Q & A with poet Julie Thorndyke

She’s an awarding winning poet and storyteller.

And Hills residents will have the opportunity to meet Julie Thorndyke at Castle Hill Library’s A Touch of Poetry seminar on Wednesday, June 6 at 6.30pm.

Q: Describe your style of poetry.

A: A poetry form that really clicked with me about ten years ago was tanka. It is a short form, originally from ancient Japan. It is brief, concise and immediate. Although coming from an ancient tradition, tanka is a form of poetry that is very compatible with busy modern lifestyles. As a full-time worker with all the usual family responsibilities, the five-line tanka offered me a way to express my creativity and actually finish something, at a time when a longer written product was not really possible for me.

Tanka writers often speak of poetry writing as a journey, a road, or a path. This is probably because tanka is a very intimate form of poetry, closely related to life events, places, emotions and the ups and downs of human life. Moments of time brought into sharp focus. Tanka (or waka), means “short song”. They are snatches of melody from the symphony of life.

Most often now if I write a poem it is free verse, but I have a tanka-writing habit that will probably always be part of my repertoire. A string of tanka can be worked into a longer poem. Occasionally a haiku will fly in. I also write rhyming poems for children, and one of these is being published this year as a picture book.

Q: What sparked your love of poetry?

A: I remember a teacher in primary school having us recite poems by Henry Kendall. There are also other poems like the rhythmic Highwayman by Alfred Noyes from school days that linger in the memory. I also have a lovely old copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson that was owned by my great aunt and given to me as a child by my grandmother. We were a church-going family and the Methodist hymns were full of poetry. My piano teacher taught me to scan lines and notate rhythm. I guess all these things influenced me. And I was always reading: mostly novels but anything really, that came my way.

As a writer, I expected to concentrate on fiction, but when I enrolled in the Master of Creative Writing at The University of Sydney, I discovered that the program of study is structured in a really sneaky way! Almost the first subject that you do is Poetry with Judith Beveridge. Like all the other students who have done this course, I was seduced by her gentle and generous teaching. We all became poets!

Q: Which poets have inspired you?

A: Judith Beveridge of course, other Australian poets like Judith Wright and Gwen Harwood. I remember studying Ted Hughes at high school and The Thought Fox  had a lasting impact on me. American poets Mary Oliver, Jane Hirschfield, Natasha Trethewey. The classic haiku and tanka poets (in translation) from Japan.

Workshops like those offered by the Eastwood/Hills Fellowship of Australia Writers are good for learning and trying out new things. Poets in that group generously taught me to write haiku, tanka, sonnets and other traditional forms.

Australian poet and Editor Beverley George has been my tanka mentor. She has fostered haiku and tanka writing in Australia, and established journals to provide publishing opportunities for short-form poets. It is my privilege to be the second editor of the journal she established, Eucalypt: a tanka journal, since 2017.

Eucalypt publishes tanka by poets from all over the world. An internationally recognised journal of high repute, it supports a harmonious community of poets and creates connections between diverse people and cultures through the sharing of poetry.

Q: Where do you draw your inspiration for your work from?

A: Observation of daily life; images, words and phrases; feelings and conversations. Gardens, birds and old houses. Paintings, music, stories. Frustrations, griefs and joys. Often, tanka begin with a striking visual image, and as you write the words on the tight canvas of five lines, your thoughts are somehow compressed, and you arrive at a personal meaning or connotation of that image that you hadn’t known or even suspected when you began writing the poem, sometimes only seconds ago. Watercolours have the same quality of spontaneity.

Q: You’ve published numerous poems and won many prizes for your work in an industry that is quite difficult to excel in. What do you attribute your success to?

A: Is poetry an industry? I think for me it is a lifestyle, not an occupation. I am grateful to independent small presses such as Ginninderra Press and Interactive Press that publish local writers. It is difficult to publish poetry commercially, and together with literary journals, these presses keep contemporary poetry alive.

Writing poetry needs to be a habit. A poet must write lots and read lots. Try new forms and observe. Be brave and send poems to journals and anthologies. Read your work aloud, revise and rewrite, ask reliable peers to offer suggestions. Meet with other writers and join a group like FAW.

Q: What’s next?

A: I’ve just started learning ikebana! There will be another issue of Eucalypt to be edited in October; my children’s picture book Waiting for the Night  is about to be published by Interactive Press; I’m mentoring new tanka poets and writing some new stories. And nearly every day, a fresh tanka arrives in my notebook.

Catch Julie at ‘A Touch of Poetry – An Evening with Julie Thorndyke’ at Castle Hill Library on Wednesday, June 6, from 6.30pm to 7.30pm.

Book now at www.thehills.nsw.gov.au to secure your spot.

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