasions; school, weddings, funerals, church, Holy Communion.
A new pair of shoes will probably be purchased for the child’s commencement of school in January. An eight year old child may wear that one pair of shoes fairly harshly in eight months, hence ‘the crack across the sole’.

Another possibility in a poor family is the fact that the shoes may be hand-me-downs from an older sibling. Imagine the mix of emotions the young girl must feel, excitement at the arrival of her first Holy Communion, juxtaposed to the disappointment of not being able to wear her own “best” pair of shoes. It is certain any young lady will be aware of the condition of her shoes and attire generally at such a time.
At a tender age this young girl will be aware, to a point, the straights her family is in. Although the love of a family often softens this reality, a paramount event such as this in her young life, will certainly sharpen her awareness of her family’s poverty.

Whilst kneeling, as demands her faith, the crack across the sole of this young girl’s shoe is revealed. Therefore it may be observed, her kneeling reveals the families poverty, yet at the same time demonstrates the importance of the church in their lives.

It is a very clever use of the word sole, referring obviously to the child’s shoe but of course takes on a whole new facet if we look at the word ‘soul’ meaning the spirit. At first glance, we may interpret Belinda as referring to the girl’s soul as being incomplete until Holy Communion might mend that rift.

Another possibility is that this tanka may be interpreted as a slight against the Catholic Church. "a crack”, the third line of the tanka, pertains to the last two lines; ‘across the sole of the child’s shoe’ ,but we may question, is it related to the first two lines, Which read;
kneeling
for her first holy communion
a crack
perhaps suggests a flaw in the church. ‘kneeling/ for her first Holy Communion /a crack’ mayhap refers to a benevolent institution, being remiss, as it is unable to care for its flock’s worldly needs as well as their spiritual needs.

And what of the comparison of a poverty stricken family’s pride with their faith. A proud mother will surely be embarrassed presenting her child for her first Holy Communion in a pair of shoes with a cracked sole. Notwithstanding, it seems this pales into insignificance against the need to have her little one take the Eucharist for the first time! Due to circumstances the family is unable to change, they are forced to forego a measure of their pride for their faith. This must be extremely emotionally stressful.

Therefore, the child’s family is putting their faith, an intangible, before their pride which pertains to their very tangible day to day life.

I thought it sad when read the first time but realized after some reflection that for this family their faith is paramount and that that faith succours and sustains them!

kneeling
for her first holy communion
a crack
across the sole
of the child’s shoe


A sensitive, thought provoking, cleverly written tanka


Critique by Kent Robinson
Bowerbird Tanka Workshop
23 February, 2014




















Appraisal by Margaret L Grace
(Given at the 12th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop #12 - 23 November 2014)

I have chosen to discuss a tanka written by Barbara A Taylor; published in the UK journal Presence in 2012.
Barbara A Taylor, NSW. Australia is a well-recognized tanka poet, receiving many accolades
The first line of the tanka is . . . no wonder


Think of a statement beginning this way and suggest what might follow on.


    no wonder
    the world is full of conflict . . .
    dancing in playpens
    plastic- gun -slinging toddlers
    in camouflage pants
            Barbara A. Taylor


Since this poem was written, world conflict seems to have escalated in all phases of life.
Lines 1 and 2, a subjective statement,

                           no wonder
                           the world is full of conflict

is justified in lines 3, 4 and 5 with a concrete image,

                           dancing in play-pens
                           plastic-gun-slinging toddlers
                           in camouflage pants


It also reduces a world -wide viewpoint to a small scale in lines 3, 4 and 5.
What is the writer trying to say? The imagery is so strong. Is it an admonishment to the parents, or is she pointing out the innocence of the young children and that one day this play may not be play?
I recently came upon this poem while searching some back volumes of Presence and as a result, after researching the effect of conflict on young children, spent an almost sleepless night.

Princeton University: Early media exposure of violence to young children influences their cognitive development.

UNICEF: Children who are constantly exposed to media coverage and graphic footage of war and conflict around the world, may result in these reactions; anxiety, fear, helplessness and anger.

Manufacturers of toys and clothing for young children produce the trappings of war as play things and the manipulated shopper buys them.
Is this a point the author is alluding to?

This poem could not be described as soft and lyrical but rather the writer is perhaps challenging us to think about the emotional feelings that arise upon reading it and relating it to our own intrinsic values re conflict in the world today. Or perhaps not;
Recently, reading a poem by Stephen Edgar called Song without words, I was taken by the lines in stanza three; '

How strange it is that one contingent
And trivial event
Can shift the pieces in the puzzle
And change the games intent,
Till what you took to be the meaning
Turns out not to be meant

In lines 3, 4 and 5 the alliteration of the p and s sounds soften the image and emphasises poetic form. These three lines have a lovely rhythm of their own.

                            dancing in play-pens
                            plastic-gun-slinging toddlers
                            in camouflage pants


A good tanka is like an arrow that hits the mark . . . oops more violence . . . or one that teases the brain and challenges our thinking, or a tanka we empathise with immediately.
These 5 lines down could be the basis of a long debate or better still, simply read for the nuance the words produce as a poetic experience.

no wonder
the world is full of conflict . . .
dancing in play-pens
plastic- gun - slinging toddlers
in camouflage pants























Appraisal by Cynthia Rowe
(Given at the 12th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop #12 - 23 November 2014)

    another day
    in the classroom
    time to think
    outside the square
    beyond the wall

            Simon Hanson - Australia

(A Hundred Gourds 2:4 September 2013)

My experience of teaching over the years drew me to Simon Hanson's tanka; my interest was engaged with the introductory lines

another day
in the classroom

The poet begins in a workmanlike fashion, no nonsense, as he sets the scene. A soupçon of ennui runs through his words, though. Perhaps he is feeling an inner desperation as the students slump across their desks, bored even though the day has just begun. The reader assumes the poet is referring to the task ahead of him. With the words 'another day' we can feel his shoulders sag, as if in defeat already, unless he does something about it.

Of course, the tanka could be written from the point of view of a student, but the tone of the poem indicates it is more likely to be that of the educator.

The prose is instructional from the beginning, no frills, no adjectives to lighten the subject matter. These are the tools of a teacher, no wasted words, simply getting down to the business of inspiring the fertile minds of those within his care.

time to think
outside the square

There is nothing descriptive or lyrical, purely practical, as he wonders how he can make his subject matter inspirational. The poet gives no clue as to his field of expertise; we have no idea whether he teaches Classical Greek, American History or Home Economics. 'outside the square' could indicate that he is a mathematics teacher, tutor of a dry discipline, a sequential subject unlikely to gladden the heart unless one is truly dedicated.

Juxtaposition is used with good effect as Line 3 swings from the introductory feeling of lethargy to the almost brisk admonition 'time to think'. The poet is telling himself to 'buck up', get going and invigorate these young minds or the opportunity will be lost. The language is astringent. If he doesn't hurry up and think of something to stir their imaginations, the students will probably sink even further into torpor.

The final line

beyond the wall

evokes freedom - the freedom of no longer being enclosed, both metaphorically and physically. He is shut in a classroom where the tang of orange peel and bad banana from yesterday's uneaten lunches permeates the students' book bags. Chalk dust floats in the air. Perhaps motes drift down through a shaft of sunlight, reminding him that there is a world outside, sweet-smelling grass rather than asphalt, grey with time and pitted with the heel marks of those who have gone before. Perhaps he dreams of exotic birdlife rather than the sparrows that peck on sandwich crusts and meat pie scraps. The poet is also pecking for food, but food for thought rather than the prosaic nutrition, or rather 'nutrition-less' fodder to be found in a schoolyard.

There are no direct observations of nature but the reader can feel the urge to find something better than this, whether concrete or imaginary. There are ideas better than this, places more preferable than this one. 'la tête en friche', a French saying meaning 'idle-headed' or 'fallow mind', would be an apt description of this tanka.

Rather than being brought down with a thump, the reader is lifted onto a higher plane, motivated to think 'beyond the wall'.


Bio Sketch
Simon Hanson lives in country South Australia enjoying the open spaces and nearby coastal environments. He is excited by the natural world and relishes moments of the numinous in ordinary things. He is published in various journals and anthologies and never realised how much the moon meant to him until he started writing haiku.


Cynthia Rowe
Editor: Haiku Xpressions
President: Australian Haiku Society























Appraisal by Sylvia Florin
(Given at the 12th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop #12 - 23 November 2014)

    turned twenty last month
    sixty the week after -
    in the curtain's sheer lining
    just a single flash
    of firefly


            Linda Jeannette Ward
            Coinjock, North Carolina

Honorable Mention 2007 TSA International Tanka Competition

I like the deceptive ease with which this small poem takes on a big subject and I really enjoy the image at its centre.

turned twenty last month
sixty the week after -

The first two lines are casual, colloquial and engaging. In a few words they evoke something we have probably all felt. I enjoy the surprise and wry humour the writer expresses in finding so many years have gone by and note that by pairing twenty with month, and sixty with week, the poet creates the sense of time speeding up as the years go by, again something we can probably all relate to.

in the curtain's sheer lining
just a single flash
of firefly

For me the curtain and its sheer lining is the most intriguing part of this image and the poem turns on this image. I found the image surprising and mysterious - at one level it made immediate sense and at another level it did not. Even the literal meaning of these lines is ambiguous. I am not sure if the firefly is outside the house and its light is reflected in the curtain lining or is the insect itself caught in the curtain?

Thinking about all this brought to mind some remarks from a course I once did with Judith Beveridge. My notes say:

" A really potent metaphor will have something not quite resolvable about it, yielding a slightly different meaning each time. Not too closed, nor too obvious."

"Metaphor also brings in the ambiguity of reality."

in the curtain's sheer lining

What is this curtain?

This particular curtain acts as an interface in several ways. It hangs

- at the most literal level, between the room where the writer is observing and the world outside that room, presumably outside the house

- between the poet's inner and outer worlds: the surprise of the vanished years and the single flash of firefly.

- between the first and second parts of the poem - between the vanished years and the equal mystery of the firefly

- for me it also evoked the shadow meaning of a curtain between life and death adding weight to the poem

What to make of the curtain's lining being sheer?

It took me a while to imagine a curtain with a sheer lining, but then of course I realized I have seen many of them.. What does sheer mean? Diaphonous, see-through… That it is sheer, allows us to see through to another world, another meaning; or allows another meaning to be shown in it, reflected in it…it is important that it is not too opaque, that there is not too much of a barrier between the inner and outer worlds - that the metaphor is not too opaque, too 'closed'.

Sheer also means precipitous, absolute. These meanings, lurking just out of sight, convey a gravitas to the diaphanous lining that leads us in to the deeper meaning of the poem.

We should be careful about the use of adjectives, but the use of sheer in this poem delivers substantial additional meaning and the poem would be less rich without it.

in the curtain's sheer lining is the longest line in a poem that does not follow the traditional line lengths but I think it fits well with the subject matter as this image carries so much weight.

just a single flash
of firefly

To me, flash is the strongest word in the poem and its strength is supported and amplified both by its position at the end of a line, and by the alliteration with firefly.

The last line of the poem is only four syllables but it brings to mind both the tiny insect and a big mystery. One can easily miss seeing the flash of a firefly. It is ephemeral and fragile, and something that is glimpsed rather than held. And also mysterious - that it should exist at all, that a creature, and such a tiny creature at that, can make light. The parallel with our own brief lives and our own strange and mysterious lights is clear.




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Appraisal by Carmel Summers
(Given at the 13th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop March 14th 2015)

    so far
    from the sea
    all the shells
    we gathered together
    still restful in a blue glass bowl

            Margarita Engle, USA


This tanka is the signature tanka from the Tanka Society of America Members' Anthology 2014, "All the Shells" edited by M. Kei. In the introduction to the anthology, M. Kei. says about this tanka: "We want 'all the shells,' and we hope to find, as Margarita Engle did, that they will relieve our blues and grant us peace."

This is one of those tanka that stayed in my mind, long after I'd read it but I'm not sure that I agree with M. Kei's interpretation. The poem starts with a journey, a lifetime "so far / from the sea". It immediately raises questions: how long ago did the poet live near the sea and why did she move away? Was it one of life's twists and turns, or has she lost her companion?

The tanka immerses you straight from the journey into the physical. A concrete image - "all the shells" could be as much a metaphor for times shared together as being about the physical shells. However, there is something very special about these shells, because the poet took them with her when she moved away from the sea. We can all relate to items we have that are special, for one reason or another; the items that we don't discard, regardless of their monetary value, because their hold a deeper, personal value for us. We get that sense in this tanka, that the shells are indeed, very special.

In this simple, but loaded tanka, each line adds more meaning and raises more questions. "all those shells / we gathered together" It gives the impression that the shells are numerous, and represent many occasions - indeed, many years - gathering them. They could well have been times walking along the beach, playing there with their friends or family. As collecting shells is something that many children do, it may have been an activity shared with a child, a friend, a partner.

Then the final line: "still restful in a blue glass bowl" turns this tanka into a meditation. The word "still" implies that after a long period, or distance, the qualities associated with the shells has not diminished. They are resting in a "blue glass bowl" - an image of serenity and centredness. The carefully chosen words, "restful" "still", even the colour of the bowl, "blue" the colour of peacefulness and "glass" so that we can see the shells through their container.

This is where I differ from M Kei, as I think the poet is not escaping the blues, but that the blue of calmness is infusing her life, in this contemplation of those shells, which hold so many memories for her.

This tanka is slight - a mere 18 words, all simple. It relies on subtlety of alliteration, with an "s" sound providing a linkage from the 'sea', the 'shells' and 'restful'. It is truly a finesse of word economy, where every word has been assessed and every line polished.




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appraisal by Michael Thorley
(Given at the 13th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop March 14th 2015)

    silent mornings
    in a room of my own
    meditative
    the long walk of wet ink
     its trail across the page



When I read this tanka my response was immediate recognition - on a personal level. I enjoy the silent mornings when I can lie in bed and close my eyes and just allow the mind to wander. This can be a fruitful time, or not. Kirsty begins her tanka with three lines that describe a simple situation. Alone in a quiet room she thinks, allowing her thoughts to go where they will. And it seems to me that the other room of her own is her mind, the private and treasured place where creativity rises. And of course, if she is sitting quietly, she is not physically going anywhere - not going on a walk, for instance. But the other lovely part of the tanka is the image that recognises that although she is sitting still (or standing, for she could be drawing or painting) her mind is wandering - in the creative sense - and the pen in her hand is going on a walk. She is describing a walk of the imagination, a creative exploration. The wet ink of the pen (or brush) moves, and leaves a trail of illustration or poetry that others can follow and enjoy. And perhaps she is suggesting also that the act of using a pen or brush is a physical act as well as a utilitarian one, and there is joy in the act of writing or drawing above the joy of creating the words or the picture as a whole. I enjoy, too, the way the tanka sets up an atmosphere of silence and aloneness that contrasts with the implied silent activity of the mind, reflected in the movement of the wet ink across the page.

The tanka brings to mind the refrain couplet in WB Yeats's "Long-Legged Fly" -

Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.


            *In shorelines - haiku, haibun and tanka
            Kirsty Karkow
            Black Cat Press. 2007




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Appraisal by Hazel Hall
(Given at the 13th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop March 14th 2015)

    watching sunlight
    slip in and out of the blinds
    my pile
    of unread books
    next to yours


             Bob Lucky
             Eucalypt 16, 2014, p.16.

To explain why I chose this poem, I'd like to regress a minute. About five weeks ago I attended a lecture on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and how it is being developed to replace human intelligence. The presenter used film clips to illustrate each point. For instance, he used a scene from 2001 A Space Odyssey to show how a robot can be programmed to collect data by reading lips. In another example he showed how a computer can fathom numerous different meanings from one sentence. Usually there is only one correct meaning, and that is clear to us. What AI can't do is interpret ambiguity or human emotions. Now, the presenter stopped short of mentioning the arts. But what would happen if there were more than one meaning to a sentence or phrase and each was 'correct'? He could have taken the discussion on perhaps with a clip from a film like Blade Runner, which is so ambiguous that we never know if Dekker is himself a replicant. Nor do we fully grasp the poignancy of Roy Batty's death soliloquy. It is all this that makes the film so tense. In tanka we call it the 'dreaming room.'

And that is where my choice of Bob Lucky's poem comes in. He is a master at suggestion. Lucky knows how much to use: enough to inspire wonder but not enough to bamboozle the reader. He does this by crafting the poem into a story. There is no sentimentality or wasted words. Instead, he uses poetic rhetoric, playing on our senses through the use of musical language to draw us in. I'll touch on that again later.

First, let me go through the poem line by line to show how Lucky builds up the tension, leaving us with that delicious lingering feeling of being almost but not quite sure of what he means.

The first line is elegantly simple:
watching sunlight

Immediately the poet cuts to the chase. In two words we have two important pieces of information:

1. The poet is watching.
2. He is watching sunlight

We all have watched sunlight. Personally, I could watch it for hours. Sunlight is warm. It makes us feel languid. It is ethereal. And rather surprisingly, it is also associated with death. The Lux Aeterna of the Requiem Mass means 'light eternal'. We humans cannot cope with eternal darkness. There must be light. Already our sight, feelings and emotions have been aroused. We sense the silence. Perhaps an eerie silence.

watching sunlight/ slip in and out of the blinds

This is probably the most important line in the poem, building on the first two words. It is also the longest line, as if the sunlight were slipping for ever. The poet is mesmerized. Word by word a picture is drawn: the sunlight slipping. Not out and in, but and out of the blinds. The blinds have been let down. We wonder why. They are blocking out the sun. There are shadows in the room. And 'blind' can imply loss of sight. To see what? Something tangible like the view outside? Or intangible, like an insight? What is the meaning of this? There is a hint of something strange.

Now we come to the volta, where new information is given to us:

watching sunlight/ slip in and out of the blinds/ my pile . . .

Things have been accumulated. What are they? Are they real? Or imagined? Has some emotion been 'piling' up in the poet's mind? The answer comes in the next line:

watching sunlight/ slip in and out of the blinds/ my pile/ of unread books . . .

Here we learn that the pile is books. The speaker appears to be a reader and a thinker. But all these books are unread. What caused them to be unread? The poet continues to overlay mysteries for us to unravel. There is a hint of The Pillow Book of the Heian period. The book of life. But there is not one but many books here.

And in the final line we learn what is happening. This is the Pow line.

watching sunlight/ slip in and out of the blinds/ my pile/ of unread books/ next to yours

We are left to conclude that the other person's books are also unread. It is only suggested through the structuring of the phrase. Now, it would be perfectly consistent to surmise that the two people are in a library or lecture room, young lovers, absorbed with each other, thinking only of when they can have some privacy. Or they are in bed together after making love, watching sunlight and shadows through the drawn blinds - that moment of elation when everything around us is light and beautiful and reading is unconsidered. Or that there has been a bitter quarrel and the poet is alone mulling over it, unable even to read. Or many other scenarios.

Or could it be that this poem is about death and what happens when we lose somebody close, perhaps from a long illness. Blinds are suddenly drawn: the blinds in the room and the blinds in our minds. We become numb with grief. In these periods of intense physical and emotional pain we cannot attend to the simple pleasures of life like reading. Time is needed to mourn. To watch the sunlight slip in and out as memories constantly return and we make sense of it all. It's like convalescing after a serious illness. But if we allow ourselves that time, through the depths of our grief an enlightenment comes that can't be found in books. It has to be sought and pondered over. It slips in and out of the darkness like the brief return of a lost loved one. And some of us might believe that those who slip away receive this profound knowledge for ever. Lux Aeterna.

Or perhaps this poem refers to the moment of death itself, when life leaves the body. The slipping in and out of breath, the uncertainty of those around. All these and more possibilities are available to us.

Let's look for a moment at the poetic language and how it is used. Firstly the use of sibilants which themselves say Shh! and have us stop to listen:

watching sunlight/ slip in and out of the blinds/ my pile/ of unread books/ next to yours
Secondly, the poet writes in the present tense, using the long I as an image of immediacy to stress important words. It isn't new; Keats used this device in 'Ode to a Grecian Urn'. But it still works. The reader thinks: I am here. I am involved.

watching sunlight/ slip in and out of the blinds/ my pile/ of unread books/ next to yours

Thirdly, the musical phrasing is perfect. Not one word jars. Notice too, how the poetic lines are crafted in 4/ 7/ 3/ 4/ 3 syllables, the last three slipping away from that all-important second line.

Lastly, perhaps this poem should be read aloud not twice, but at least three times: listening, learning, enlightenment. The poem itself is a book, or more correctly, many books and we are left to 'read' as many as we can. Each reader will find something different. It is so rewarding when different readers finds something new and personal in what we have written. This is why it is pointless to seek a single explanation for a great tanka. Those rewards disappear like the sunlight. And why ambiguity is so important. It's the precious thing that allows us to search for a truth, often metaphysical, at a deeply personal level. This power of suggestion is found not just in poetry but in all the arts, as we have already seen in film at the beginning of this discussion. Artificial intelligence will never replace the human mind. Or the human heart.




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Appraisal by Marilyn Humbert
(Given at the 14th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop March 12th 2016)

        the wind
        tugs at my umbrella
        time and again
        I must choose between
        holding on and letting go

                        Susan Constable
                        Ribbons Spring 2011


I have chosen this tanka not just because of its story of life and making choices but because of the way it's constructed.

It's a tanka that holds true to what I think makes a tanka a tanka, not just five clever lines of fractured prose or free verse.

The first thing I noticed was the way the tanka presented on the page. Visually it is appealing. It's traditional in format with short/long/short/long/long lines, and this draws me closer and I want to read this poem.

On read-through I can hear the music in this poem. The line breaks and chosen words enhance the musicality, especially the 'o' sounds in Lines 4 & 5. Each line is a phrase. A short song of 24 syllables.

The poet uses ordinary natural language, and makes every word count. There is minimal punctuation: in this case, the poet hasn't used any and none is needed.

There is a concrete image linked to an emotional response.

It is personal. my umbrella and I must choose.
It tells us something significant not only about the poet but something we all can relate to; the last line has impact.

Line 1 : the wind
a standard opening line, that could go in any direction

Line 2 : tugs at my umbrella,
we have movement and sound, the wind trying to pull the umbrella from my grasp as it gusts and the sound of the umbrella flapping.

Line 3 : time and again
when we read further on we discover this is a hard working pivot. time and again, links equally well with Lines 1 & 2 and Lines 4 & 5

Line 4 : I must choose between
the story is building. We are wondering what must the author choose between: the umbrella, something more personal like a job, a loved one, a child, the list goes on and on

Line 5 : holding on and letting go
This completes the story and leaves the dreaming room for the reader wide open.
We are able to bring our own experiences and thoughts to this tanka and the holding on or letting go becomes personal to us.

A tanka to enjoy not only because of its traditional form, but because of its dreaming room. Thank you Susan Constable.

        the wind
        tugs at my umbrella
        time and again
        I must choose between
        holding on and letting go

                        Susan Constable
                        Ribbons Spring 2011




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Appraisal by Kathy Kituai
(Given at the 14th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop March 12th 2016)

        grand jeté . . .
        and the audience falls silent
        until the ovation
        the young dancer
        just leapt into her dream

                        Simon Hanson
                        Eucalypt 19, 2015


There are some moments hard to capture but Simon Hanson takes us into one offered to everyone … that moment when we manifest who and what we have come here to be - no applause, no accolades. The location where this takes place is of no consequence. The protagonist in Hanson's tanka just happens to be on stage when she actualizes her dream, the realization that she is capable of leaping into the essence of herself as a dancer. She would have practiced and danced this dance many times before this performance. But this is no ordinary leap. It's the grand jeté, the biggest leap anyone is ever going to take, one impossible to achieve without complete belief in oneself, our talent and total trust in the outcome.

I know of a poet who performed with Elizabeth Cameron Dalman, a well-known Canberra dancer and founder of Mirimu Dance Company. The poet read her poem from the heart. Elizabeth choreographed the emotional core within each word into dance that expressed the spirit within her. They leapt into who they were in heartfelt harmony together on stage.

When it was time to take a bow, there was complete silence in the restaurant. Not as experienced as this dancer, the poet whispered: They don't like it! The dancer squeezed the poet's arm and whispered - wait! - Seconds later people sprung to their feet, hooting and clapping. The audience recognized the realization of a collaborative dream and gave voice to what they witnessed in deafening applause. This rarely happens, the dancer whispered.

To witness artists performing the grand jeté whatever the genre, can leave us speechless and in that same state of awe.

At first when I read this tanka aloud, no punctuation to guide me, I read the first three lines this way…

        grand jeté . . .
        the audience falls silent
        until the ovation


… and couldn't make sense of it. If the audience falls silent, who creates the ovation? Is it possible to do both at once? We pause, and then the enlightened among us, those who are always a step ahead of the crowd, begin to clap until the whole audience joins in. So overcome, at first we fall silent.
Keeping in mind that ….

        until the ovation
        the young dancer
        just leaps into her dream


… and was so caught up in the grand leap into her dream, the audience doesn't exist for her, until the sound of clapping breaks into her consciousness. Only at that moment is she aware of them. The ovation is for something far deeper than just this performance; the dancer has also lived the audience's dream as well as hers on stage, the collaborative dream. The aha! occurs not just in her but en masse.

How tempting it is to seek applause, and fame yet never manifests our full potential. As I said 'there are some thing hard to capture' … the 'grand jeté! is one of them.

Technically Simon Hanson has been equally subtle. No alliteration in this tanka, the assonance focuses on what is inferred, so much so, I hardly noticed the inner rhyme of 'grand' and 'dancer' (and isn't the dancer magnificent?) as well as 'audience and fall' (as we do into silence) and how meaningful the companionable sound of jeté and 'leapt' (almost the same denotation in French and English) and add to this the half rhyme of 'dream'. Look how these poetics emerge naturally along with the subconscious connections they make.

Look also at the way Simon Hanson's first two words in the tanka thrusts the reader into the poem, no preparation for what is about to be read, in exactly the same way in which the dancer takes the grand jeté on stage. What better example is there of content echoing form?

Ironically, even the poet seems to have just leapt into this tanka, no thought for the reader during the moment of its conception as they wrote. But that of course is only possible from a well-practiced writer who writes with total trust in the outcome.

        grand jeté . . .
        and the audience falls silent
        until the ovation
        the young dancer
        just leapt into her dream

                        Simon Hanson
                        Eucalypt 19, 2015





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Appraisal by Crys Smith
(Given at the 14th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop March 12th 2016)

        sirens scream
        at graffitied walls
        uniformed youths leave
        their self expression
        on the edge of belonging
       
             Lisa M Tesoriero


This Tanka from Eucalypt 10 screamed out to be read!

The author portrays a dark emotive image. The first line is powerful.
It straightaway immerses me into a hostile city where crime lurches and street people are forgotten. I can hear the piercing sirens. I can see flashlights fast approaching the scene as youths scurry to another place.

'graffitied walls' are their written rebellion.
Is this a desperate plea for help? Is it anger at the unfairness of their lives? There is a defiant sense of similarity in their hopelessness.
This is their uniform. It could be the only sense of connection and belonging that exists for them.

'the edge of belonging' has a desperate impermanence about it.
The group could disband at any time. What happens then? Where is their next belonging?

The word 'leave' conjures a hasty exit and thoughts of other emblazoned walls left behind.
The youths are tipped over the 'edge' as the group scatters.
Their fragile wall of 'belonging' crumbles.

Lisa M Tesoriero has written a potent tanka that lingers and expands into profuse thought each time I read it.

        sirens scream
        at graffitied walls
        uniformed youths leave
        their self expression
        on the edge of belonging
       
             Lisa M Tesoriero




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Appraisal by Samantha Hyde
(Given at the 15th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop November 19th 2016)

        carvings
        on an old oak
        now faded —
        he recalls a slight
        from thirty years ago
       
            Sondra J Byrnes
            Moonbathing #12, 2015.


Written in simple language and using just 18 syllables, this visual poem is seemingly uncomplicated but for me it packs a punch.

They say that, 'a picture is worth a thousand words.' In just seven words in the first three lines of this tanka, the poet evokes an image in the reader's mind -- I take in that oak, the knife marks on the bark made a long time ago. I imagine initials etched within a rough-hewn heart perhaps by childhood sweethearts. My thoughts stray to how maybe years later one or both persons observe the old carving and I imagine what may go through their minds. I reckon that the emotions would vary depending on how their lives have unravelled since that etching: delight, amusement, sadness, anger, regret etc.

Another reader will no doubt bring in their own perspective. For instance, the image of a carved tree may trigger some negativity if we feel that engravings harm a tree's growth. The dead tissue of a tree's outer bark protects the inner section from drying out, injury and disease. When it's carved (unless done professionally), the blade of a knife could cut through the inner casing and result in the tree's slow starvation and eventual death.

The poet uses the standard tanka format of short/long/short/long/long lines. I like how the concrete image in the first two lines: "carvings / on an old oak" is then connected by an excellent pivot line, "now faded — " to the emotional content of the last two lines, "he recalls a slight / from thirty years ago." The only punctuation, an em dash draws attention to the conclusion and what the poem is really about.

The assonance scattered within the song adds to its musicality and builds on mood and connotations, so that we can read a greater insight into the poet's message.

As an implicit simile for a 'slight,' the image of 'carvings' works very well: however old the tree gets, the etchings are there, even if less pronounced. I'm certain that we've all experienced how old negative memories such as affronts and rejections keep surfacing in our minds however much we try to get rid of them.

For me this poem has a distinct Buddhist flavour as it reflects the difficulties presented when
trying to meditate. From a Buddhist perspective, the aim of meditation is essentially to stop the mind from continuously changing its focus and moving to the past and the future. So, we try to steady and calm the mind - to concentrate its energy on a single object while anchoring it within the present moment. In the long run, we're striving to rid the mind of greed, ill will and delusion.

As with the carving on the old oak, unpleasant experiences and grudges linger as scars in the
mind often creating emotional barriers and hindering its freedom to develop. In Buddhist
psychology, these negative traits persist stubbornly like deeply rooted weeds which have to be acknowledged, uprooted and finally stamped out. The problem is often the defective lens of the concept of the 'self,' the source of delusion that distorts the memories of the past.

        carvings
        on an old oak
        now faded —
        he recalls a slight
        from thirty years ago

                Sondra J Byrnes
                Moonbathing #12, 2015
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Appraisal by Carole Harrison
(Given at the 15th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop November 19th 2016)

        pills
        have a special routine
        of their own:
        he juggles them in his left hand,
        peanut-tosses them one by one
       
             Sanford Goldstein
             "Four Decades on my Tanka Road"


This poem is from the retirement section, towards the end of Sanford Goldstein's book, "Four Decades on My Tanka Road", a collection of tanka spanning a life time of emotional changes of this well-known and generous poet. I've chosen it because I'm reading his book and this is a rather unusual tanka for me, not nature centric per se, with a slightly unusual line and punctuation structure. With its universal themes, it's relevant to what's going on in my life.

The structure is a loosely formatted version of the short/ long/ short/ long/ long lines tradition. Lines 1-3 are relatively short with 1, 6, and 3 syllables compared with Lines 4 and 5 having 8 each. So I wonder how this bottom-heavy poem works as a tanka, and if the poet gets away with a short, one syllable word as L.1. This goes against what I as a relatively inexperienced poet have learned and written.

Goldstein is a respected poet who has published many books and won prizes. So this must be a fine tanka. I have grown to love the book and his story yet I sometimes wonder, are his semi irregular or unusually constructed tanka, very clever and highly skilled, or is there a certain flexibility of rules that comes with being a long standing and recognised poet?

Not as simple as at first glance, this tanka includes a number of poetic devices, layers of meaning and dreaming space. Does it have rhythm? Maybe not so much in L 1-3, but L 4, 5 are very musical with a rhythmic flow. The language is an easy use of everyday words, with very little that's superfluous.

Line 1: 'pills'
… a short, merciless line thrusting us into the topic and maybe sending a chill of dread up our spines. Like the topic, it's small, harsh and powerful.

Lines 2 and 3: 'have a special routine / of their own'
Pills don't intrinsically have or engage in a routine of themselves, so there's personification of sorts here. However, a routine is usually needed in the taking of medicines at certain times of the day and this routine may be totally separate and different from the daily activities of the person taking them.

So far, this is a serious topic.

Line 4: 'he juggles them in his left hand'
"juggles" is an unusual word to be linked with pills and an older person. It's light hearted, referring to a fun activity the poet has introduced, enhancing a humdrum activity. The mood of the poem lifts, with this bringing together of the serious with light hearted.

Line 5: 'peanut-tosses them one by one'
The lighter mood increases, the poet having the last laugh, a thumbs down to ageing. He rebels with a fun, clever action that's not usually linked with older people. He tosses the pills into the air, catching them in his mouth. A surprising 'AHA' ending. I love that and appreciate the value in exercising his hand-eye-mouth co-ordination.

At the very end of L5, 'one by one' is important, emphasising that this pill taking is a lengthy process, just as in life, each of us travels our own journey, one by one facing the 'big swallow' !! Those final 3 words round off the tanka and link back to Line 1, reminding us this is a serious topic.

Themes: I see the obvious ageing and expectation, also acceptance of life's journey - or not! There is juxtaposition in the sense of advancing age and declining health V youthful activities and attitude.

Is there sufficient dreaming space? On each successive reading I find myself led down dreamscapes and memories of, not just age, but 'care of the aged', of attitudes to my own and others' journeys; of the spirit within people and all living things; of making life count and of acceptance; also of health and happiness, of finding joy in small things… and fighting the good fight with a sense of humour.

There is alliteration with 'p' sounds of 'pills', 'special' and 'peanut' plus lots of 'o's , especially 'one by one' suggesting the shape of pills, round and small and powerful. 'Juggle' is a lovely word, its sound echoing sense. 'Peanut-tosses' is almost colloquial, adding lightness.

Finally, it's possible to look for deeper, double meanings. 'pills' may be a metaphor for people or life, time or even fears - or it could be just about 'pills'.


        pills
        have a special routine
        of their own:
        he juggles them in his left hand,
        peanut-tosses them one by one
       
             Sanford Goldstein





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Appraisal by Kent Robinson
(Given at the 15th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop November 19th 2016)

        melted
             snow woman
        . . . will my end too
        leave a night pool
        that holds the moon
       
            Linda Jeannette Ward
            Blithe Spirit Volume 24 Number 1 2014 p39


This sensitive tanka employs simple language that strikes a chord where perhaps the use of more a exuberant dialogue might fall short of the mark.

The first two lines, staggered as they are, suggest to me, without a word, a life or period of life broken or dissipating, which of course is confirmed by the third line ". . . will my end too . . ."

The 4th and 5th lines are in normal case and display exquisite imagery "leave a night pool/that holds the moon" It is most interesting that these lines; four and five, are in normal case, which may suggest peace, after the trauma of "passing over"

I love "holds" in the fifth line. The poet may have used the word "reflects", but I believe the word "holds", (supports) is the crux here - I feel "holds" is more personal, perhaps a little like an "embrace". It suggests endearment when all else is lost.

The moon being a heavenly entity, to me represents the divine, perhaps that essence of the poet, of us all, that we'd like to believe lives on after one's demise.

The poet is playing a lonely person's demise in a cold, inhospitable circumstance, against the warmest emotion of one's existence, and does so with a brilliant subtlety. Yet Linda Jeanette Ward , also does it with rare imagery; "leave a night pool that/holds the moon"

Might it be, that this is a tanka of unrequited love? If so . . . may we surmise that all that is left of the poet, after her passing, is her strongest emotion, this passion, something so overpowering, yet as fragile and intangible as a reflection?

There are many, many possible interpretations and as with all fine tanka, this one by Linda Jeanette Ward, provokes thought.

The question intrigues me, ". . . will my end too/leave a night pool/that holds the moon".
The question, a form used in the finest tanka:


Like a ripple
that chases the slightest caress
of a breeze -
is that how you want me
to follow you?

Ono no Komachi

Tonight,
with no one to wait for,
why do my thoughts
deepen
along with the twilight?

Izumi Shikibu

Both of the above poems are from 'The Ink Dark Moon' translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani.

I note also the use of assonance in the third, fourth and fifth lines; 'too', 'pool' and 'moon', are all encapsulated in the second part of the tanka.
I feel this assonance cleverly binds the second part of the tanka and in doing so strengthens the question;

. . . will my end too
leave a night pool
that holds the moon

For me, this tanka, has been well thought out and written with subtlety and a delicate use of exquisite imagery which resonates in a haunting beauty.


        melted
             snow woman
        . . . will my end too
        leave a night pool
        that holds the moon
       
            Linda Jeannette Ward
            Blithe Spirit Volume 24 Number 1 2014 p39

 

 

 




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Appraisal by Dy Andreasen
(Given at the 16th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop March 11th 2017)

A favourite tanka of mine is from Eucalypt 11, by John Quinnett

        catching and releasing
       clouds passing by
        all day long
        learning from a mountain
        how to let go

               John Quinnett Eucalypt 11, 2011, p.8.

I have chosen this tanka because it makes me reflect on my own journey through life, the different ways I understand my experiences and how I decide to hold on or to let go. When I read the poem I remember a childhood game played by watching the clouds as they changed into different shapes which we would describe, perhaps this is a memory you can relate to.

In the first line of the tanka
        catching and releasing
there is a lot of movement, it made me wonder what is being caught and released?

In the second line

       clouds passing by

We understand the poet is still, as the clouds move past him, perhaps he is imagining catching and releasing the clouds

It is the third line
       all day long
When I begin to sense that it is a person, thought or feeling that he is reflecting on

       catching and releasing
       clouds passing by
       all day long

The third line is a strong pivot line that works well with Lines 1 & 2 and Lines 4 & 5. For the poet to be alone in one place all day suggests to me that he is trying to resolve something deep inside himself. Perhaps it is a person, thought or feeling that is no longer relevant to him that keeps returning with his thoughts. This internal struggle is one we would have all experienced at some time during our life.

I love the last two lines

        learning from a mountain

        how to let go

The poet who is still, like the mountain, has spent the day alone with his thoughts, learning how to let the memory of something or someone go, whilst watching the clouds come and go around a mountain.

This tanka reminds me of the ancient Japanese Shinto belief, still practiced in Japan, where everything in nature has a sacred spirit known as Kami, which is to be respected. The people who practice Shinto believe the mountains are mysterious and to be revered, the clouds represent the floating world or celestial heavens where the gods or Kami live.

This a lovely image the poet has written, of man observing and learning from nature with a strong sense of the possible.

 

       catching and releasing
       clouds passing by
       all day long
       learning from a mountain
       how to let go

               John Quinnett Eucalypt 11, 2011, p.8

 

 




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Appraisal by Carol Judkins
(Given at the 16th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop March 11th 2017)

       north by northeast
       a splinter of geese flies
       far from this heat
       I too ponder
       how I'll leave this earth

       This tanka is extracted from a haibun by Margaret Dornaus found in her new collection, 'Prayer for the Dead'.

In its upper half, we are presented with a nature image, and in the lower half, we experience a reflective response that is thoughtful and resonant. Structurally, it deviates slightly from the traditional s/l/s/l/l pattern in a 4-6-4-4-5 construction. This tanka is so satisfying to read aloud.
In the upper half

       north by northeast
       a splinter of geese flies
       far from this heat

there is quite lovely alliteration which create a beautiful song: north/northeast, flies/far. The "s" sounds of 'splinter', 'geese' and 'this' create the music as well.
The image of a splinter of geese is surprising and fresh. Geese, splintered off from a larger whole, links with the lower half of this tanka:

       I too ponder
       how I'll leave this earth.

The use of the word splinter, defined as a small piece broken off from the main body, works as a metaphor for the separation of spirit and body at death, which adds depth to the last two lines.

Finally, the line 'far from this heat', creates dreaming room, a thoughtful pondering of what we might be leaving. The geese leave due to atmospheric temperature, but what might be the 'heat' that leads to our human leaving?
Each word is chosen carefully in crafting this memorable tanka.




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Appraisal by Catherine Smith
(Given at the 16th Bowerbird Tanka Workshop March 11th 2017)

       airplants
       with no roots
       on my birthday
       I miss that phone call
       from Mom and Dad               

              Ken Slaughter USA / Ripples in the Sand

As many of you will know, until it happens, it's impossible to imagine how you're going feel after both parents have passed away. Losing one or both parents when you're young is particularly traumatic, but later in life whether it's a sudden death or a signposted one, the loss of a second parent is one of life's significant events. A large chunk of your life has gone. People can feel as if their roots have been taken away. That they have been orphaned. For some, the parents have been the only constant factor in their lives. Even for those people perhaps long estranged from parents or shut out by dementia, the departure severs a primal tie.

       airplants
       with no roots
       on my birthday
       I miss that phone call
       from Mom and Dad


In this poem, the poet talks about the occasion of his birthday. A day when he would especially be thinking of his parents. It would appear by the wording of the fourth line, I miss that phone call, that he was accustomed to receiving a call from his Mum and Dad on this day. Now they're gone he draws the strong analogy to being like an air plant with no roots. We don't know if this is the first birthday since his parents' death, or many years on. What we do know is that days such as this always remind us of loved ones no longer with us.

Even though there are no strong emotional words used in this poem of only eighteen syllables, the longing for one more conversation with the parents and the knowledge of the irreversible separation from them, comes through strongly.
This is a simple, straightforward, important tanka because it will resonate for so many people either now or most certainly at some time to come.




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


       





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