Limestone Tanka Poets

There was a full-house at Smith’s Alternative in Canberra last Monday night, 10 June 2019, to hear readings from local group, Limestone Tanka Poets. Those presenting were: Amelia Fielden, Barbara Curnow, Carmel Summers, Glenys Ferguson, Michael Thorley, Liz Lanigan, Michelle Brock, Kate King and group facilitator, Kathy Kituai.

Tanka is a major genre of Japanese literature, having been written since at least the eighth century AD. Today, tanka is also widely practised in English and other languages.

Some tanka presented by Glenys Ferguson during the first half of the evening:

country tennis court
the only sign of white
on Sunday afternoons

they say
the old man died
autumn leaves piled high
on the welcome mat

After an intermission, the readings comprised tanka prose – a form that combines prose poetry and one, or more, tanka. The following is an extract from a longer tanka prose by Kathy Kituai. The piece, titled Fish Curry and Rice Cream, refers to Kathy’s time living in Papua New Guinea.

While you wait you scale fish and wash rice, swirling each grain around in the saucepan until water runs as clear as the river in which you swim the way he does with his clan, his aging mother’s feet firmly balanced on stones close to the shore.

floating all around you
picinnies  susus  aunties
in pink and white laplaps

picinnies: young children            susus: sisters – breasts

laplap: length of cloth tied around the waist, introduced by missionaries to Papua New Guinea

Fish Curry and Rice Cream was previously published in Ink to Paper: Limestone Tanka Poets 2nd Collection (2016).


If you would like to read more tanka, then the international online journal, cattails, is a good place to begin. The tanka section of the journal, currently edited by Kathy Kituai, provides an entry into some of the best English-language tanka from around the world.