The haiga in this issue of Juxtapositions fall into two groups. The first show the influence of the Sino-Japanese ink-painting tradition, including the use of seals, although in all three cases the poet-artists add something of their own that makes their aesthetic Western as well as Eastern.
Ron C. Moss, “the first dip”
Pamela A. Babusci, “Christmas Eve”
Ion Codrescu, “first snow”
Ellen Peckham, “Montauk IXX”
Terri L. French, “coloring”
Marlene Mountain, “on my own”
Stephen Addiss, “willow fluff”
Ron C. Moss, “the first dip”The haiga in this issue of Juxtapositions fall into two groups. The first show the influence of the Sino-Japanese ink-painting tradition, including the use of seals, although in all three cases the poet-artists add something of their own that makes their aesthetic Western as well as Eastern. The closest to the ink-painting tradition is “the first dip” by Ron C. Moss. He works with empty space, subtle ink-play, and no color — but wait — Chinese literati declared that one could summon up seven different colors merely by tones of ink. Here the lower reflection in lighter tones not only echoes the bird on a branch, but does so with a slight rippling that shows the poet-artist’s unobtrusive skill. The seal at the top, and the modestly-placed poem in the lower right are enough to keep the work multi-dimensional.
Pamela A. Babusci, “Christmas Eve”Although Pamela A. Babusci creates many haiga with only tones of ink, here she added color dots to rhythmic vertical and horizontal brushstrokes to represent decorated Christmas trees. We can enjoy the East Asian influence; the horizontals, in particular, resemble bamboo leaves. The dots animate the composition; they seem ready to roll off onto the ground, but perhaps the well-placed red seal orders them to keep them in place. By limiting her lines and colors, Babusci invites us to share the childlike wonder that animates her niece’s circumgyrations.
Ion Codrescu, “first snow”Another form of rotation is shown in Ion Codrescu’s “first snow”. Here the multi-colored brushstrokes move the tea bowl around in our hands, giving us a three-dimensional experience in two dimensions. This solves the old problem of how to depict round tea bowls in flat paintings or photographs. And by allowing the calligraphy of the poem to interact with the movement of the painting, Codrescu lets us experience the moment even more fully.
Ellen Peckham, “Montauk IXX”The three haiga in the second group are more abstract, coming from a modernist or post-modernist background, and they each have a different kind of three-dimensionality, more akin to collage. For example, Ellen Peckham uses two basic forms and two colors overlaid on each other. Two active sharply defined black forms dart over the bottom of the softer golden background, and then three similarly sharp golden forms thrust over the black. The result is a sense of active energy, as though the golden forms were chasing and biting the black ones.
Terri L. French, “coloring”Terri French also offers us at least three layers, or (like Peckham) four if you count the calligraphy as a layer. Her haiku adds a marvellously ambiguous element — yes, we can see one leaf partially over a blue layer, and there is a tree as well in a different scale: the leaf is larger than the tree from which it may have come, and exists in a differently hued world. So who or what is coloring outside the lines? The artist? The leaf? The viewer? Above all, we should not get stuck on a single interpretation.
Marlene Mountain, “on my own”Marlene Mountain demonstrates a great variety of techniques and styles in her many haiga, all of them appealing; I chose one that combined one of her most evocative poems with a strong image. Somehow the difficulty of just getting through the day comes upon all of us, and the haiku is here printed simply and quietly — yet it is embellished with both softer brush-lines and hard-edge forms that vibrate and dance as they seem to grow and find heir own balance in space. — Stephen Addiss
Stephen Addiss, “willow fluff”Stephen Addiss’s haiga contribution to this issue clearly locates him in both camps: combining traditional techniques and materials but adding a contemporary sense of design and whimsy. The slide of the main line suggests the fluid paths taken by willow fluff, by soap bubbles, borne on the wind, but does it not also conjure a human figure? Or perhaps not quite human, but a djinn, or maybe even the sprite god of the wind, whose sport it is to blow the ephemera of life to destinations unknown. The series of descending circles, which seem both to grow more solid and to dissipate at the same time, adds weight and gravity to the composition. At another glance the image is nothing so much as a bare foot, and such a foot in its nakedness might add a seasonal element that ties the three images together in idyllic summer. Next consider the poem, which can seem a mere list: fluff, bubbles, turtle voice. This last seems the odd man out, but is in fact the contextualizer. Turtles lack vocal cords, and perhaps the poet is placing this sound in the realm of fancy, yet another sensation conjured by a djinn. But perhaps he knows that turtles communicate by sound nonetheless, especially with their hatchlings, and that a sense of community is established among turtles through this shared voicing. And of course we track turtles by the bubbles they send up when they are beneath the water’s surface. The imaginative and the real share space in several ways throughout this work. Note, too, the style of the calligraphy — Addiss is one of the finest calligraphers of our time, so his decision to render the text in scratchy, irregular characters is not idle, but rather brings a child-like feel to the whole composition. And the text placement, blown about like the light tracings it incorporates, adds a final satisfying element to this rather marvelous example of contemporary haiga. — Jim Kacian