As life has conspired to delay my return to art making (Life: “Oh, you are back from vacation? Good! I had been delaying so many minor crises at work and home until you returned!” Me: “Uh-oh.”), I wanted to repost one of my favorite collaborations from about a year ago. Michael Palmer’s Sonnet: Now I See Them is a surreal and modern take on a classical form: the sense imagery is rich and the symbolism of the numbers is fascinating. Mr. Palmer has collaborated extensively over the years with musicians and visual artists and this poem reflects that interaction. If you’d like to read the whole poem, head over here to the Poetry Foundation and see what you think. Drawing (ink on paper) by Chiara Ricci-Tam. She has her own blog on WordPress, Chiaroscurale, where she posts her experiments with art that she does in between her scientific experiments. Stop by and say “hello”!
I didn’t design my trip to Japan to revolve around haiku, although considering the content of this blog, it would have been fitting! I went to Japan to hike on the Nakasendo Way (the old Edo era highway between Kyoto and Tokyo, now the equivalent of a national historic trail), be immersed in a totally new place and culture, and unplug. People do, in fact, plan whole trips around Bashō and his poetry (the tour company I used – and would highly recommend – even offers a “Bashō Tour”). I am not so organized a traveler, however; it turned out that I would walk in the footsteps of Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) on at least two occasions during my trip.
Matsuo Bashō is one of the four Japanese haiku masters – together with Yosa no Buson (1716-1784), Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828), and Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902). Bashō moved around quite a bit during his life, living in a number of cities, as well as traveling extensively, including on parts of the Nakasendo Way.
Our second night on the trail, we stayed at a traditional Japanese bed and breakfast, called Sinchaya – or New Tea House. I learned “new” is a relative term in Japan, and seems to mean that the inn is merely several hundred years old. Across the road from the B&B was a beautiful pond and garden. I could see the garden from my room and was drawn to wander around and take photographs of it (like the photo above) while I waited for dinner to be ready. There was a brass plaque in the garden, but as it was entirely in Japanese and I was entirely out of reach of Google translate, its meaning remained a mystery to me.
The next morning, our guide informed us that it was tradition for the innkeepers to see us off as we lumbered back onto the Nakasendo Way. Our two lovely hosts did just that, enthusiastically waving and watching until we turned the corner and were out of sight. As the trail glided up between terraced rice paddies, our guide causally mentioned that Sinchaya – in particular, its pond and garden – was the source of a famous haiku written by Bashō. I looked it up later and discovered I had been part of a ritual going back 350 years.
Kiso no aki
Seeing friends off
being seen off, and now —
autumn in Kiso
Later in the week, back in Tokyo in a torrential downpour, we darted from high-rise portico to high-rise portico with another guide. Sheltering under a non-descript overhang in the Nihonbashi district, our guide pointed to a beautiful stone with a brass plaque on the sidewalk. “Matsuo Bashō lived here,” she proudly proclaimed before asking, “Has anyone heard of haiku?” I raised my rain-slickered arm high. The plaque commemorated a haiku he wrote in about 1677:
Yado no Haru
This is a hokku
Matsuo Tosei’s (“Green Peach”)
home on New Year.
Tr. Gabi Greve
Several websites remarked that this haiku was Bashō’s official “grand opening” as a professional poet and teacher. Nihonbashi is now a maze of high rise office buildings – the bashi (bridge) spans the river in the permanent shade of an elevated highway. But tucked in every corner was history and in at least one case, poetry.
It is good to be back and I’m looking forward to catching up on everyone’s blogs. Don’t worry, you’ll be subjected to more pictures from Japan for many Silent Sundays to come!
Today’s poem is another one from the poetry mystery folder. The credit for writing these snappy six lines of good advice has bounced around over the years, occasionally credited to Madeleine L’Engle or Elizabeth Yates. Both authors have cited the poem as inspiration, but there is no indication either of them wrote it. The first record of publication I could find was around 100 years ago, but otherwise the authorship remains obscure. I revisited my illustration for this poem: I decided I liked the medium of photocollage that I used in the original but wanted a more abstract take on it. Photos, collage, and composition by me.
Interested in helping to solve any of our other poetry mysteries? Information is always welcome!
When I tour the Illustrated Poetry archives, I usually find myself in “revision and update” mode; like with any draft, time gives me fresh eyes to see my old posts. But occasionally I come across a published post and think, “no revision necessary, I would do it exactly that way again.” That is a pretty good feeling (rare as it is!), and so I’d like to re-post one that earned such an accolade.
As I mentioned a year ago, this trim quatrain has become the lasting legacy of poet, activist, and educator Sarah N. Cleghorn (1876 – 1959). She devoted her life to working for numerous causes and published a great deal, but the continued fame of The Golf Links has led her to be most closely associated with the movement to end child labor in the United States. Published over one hundred years ago, this poem feels firmly rooted in the past; however, in many parts of the world child labor is a current and ongoing problem. Perhaps this mighty little poem still has work to do…Photograph and composition by me.
i am turning in the gray morning
of my life
I am indebted to Mr. Leonard Durso for introducing me to Lance Henson’s work on his most excellent poetry blog (if you aren’t familiar with Mr. Durso’s blog, click here to rectify that oversight!). I bookmarked his post featuring I am Singing the Cold Rain way back in October of last year, but I did not have the medium to realize my illustration for it. Enter transfer printing, introduced to me recently by my illustration class instructor. The line quality was exactly what I was looking for – I made a number of attempts for this verse, but this was the one that clearly spoke the words of the poem. To read the whole poem, also in the Cheyenne language, head over here. Mr. Henson has a blog as well – his poems are haunting and will stay with you for a long time. Illustration (ink transfer onto newsprint) by me.