empty garden   

tanka by Eucalypt editor, Beverley George



            

Beverley George was the editor of Yellow Moon from 2000-2006 and since 2006 has edited Eucalypt: A Tanka Journal, Australia's first journal dedicated to this genre.

 

empty garden, her first book of tanka, was published in 2006 and reprinted in 2013. It has an introduction by Michael McClintock, and endorsements from
Jane Hirshfield and Janice M Bostok


About the author:
Beverley was President of the Australian Haiku Society from 2006-2010, during which time she presented a paper on Australian haiku at a conference in Matsuyama, Japan and one on tanka at the 6th International Tanka Festival in Tokyo, Japan. In September 2009, Beverley convened the 4th Haiku Pacific Rim Conference, at Terrigal, NSW. This four day event was attended by 57 full-time delegates from 7 countries; and many day delegates. She presented a workshop on tanka at Haiku Aotearoa (NZ) in 2012.
Her tanka earned 2nd place in 2005 and 1st prize and a honourable Mention in the Tanka Society of America's International Competition, 2006; 1st prize in the Saigyo Awards for tanka [US] 2010 and Joint 1st Prize Diogen Best summer tanka 2013; 2nd prize in the 2nd Kokako International Tanka Competition [New Zealand] January 2009 and 2nd prize in the 6th International Tanka Festival Tanka Competition [Japan] 2009.


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Reviews of empty garden


by David Bacharach in Modern English Tanka, Volume 1, Number 2. Winter 2006. reproduced here

by Patricia Prime in Stylus Poetry Journal, Issue 24, January 2007 (Reviews).reproduced here with permission.

by Robert D Wilson: Simply Haiku Spring 2007.

by Aya Yuhki (Japan) in The Tanka Journal [Japan] # 30 2007 p. 31 reproduced here with permission.

by Kirsty Karkow, vice-president of the Tanka Society of America: published in the print journal Five Bells: Australian Poetry Volume 14 No. 1 Summer 2007 pp.42-43

by Kirsty Karkow, vice-president of the Tanka Society of America: published in Tanka Canada's print journal Gusts No. 5 Spring/Summer 2007 reproduced here with permission.


by Dr Doreen King (UK) in Blithe Spirit, print journal of The British Haiku Society Vol 17 No 1 March 2007

by Maria Steyn (South Africa) in Ribbons, print journal of the Tanka Society of America, Volume 3, No. 2 Summer 2007 reproduced here with permission.

empty garden was commended in the 2007 Society of Women Writers (NSW) Inc. Biennial Book Awards – poetry section



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This book review is reproduced here with the permission
of the author, Aya Yuhki, and the editor of 'The Tanka Journal' [Japan]
where it first appeared in Volume #30 2007 p. 31



Book Review: “empty garden”-tanka by Beverley George

Aya Yuhki


“empty garden” is the first collection of tanka by Beverley George of Australia. She is already well-known as the editor of ‘Yellow Moon’, a magazine for haiku, renga, tanka and poems. Recently she launched the initial issue of ‘Eucalypt’, a Tanka Journal, which tells her enthusiasm for tanka.

This book contains more than sixty tanka and five tanka sequences. The theme throughout is related to her life long love. Her method of composition is quite traditional from the viewpoint that she describes her emotion associated with a concrete image. This shows her deep sympathy with Japanese literature, especially in the field of traditional waka as well as present tanka.

Not only is her tanka style traditional, her tanka creates the atmosphere of love in the Heian era, which goes back more than a thousand years in Japanese history. Of course, she is an intelligent women living in the twenty-first century. And therefore, it is needless to say that her relationship with her love is quite different from that of the Heian era. She is marvelous in holding her identity firmly in Heian-like style as is expressed in this tanka
combing through seaweed
for an unbroken shell —
once my long hair
spilling over us
shut out the fire’s light
Her description in the last three lines follows the Heian literary tradition, in which long hair was thought to be the primary symbol of feminine beauty. At the same time in the first two lines, she is seeking ‘an unbroken shell.’ She realizes everything in this world is transient, fragile, uncertain and absurd. All the more for this realization, rather unconsciously, she seeks a certain touch, or a solid sense. ‘An unbroken shell’ is one of the concrete images of this longing. There are other examples:

rip-tide —
slowly I return
an occupied shell
to the surging sea
between us

widening each day
the winter river rushes
over hidden rocks
if you asked me to return
I could no longer cross it

the coldness
of your words surprised me
though you hold me close
should I be aware of rocks
just below the melting snow

As these three tanka show, ‘occupied shell’ is described in contrast to ‘surging sea’, ‘hidden rocks’ to ‘winter river rushes’, ‘rocks’ to ‘below the melting snow’. The solid existence of ‘shell’ and ‘rocks’ are expressed as the counterpoint of ‘surging water’, which symbolizes her unease, fretfulness, fear of fragility. The ‘shell’, ‘rocks’, ‘conches’ are symbols of her inner longing for constancy. The frustration between these two opposite elements is the landscape of her inner life.

As another characteristic of her tanka, I would like to draw the readers’ attention to her exquisite sensual expressions, which also suggests inheritance from Heian literature.

She gazed at love, she was injured by love. She experienced love not only through ideas but also physically. Through strife, she acquired the true strength of a woman. I would like to extend the tanka which shows this process.
losing your love
I learn the strength
of mine —
a she-oak whipped by wind
thrusts deeper roots

‘empty garden’ embedded at the end of this book is an excellent tanka sequence revealing the pinnacle of this collection. The spontaneous flow of lyrical sentiment in this sequence, I’m sure, promises her further attainment to the next level.



Copies are available by ordering from B M George PO Box 3274,   Umina Beach NSW 2257  AUSTRALIA. Cheques/money orders must be in Australian dollars payable to 'Beverley George'. Cost includes postage and handling: Within Australia $15, New Zealand, Japan AUD$17.50, UK, US, Canada, Europe AUD$19



Aya Yuhki is a bilingual Japanese poet whose poetry flows gently, but exploratively, between traditional and contemporary concepts. Her most recent book All I can do, addresses, by example, the quandary of poets who must decide the most appropriate genre for all they wish to express.It demonstrates the synergy between tanka and free verse.

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Book Review: “empty garden”-tanka by Beverley George

David Bacharach



The first thing one notices about Beverley George's recent
collection of tanka, empty garden, is its pure physical quality.

Unusually dimensioned at four and a quarter inches by eight and a
half, this slim volume of 84 poems (including 5 sequences), has been
printed on the type of expensive, glossy paper that fingers love to
caress. With a string binding and thick black print, the very feel
of this book conveys the impression of a richness that goes deep
rather than broad. The orange-red covers, adorned with a kind of
spread out nautilus motif designed by Mathew George, complete the
initial impression, and hint at the complexity within. This is a
well put together book, and the literature it contains does not
disappoint.

Michael McClintock's succinct but excellent introduction describes
the poet's themes as "the intricacies of human relationships." They
very much are. The majority of these poems treat a variety of the
infinitely possible romantic connections between two people with a
lyrical perspective, a formalistic control, and a mastery of
language that reward repeated readings. No simplistic statements or
pat assurances can be found here; these are poems of wonder,
perplexity, and self-doubt as well as self-assurance, all imbued
with a tone of gentle acceptance and vague melancholy.

The garden image, lending itself to the book's title as well as one
of its sequences, is a running symbol throughout, a microcosm in
which love and meaningful relationships either flourish, wither, or
remain uncertain. In each poem, every word not only counts, but is
enlarged beyond itself by everything that comes before and after it.
waiting for your call
I water the walled garden
in autumn dusk
white moths flutter up
as uncertain as your love
Utilizing her usual bipartite structure, the poet builds
alliteration on the 'w' sound to thread the poem together. The
redundant impact of "autumn dusk" at the crucial midpoint sums up
the writer's feelings that were already implied by the particular
type of garden she is in, one that is walled. There is life in this
garden, and much beauty in the fluttering but uncertain white moths;
but the writer is alone, cut off, and pessimistic about a
relationship. The very action the poem describes is futile: watering
a garden in autumn. Clearly the writer will pursue her hopeless
affair to its end, which, for all she knows, may already have
occurred. She has no choice-she must wait for his call.
a briar grows
from the rusty
water tank
somehow we survive
another winter together
Again, Beverley George creates powerful symbols out of the context
of the poem, but leaves the reader with no clear-cut answers. The
water tank, so critical for the continuance of life, has sprouted
the unpleasant briar, a thing that pierces flesh and is to be
avoided. This is the problematic relationship-painful, ongoing,
necessary, and based, at least originally, on real love. No value
judgments are made. This is just how things are. Will these two
people make it though another winter together? Another month?
Another day? We don't know. But we are struck by the overwhelming
truth and honesty, and we return again and again to that brilliant
combination-a briar growing from a water tank-that magically,
poetically, sums up so many long term couples.
day in the garden
two under the same shower
we slide into bed
nothing between us
but the outstretched cat
This beautiful, subtly erotic poem offers yet another version of
relationship. The garden here is, by inference, almost Edenic, a
symbol of fertility, fulfilling labor, and natural love. Water is
used once again, but not in a futile gesture or ambiguously; now
water purifies the lovers, washes off the day's trivial issues, the
dirt and sweat, so that their most intimate time together is not
impinged upon by anything that came before. But then, with a stroke
of creative genius, the poet both annihilates the prior four lines
and at the same time reaffirms them. There is something that does
interfere with their union, and quite tangibly-the family cat. As
cat lovers know, there's no getting around that obstacle, that
animal who for centuries has symbolized the established, happy home.

Nothing, then, is perfect, not even this night they spend together,
but it is an imperfection that is altogether in keeping with the
rightness of their relationship. The garden, the shower, the cat,
the night in bed, all come together as almost one image. The reader
returns to this poem with ever-renewed delight.
These are just three examples of the range Beverley George brings to
this subject matter. However, the book contains other kinds of poems
that keep it from being narrowly defined. Included are tanka that
make wry observations on human nature which ring immediately true:
after he mends
the five bar gate
the old man
rides it once
across the puddle
There is not much one can say about this favorite, other than that
it is completely real, and completely realized in its comment on the
importance of play as well as work, and celebrates the spontaneous
child in every human being, no matter his or her age.
There are a few poems in the book that open up the poet's superb
2006 American Tanka Society's International Contest winner, an
elaboration that will fascinate readers already familiar with the
included a lightning strike. And then, there is her remarkable
sequence titled The Fisherman's Wife. This group of five connected
tanka show off the poet's breadth of imagination as she projects
herself into a character, a way of life, and a tragic love story
with startling precision:
this darkening day
I scan the dim horizon
for your homebound boat
& envy the returning terns
that land before a storm    (the fourth tanka in the sequence)
Like all fine literature, Beverley George's book is a live thing
that grows and develops each time and in each way it is read. Short
enough for one sitting, its quick perusal leaves the reader a little
wiser, a little sadder, and a little more appreciative of what is
meant by the human condition. It's careful study, in which each poem
is deeply absorbed and savored, reveals the power of which language,
especially poetic language, is capable. This book will surely take
its place as one of the significant tanka collections, and makes
evident the emerging importance of tanka in English literary art.

Review by David Bacharach.




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This book review is reproduced here with the permission of the author,
it first appeared in 'Stylus Poetry Journal', Issue 24, January 2007.



Book Review: “empty garden” - tanka by Beverley George

Patricia Prime


Beverley George is probably best known as the editor of the Australian
journal Yellow Moon, but she is also a children's short-story writer, a
poet, a teacher of creative writing and a tireless promoter of the work of
other poets. She is familiar both at home and overseas in her role as a
tanka poet and recently inaugurated Eucalypt, Australia's first literary
magazine devoted to tanka: www.eucalypt.info empty garden is George's
first collection of tanka.

In each tanka, the poet's language and mastery of form sweep you along,
convince - on their own terms - and there is a true eclectic delight to be
had from each individual tanka. This collection is crammed full - the
tanka elegantly displayed one or two to a page - with design and layout by
George's son Matthew, whose elegant black and white drawings illustrate
some of the pages.

George's voice is, to my ear, distinctively feminine: the female
perspective is very strong in many of her tanka, as in this poem:
even on this
orange bushfire day
you come with
scented roses
opening
The poem contains all the elements of romance: scented roses presented by
a loved one, even whilst a fierce bush fire rages.

Several of the tanka may seem to be disarmingly simple but a twist at the
end of the poem often reflects the bathos of life, of lived experience, as
we see in the following poem:
chilly night —
you buy sweet and sour for two
still wearing
your blue cardigan
that outlasted me
In this poem we have an ordinary situation: someone buying a simple meal
for two, but the everyday garment "that outlasted me" conveys the
impression that the relationship isn't as comfortable as it once was.

There are triumphs too, clearly observed, sharp and small - "after he
mends / the five bar gate / the old man / rides it once / across the
puddle". George is hungry for experience and is unafraid to show us the
pain of everyday life, as in the tanka "rose arbour - / sipping perfumed
tea / we avoid the barbs / that drew blood / when we parted". She
serenades us with the delightfully erotic poem "day in the garden / two
under the same shower / we slide into bed / nothing between us / but the
outstretched cat".

This is a poet who offers considerable honesty and a deal of expertise in
her handling of the short lyrical poem. Her subject matter - human
relationships, romantic love, and loss are traditional themes but she
brings renewed vigour with her vivid, exacting eye. Her lyrical gifts are
considerable and the tanka linger in the mind like fragile scraps of
music, as she expresses in the following tanka, with its half-remembered
tune from the previous night mingled with birdsong:
waking with the tune
you sang for me last night
still in my head
how well the morning birds
interweave their calls
For me, the most successful of her tanka epitomise the inherent beauty of
the form, a playful, inventive approach to language, to individual words,
to the shape of the poem, as in:
roadside grass —
two blackbirds rise
then settle
and I am surprised
by longing
The collection ends with several of George's tanka sequences: "Mask",
"City Park", "The Fisherman's Wife", "The Business of Living" and the
title poem "Empty Garden".

It is obvious that this is a writer of impressive agility and insight.
You will delight in the measured, lyrical intensity of image and line that
somehow also offers direct narrative experience, as in the two verses that
comprise "Mask":
mourning your son
you say his name over
as if the words
might forge a life-line
from earth to the stars

shreds of paperbark —
you learn to wear a mask
sometimes
you peel it back to show
the raw face of endless grief
The poet conveys even at her simplest, that she cannot resist trying to
get to the bottom of things, and goes on inviting the attentive reader to
the same unending quest, and with such energy! This following sequence,
"The Fisherman's Wife", from which I quote two tanka, makes me understand
the lot of the wife waiting for her husband to return from a day at sea:
the "returning terns" and "screams of gulls" adding to the poignancy of
the scene, to which we imagine the fisherman may never return:
this darkening day
I scan the dim horizon
for your homebound boat
& envy the returning terns
that land before a storm

wet with mist and tears
I clamber to the cliff top
to search the sea troughs —
your name is blown back on wind
laden with the screams of gulls
That persistent looking for what calls to the soul and what tugs at the
heart strings, and the demand this makes on the reader, is what gives
George's poetry its integrity and distinctiveness.

There isn't a single weak line in the book. Every page, every poem offers
marvels of observation. The last tanka sequence, "Empty Garden', searches
for the final truth - "words grow clumsy / when grief rules heart and mind
/ only in silence / can I find you / and live with previous joy". There
is, I think, a lesson here for anyone - for everyone who has suffered loss
of a loved one, through divorce, separation or death. George is correct:
in the silence and peace of her poems we find joy in the everyday and in
experiences that we may share with each other and with the poet.




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This book review is reproduced here with the permission of the author,
it first appeared in Ribbons, print journal of the Tanka Society of America, Volume 3, No. 2 Summer 2007


Book Review: “empty garden”-tanka by Beverley George

Maria Steyn


Beverley George needs no introduction to the tanka world. Acclaimed as editor of the former Yellow Moon: Literary Magazine (2000 - 2006); currently founder and editor of the tanka journal, Eucalypt, she is one of Australia's finest tanka poets. Beverley is a versatile and accomplished writer known not only for her tanka and haiku poetry, but also for award winning free verse, short stories, children's writing and articles. In 2003 she placed first in the British Haiku Society's J.W.Hackett Award and in 2005 and 2006 respectively won second and first places in the Tanka Society of America's International Contests.

empty garden
has an elegantly designed glossy cover and a layout of two tanka per page with subtle illustrations relating to the natural world. The graphic design and illustrations are by professional graphic designer Matthew George, the author's son.

Reading this anthology I was captivated by poetry expressed with clarity of observation and an acute sensitivity to common and central experiences: love and loss, their reflection in the loveliness and evanescence of the natural world, and the effort to understand better the nature of being.1 empty garden has its seeds in the human heart and mind.

Language, rhythm and imagery. Beverley George is a wordsmith attuned to every word and sound in her poems.

Upon finishing, words by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani in the introduction to The Ink Dark Moon came to mind . . . 'poems that remain absolutely accurate and moving descriptions of our most common and central experiences: love and loss, their reflection in the loveliness and evanescence of the natural world, and the effort to understand better the nature of being.'1 empty garden has 'its seeds in the human heart and mind.'2

The tanka in empty garden are lyrical and succinct in their expression of love, loss, grief, transience, the perplexity of interpersonal relationships, sensuality, as well as joy and the occasional subtle sense of humour. Not only does this poet write about personal experience, but deftly projects herself into the lives and worlds of others. The best example is the moving sequence 'The Fisherman's Wife'.

A love of, and kinship with nature permeates the poems. It is in the garden, and also the wider landscape of nature, where the poet discovers the imagery to express her art. The striking 'every night a sapling/crashes through my dreams', 'your name is blown back on the wind/laden with the screams of gulls', 'as if the words/might forge a life-line/from earth to the stars' and '…see how hand-shadow birds/fly upon the hospice wall' are but a few examples that lingered. Her imagery cuts to the bone in the award winning 'a lightning strike':
a lightning strike
splits our old apple tree —
I never dreamed
the death that parted us
would not be one of ours
Nature not only forms the backdrop for the expression of life's complexities, but also offers the poet an elixir to transform sorrow into memories of closeness and comfort. We can smell the comfort in 'musty tang of silkworms/and mulberry leaves-/I remember when your arms cocooned my sleep'; feel the sense of security in 'she curls against his trunk/welcomes the weight of limbs'; and envisage the vivid 'a she-oak whipped by wind/thrusts deeper roots'.

Many poems are reminiscent of ancient Heian Japanese court poetry, in particular Izumi Shikibu's writing as translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani.
suddenly
in the midst of laughter
you went away
a song bird falls silent
on a leafless bough

— Beverley George —
One by one,
at day's end,
the birds take flight
in all directions —
which could lead me to you?3

— Izumi Shikibu —

your name
I wrote in bathroom steam
returns again today
yet you have left
without a trace

— Beverley George —

Last year's
fragile, vanished snow
is falling now again —
if only seeing you
could be like this.4

— Izumi Shikibu —
Throughout the collection readers also find themselves delighted by an alluring sensuality. 'humming softly' paints a delicately erotic scene through the use of sibilance and a careful choice of imagery. Michael McClintock aptly refers to Beverley as 'a master of the compressed imaginative lyric'.
humming softly
you always bathe
before love
suffusing my sheets
with sweet-scented steam
The enigmatic 'dark pond' absorbed me. Beguiled by the pond with its magical 'flicker of gold/between rocks', I held my own breath as the speaker listens closely and with reverence to the silence of a loved-one.

dark pond
a flicker of gold
between rocks
holding my breath to hear
your quietest thoughts
In 'day in the garden' a mundane situation is transformed into a sensuous experience:
day in the garden
two under the same shower
we slide into bed
nothing between us
but the outstretched cat

empty garden embraces the work of a mature poet who has journeyed through loss and grief into a world also composed of 'sunlight' and the interwoven calls of 'morning birds' . . .
in sunlight
you play saxophone
and I am breathless
knowing precisely
how each note will fall
waking with the tune
you sang for me last night
still in my head
how well the morning birds
interweave their calls

A subtle sense of humour often catches the reader unawares and leaves a quiet smile:

after he mends
the five bar gate
the old man
rides it once
across the puddle
Each reading takes the reader deeper into the richness of these poems, and with the poet we become more attuned to, and more able to share in the sorrow, complexity, as well as beauty of the world we live in. This anthology comes highly recommended as a valuable addition to any tanka lover's collection.



References:
1. The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan, Translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani, Vintage Books, USA, 1990, ISBN 0-679-72958-5, p.xx,
2. Ibid. p.xiii
3. Ibid p.146
4. Ibid p.88



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This book review is reproduced here with the permission of the author,
it was first published in Five Bells 14 No. 1 Summer 2007 and republished in Tanka Canada's print journal Gusts No. 5 Spring/Summer 2007


Book Review: “empty garden”-tanka by Beverley George

Kirsty Karkow


Think Gustav Klimt!

Think of his sumptuous surfaces and decorative tracery and you will have an idea of the rich artwork that covers this sleek book. Matthew George has designed a perfect framework for his mother's elegant poetry.

With publication of empty garden we have a welcome reminder of the high level that English tanka has reached. President of the Tanka Society of America, Michael McClintock, in the preface, notes that the poet's "study of the Heian court poetry and subsequent high regard for it are amply reflected…" The well-known translator of Japanese tanka, Jane Hirshfield, is also enthusiastic, remarking that " Komachi and Shikibu would recognize a sister spirit." These two women from the Heian era are famous for their love poems and comparison to them is more than flattering.

The title is taken from one of five sequences that create a strong finale for pages of individual tanka. The phrase would seem to allude to a vacancy, a lack of some sort, but no, nature and every human sense are represented. There is a lapidary clarity. Beverley George is adept at building metaphoric tension into these tightly woven poems much as Klimt does in his paintings.

from a broken bough
the weeping resin hardens
healing from within
I search your face to learn
that grief is slowly easing
losing your love
I learn the strength
of mine…
a she-oak whipped by wind
thrusts deeper roots

Most of the poems speak of love but George avoids the common trap of becoming maudlin or saccharine. She is always romantic.

waiting for your call
I water the walled garden
in autumn dusk
white moths flutter up
as uncertain as your love
your name
I wrote in bathroom steam
returns again today
yet you have left
without a trace

She likes running water --and trains.

widening each day
the winter river rushes
over hidden rocks
if you asked me to return
I could not longer cross it
in railway tunnels
strangers loom abruptly
in dark windows
we too lean close together
then divide without warning

She has a forthright humor.

day in the garden
two under the same shower
we slide into bed
nothing between us
but the outstretched cat
autumn carnival
you strut through the bookie's ring
in your shot silk tie--
it seems that once again
I've bet on the wrong horse

For some time now Beverley George has been fine-tuning her poetic abilities. A master of many poetic forms, and winner of many prizes, she has been concentrating on tanka and the debut of her new journal, Eucalypt, the first one in Australia to be devoted to this form.

Some poets produce poems like a fertile field produces wildflowers, copiously and spontaneously. Others work more slowly and meticulously, creating jewels of perfect design and craftsmanship. Beverley George is such a poet.



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