Tanka at the Bay

Report by Beverly Sweeney
on behalf of
Dangerously Poetic Press

Byron Bay’s Dangerously Poetic Press invited Beverley George, internationally acclaimed tanka poet and editor of Eucalypt, Australia’s first literary journal for tanka, to lead our Tanka Workshop on Saturday 16 of June and to also read at our monthly poetry reading on the following day.

In the quaint little CWA hall in Brunswick Heads 15 poets, some having their first attempt at tanka, sat down pens in hand eager to learn about this fascinating Japanese form. Beverley shared her extensive knowledge of the history and current status of tanka both in Japan and other countries. There was much laughter and lively discussion demonstrating yet again the interest in this area stimulated by Japanese poetry. In the afternoon with Beverley’s support we all attempted at least one tanka and were given plenty of useful feedback. There’s no holding back our Northern Rivers poets when we get together. It was especially delightful that we had amongst the participants several poets experienced in this form such as John Bird and Max Ryan. We lunched, laughed and wrote and I for one have been tinkering with tanka ever since.

Sunday afternoon saw an attentive crowd at Dangerously Poetic’s reading at the RSL Hall in Bangalow. Beverley together with Janice Bostok, also internationally celebrated for her haiku and tanka, shared many of their award- winning and published poems. They were accompanied by local musician Kevin James. His subtle playing on the shakuhachi flute and ocarina intertwined with the tanka and haiku images holding them in our minds like paintings on a wall. Beverley read several forms of poetry including tanka from her recent publication, Empty Garden, while Janice shared tanka from her book, Songs Once Sung. After our usual interval treat of tea and home-made scones the audience was invited to come up for the open mike and share any poem of set form including tanka, haiku, sonnet and villanelle.

There was something quite poignant to me about the locations used for the weekend. It brought home to me the inclusiveness and healing possibilities of poetry. On Saturday we were surrounded by collections of dolls, shells and plastic flowers in the Country Womens’ Association Hall while Sunday’s reading took place within the history of the local RSL. In both places the Queen smiled down regally. Perhaps I was just being fanciful when I attempted this tanka . . .

in a hall
of returned soldiers
open their hearts
to the poetry of old Japan