Just off Message

Just off message

Congratulations to Interactive Press on their 20th year anniversary and anthology,
Just off Message!

Thank you to editor David Reiter for including some poetry of mine in this celebratory book.

As he writes on the IP website, it is important to remember that “independent publishing houses like IP are, and always will be, an essential part of the cultural landscape” offering opportunities to local and emerging writers.

I’m looking forward to reading the work of all the contributing writers.


Pansy and the Christmas Tree

CP with angel

Last January, I saw the email call for submissions from Christmas Press for their 2017 anthology,  A Christmas Menagerie. 

I spent several afternoons devising a story based on memories my mother had told me, about a Christmas she had on the family dairy farm at Federal in the 1930s when she was a girl.

Pansy and the C T

Although I have made up the characters and the plot, there really was a cranky cow called Pansy who gave my mother a black eye when being milked.

All their cows had names. This photo isn’t Pansy, the cranky cow. When we were going through photos,  sorting out names and places, Mum told me it was Anzac, a nice cow born on Anzac Day.


The surprise Christmas meal was also true, and I know that Mum and her family had sing-a-longs with friends for which my grandfather played the fiddle. They were Methodists, and music was essential to their lives.

We celebrate Christmas without her now, but I hope Mum would be pleased that a story she gave me so many elements for is now in print.

CP anthologies

A Winter Ginko

winter huddle.jpg

It was a wabi-sabi sort of day last weekend, when I met with poetry friends for a garden ginko. We took some time to slow down, walk around a winter garden, and notice the textures of foliage, stone and wood.

Camellias, jonquils, and other rarer blooms we couldn’t name were there for the keen-eyed poet to discover.

In these moments of reflection, we may have also learnt something about ourselves.

stone tubs
that once held the weekly wash
now cradle spring bulbs
. . . each day I find
a new skill to master

© Julie Thorndyke

From the Attic . . .


In my case, the “attic” was the wonderful online repository from the National Library of Australia, TROVE. Many digitized local newspapers can be found there, listing social events like birthday parties, weddings and funerals.

Such an insight into the lives of long-gone relatives!

Thank you Christi Craig and Lisa Rivero for accepting my creative non-fiction piece, “Aunt Becker’s Secret” for this unique anthology.

I am looking forward to seeing the finished book, and also reading the stories other writers have discovered in their family attics.

How to buy the book? Information here http://www.hiddentimberbooks.com/family-stories-attic/

Poet and Tanka – Julie Thorndyke


Another poet asked me recently how long I’d been writing tanka, and I was lost for words, because it seems like I’ve been writing these little five line verses for ever. I did remember that my discovery of tanka gelled with the toddler-hood of my daughter, the years following my father’s death and also the process I underwent in allowing myself to know that I was a writer, after many years thinking I was somehow locked out of that magic circle.

I went hunting through my journal collection for dates, the early poems. The answers of course were in Yellow Moon. Like many poets, both in Australia and overseas, I found Yellow Moon a terrific vehicle for learning. I still remember my bewilderment at the unfamiliar names of short Japanese poetry forms the first time Beverley George put an issue of the journal in my hands, sometime in 2003. Don’t worry, she assured me. You’ll soon catch on.

I did catch on, labouring over early drafts of haiku which Beverley corrected and critiqued for me, mostly over email. Some of these haiku can be found in Yellow Moon 16, Summer 2004:

eucalypt forest—
the child’s lifted arms
wanting home

the tilt
of your chin
looking at stars

I didn’t linger with haiku for very long. These days it is a real struggle to think in only three lines. But these early attempts at haiku indicate quite clearly what was to be a major theme in my tanka: my family in the Australian landscape.

I wrote my first tanka in a workshop at the local Fellowship of Australian Writers, one quiet Saturday afternoon, from a first line writing prompt Beverley provided:

I didn’t know rain
could sound so lonely
10 am
and you won’t be home
for three more days

I was hooked.

That first poem was published in the UK in Tangled Hair. I succeeded in getting a tanka placed in Yellow Moon 17, and this one followed in 18 Winter 2005:

as for me, I am
content to live quietly—
as the rain
drips into small puddles
and glints in the sun

It was a personal sort of poem and I nearly didn’t send it. But the acceptance of this poem, that reflects very much the meditative mood of the poet, somehow freed me to be myself in tanka. After that I never looked back.

There is something about the honesty of tanka, the ability to suggest a complete back-story in five lines, and the emotional freedom to say something real, that I find irresistible. No other poetry form provides such a swift journey from image to understanding. The container of the poem provides a discipline to work against, and the struggle to contain the thought in five lines results in a poem that is concise and uncluttered. For a long time I counted syllables on my fingers, but the day came when, scribbling in my journal, I knew that the shape and rhythm of tanka was written on my heart, because I did not need to check the syllable count anymore.

I like the way tanka looks on the page: so much like free verse yet with a subtle envelope shaping the words. I like the clean, direct, un-poetic English that uses everyday words and avoids cliché. I like the unexpected, the real, the sensory. I like the subtle way repetitive sounds and allusions creep unbidden into my tanka and make the words poetry without my knowing it. I like the freedom it gives me to take a leap into the poetic dark.

Eucalypt has been a great joy to read, and I was proud to be one of the Australians in the first issue. Tanka editors everywhere have been most kind and encouraging to me.
I have also been very fortunate to link up with a wonderful, international group of tanka poets who critique poems on a monthly basis by email (I won’t embarrass any of them here.) There is also a growing community of tanka poets in Australia, and I am fortunate to meet monthly with a lively group of them to share poems, learn form each other, and critique our work. Being part of this community of poets has, for me, been one of the most rewarding aspects of tanka writing.

pouring my thoughts
into this tanka mould—
those mud pies
we made together
in rusty cake tins

Toward the end of 2007, I realised I had a large number of tanka, many of them published in journals, some unpublished, that I could gather into a collection. This was a kind of a marker of my development as a tanka poet. As I went through the process of gathering and arranging, I could see how my poems had changed over time. I held back from adding the newest work, which seemed different, less personal perhaps, and ranged into other subject areas, probably reflecting the influence of poets I met in my university courses. Ginninderra Press published my first tanka collection in book form in 2008 under the title rick rack.

In 2009 I completed my studies in the Master of Creative Writing programme at the University of Sydney. I studied poetry as well as prose and gained the confidence to call myself a writer. I think my newer tanka reflect this development as a poet, as my imagination roams into new possibilities and discovers new rooms in my writer’s house. But I do not think I would have arrived at this point of confidence in writing without tanka.

The tanka form has become an integral part of my life.

When I jot down ideas in my notebook they automatically arrive on the page in a tanka shape. Whether they remain in five lines or are padded out into prose depends largely on the task at hand. But one thing is certain: the easy way these five lines can incorporate a thought, or an emotion, that springs effortlessly from the most common everyday image, is a magic I never want to do without.

they continue
to spill sand, these shells
lined up on my desk
…so many words
fall from my heart

© Julie Thorndyke
First published in Ribbons Volume 5 Number 4 Winter 2009 pp 39-41