Borrowed Riches

Over twenty years or so of writing tanka, my notebooks overflow with poems.

Some have been published in journals and anthologies, some have remained in notebooks or ventured out in email shared with other poets.

Now and then, it seems like a good idea to put the accumulated poems into a little book, as a kind of record of the writing experience, of the life that provoked the words, and of time passing.

Borrowed Riches is the third such little book that I have put together. It contains one hundred tanka written over about a decade. Once again Ginninderra Press has kindly published the collection.

I hope that you will enjoy the poems.

To order from Ginninderra Press, click here

Reviews of Borrowed Riches

Blithe Spirit: journal of the British Haiku Society Volume 33 Number 1 2023 pp 91-92                        review by A.A. Marcoff

This is a little gem, a little book of 100 tanka, one to a page, by a well-practised hand, editor of Eucalypt: a tanka journal since 2017. Tanka (or waka) originally meant ‘short Japanese song’, and Julie Thorndyke’s poems really do read like songs, and sing form the page with all the music of time and existence. Her tanka are accessible, the very stuff of life and death, and they show a shining generosity of spirit. They share with the reader so much of Julie’s own life and ‘her singing heart’ – a life lived with all the vitality available to us—the whole panoply of experience.

In these pages you will find a 747, a teacher’s blackboard, an owl, a sister and a mother, lost love, red camellias, stars, a train, a paradox, a bowling alley, a father, wedding vows, jacaranda petals, a quilt, silence, laughter and friendship. The poems move and delight and echo through the valleys and hills of our own existence. William Blake might have called them ‘the productions of time’ :   

the stillness
of this evening lake
we remember
what it is
to stop, listen, wait

Julie invites us into her life to do just that, and she shows us that we are all interconnected:

no matter
on what cliff I stand
salt winds
tell me we are all
part of one ocean

The book’s title, Borrowed Riches, suggests how fragile remains our purchase on this world, how fleeting and transient our presence here. We are left with ‘dream-echoes and life-songs’ and Julie’s work ‘yields a story of flame and ash’.  Perhaps all we can do in the circumstances of this life is to ‘feel the breeze kiss the ocean’. It is a shared experience:

have you not learned
tomorrow comes, regardless?
lie with me, my love
and dream
on this shared pillow

Julie gives us a book that manifests the world in miniatures, that offers us tableaux of emotion, scenes from the reality of dreams, colloquies of experience expressed with all the possible vitality of being. It is a fine book indeed, truly authentic, translucent, and it will repay many more readings, all within her lingering, compelling, and resonant spell.

review by A.A. Marcoff


poem published in The School Magazine ORBIT MAY 2021

The School Magazine

So pleased to see my poem BIMBILLA in The School Magazine ORBIT May 2021 with a vibrant illustration by indigenous artist Leanne Watson.

This poem is a tanka sequence, written in 2006. In the same year, I wrote a short story for children with the same title, Bimbilla. Bimbilla is a Worimi word for a pink cockle shell. I discovered the word on an information sign at a beach north of Port Stephens, New South Wales, where the story and the poem are set.

So often a visit to a place, and encounter with an object or word, will provoke some new writing.

My story was a finalist in the Ginninderra Press short story for children competition, and was published in the anthology SECRETS. That was the beginning of my association with Ginninderra Press who have published my two tanka collections and two fiction books (Mrs Rickaby’s Lullaby 2019 and Divertimento 2021).

The short story BIMBILLA is available to read here on my website.

I’d love it if an indigenous artist would collaborate with me to make an illustrated book of the story. Writing is a long game, and publication sometimes comes after a long time. A story like this has longevity, and I think there is still more to come.

All aboard!

Last Train Home edited by J. Pearce, 2021.

There’s something romantic, mysterious and exciting about a rail journey. The cover of this new anthology, Last Train Home, captures the feeling so well. Canadian poet Jacqueline Pearce has selected around 600 short form poems including haiku, tanka and rengay, all addressing the theme of trains and train journeys.

Who among us didn’t enjoy playing with a toy train in our childhoods? Who hasn’t responded to the atmospheric film scenes of arrivals and departures on a fog-shrouded railway station? Who doesn’t long for the thrill and excitement of a new journey into the unknown?

I’m delighted to be included in this new book, with a fanciful tanka written in response to a literary favourite. I hope that you will come on a journey with the many wonderful contemporary haiku, tanka and rengay poets represented in this book.

The whistle is sounding . . . all aboard!

From my Memory’s Treasure

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tears roll
as pearls spilled
from a string—
an indigo sky
flashed with lightning

well-rounded vowels
of alto melody
swaddled in a shawl
of homemade lullabies

milk bottles dotted
with dew—
winter breakfasts
sunlit with sugar grains

even white loops
of baby-yarn slide
on tortoiseshell needles
pale cakes rising
in the gas oven

a child wakes
to the sound of dishes
and quiet footsteps—
morning hymns
on the wireless

Julie Thorndyke

Date Stamp

date due

September gone
and another birthday
I pause
before turning the fourth
corner of the year

these book-lined walls
all thought, every emotion
on my calendar I schedule
a day to run free

last day of term
locking the library door
on silence
I check myself out
for a long, long loan

Julie Thorndyke

(Tanka Splendor Winner 2006)

A Stir of the Pudding


A String of Christmas Memories by the Tanka Huddle  2017

granny and me
stirring dried fruits
and brandy . . .
one nip for gran
one for the pud
          Marilyn Humbert

at the mall
for photos with santa—
I yearn
for a star-filled night
and choirs of angels
          Jan Foster

it’s forty degrees
and mum’s had enough
crackers snap
around the table
          Carolyn Eldridge-Alfonzetti

meant rum and plum cake
childhood memory
of our annual trip
to Cochin bakery
          Rugmini Venkatraman

christmas eve
we toss and turn
quiet . . .
mum fills the stockings
we pretend to sleep
          Karen Lieversz

reindeer puppets
pranced on polystyrene snow
but the tug
on my heart-strings
was absolutely real
          Julie Thorndyke

green icing
on the christmas cake
and a frill
make all the difference—
mum comes home this year
          Laura Davis

sunshine and sleigh bells
holly and magpie song
carols under stars
the customs learned in childhood
swim united in my mind
          Beverley George

broken nails
and roughened hands
by the sweet balm
of a christmas-ready house
          Anne Benjamin

and six-penny pieces
stored all year
polished up in time for us
to polish up the pud
          Carmel Summers

[Copyright of each individual tanka remains with the poets.]

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

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