Limestone Tanka Poets: 18 March meeting

Who would’ve thought that two hours would be enough time in which to enjoy a presentation of Moon Forest Armada Tanka Group’, as well as a talk on How-a-Poet-Works and have time in which to workshop new tanka. Limestone Tanka Poets did all three in our March meeting and what was achieved was pleasing if the contentment on everyone’s faces at the end were anything to go on.

Our first guest speaker, Saeko Ogi, a tankaist who came to Canberra from Tokyo to teach Japanese language to Australians in 1972, shared the fact that she had no intention of writing either tanka or haiku, but did so soon after her arrival. Being a widow of nine months, she explains might have something to do with it. Along with Saeko’s account of the Moon Forest Armada Tanka Group, a motivated group of young poets whom she met in 2010 and 2011, we were privy to a reading of a selection or their poems in Japanese and English. Saeko also touched on her understanding of shasei, a form most challenging. What was of equal interest was Saeko’s account of her experience on what it is like to write Japanese poetry in Australia, poetry she had never written growing up in her country of origin, Japan, and the adjustments she had to make because of that.

“I sometimes sense that my readers in Japan do not really understand my feelings,” she said, ‘as they may be peculiar or possibly influenced by my long residence in Australia”. This was a new and interesting angle to consider.

“On the other side of the coin,” she added, “They would probably be fresh to the readers in Japan. Therefore I am very careful to shape my tanka for my Japanese readers, to enable them to share my feelings”.

Barbara Curnow took us on more familiar territory in her How-a-Poet-Works. We were talked through examples of six tanka, three of which she was inspired to write while walking and three others created by reading prose and poetry. Barbara, who enjoys the mindful state writing tanka can bring us into, explained (tongue in cheek) that; ‘Writing tanka is like being a cow chewing the cud”. Her choice of point of view is based on the content, and she hastened to say that ‘I statements’ are not always hers.

Kathy bought attention to Dave Bacharach’s last message as editor in the latest edition of Ribbons (winter 2012). In it he examines the importance of tanka, a bite sized poem that are as he says more important “… now that we have reached an age in which human beings habitually take in knowledge, art, and general information as small quanta …” due to the influence of the Internet. He also stresses the urgency to write tanka reviews without worry of offence from “… a fellow poet within the small tanka community … especially if that poet exercises any critical or editorial influence the tanka literary community.” Whether we agree or no with these views, this last message from Bacharach is a stimulating read.

Now that it is autumn, we will meet and write at Australian National Gallery or in the Skyspace and surrounding areas, including Lake Burly Griffin instead of the ACT Writers Centre for our next meeting, 29th April. What could be better than to write tanka on location in Canberra with all its promise of colourful leaves and possible Indian Summer after a rain soaked summer?

Kathy Kituai, Founder and Facilitator of Limestone Tanka Poets