A collaborative piece: lyric poems, haibun and woodblock print

IMAG1026_1Terry Ann Carter, Penny Harter and I went to the Haiku North America 2015 conference in Schenectady, New York, last weekend. Most of the presentations were at the beautiful and serene Union College, and several were at the Desmond Hotel in Albany.

The three of us decided not to stay at the Desmond but at an AirBnB in Schenectady, in the Old Stockade area. It was a beautifully kept old home on the Mohawk River in which we had the upper apartment. Terry Ann arranged everything and suggested that since she and Penny had written about the Tokaido using Hiroshige’s woodcut prints, I might make a collage or ‘something’ to commemorate our stay in Cucumber Alley.  I wrote a poem about Hiroshige to go with their poems.

Years ago I studied how to make woodcut prints in the traditional Japanese manner, so I decided to dig out the tools and make a two-block woodcut based on a section of Hiroshige’s print for Station 23, Shimada.  It was simplified and small, three inches by four, which I printed in blue and gold. After such a long time there were many proofs, and a great many throw-aways, but eventually I rescued four or five of them, and attached the poems printed on fine tissue-like paper.

Here are the poems that were attached to the print, all presented in an accordion fold which could be framed flat, or, because of the stiff Japanese paper, left to stand on a shelf.

Shimada: Penny Harter, New Jersey

Porters crowd the Oi River,
swarm on the riverbank.
Horses balk, feed, nibble
at their hides.

the daimyo’s archers sit
on the damp ground, vermillion bows
in their hands. Other retainers
sit together on crates.

Some sedan chairs
open to the air
bring up the rear
of the procession.

The sun is hot. From the hills
above the beach two pines
bend over a few teal boulders
in the sand.

How Best to Cross a River or a Stream: Terry Ann Carter, Victoria, BC

You always said try holding it together for a change. But I’m battling depression. My body a tripod with the help of a walking stick. A hiking manual deleting the part about shallow water. Your answer to everything…elliptical. A poet writes about being a kid. Seeing his neighbour drown a sack of kittens one cold November night. That river too wide to cross. Does anyone listen to Little Walter anymore? My eye surgeon cutting into the heart of me. All that I see. My father crossing North Africa. 1943. Rommel on the run. These trajectories at the lookout, north of Black Mountain College. On the North Carolina switchback they call Blue Ridge.

painting of a chair
a chair and sumi-e

Hiroshige on His Life’s Work: Claudia Radmore

my hours are spent
painting my travels
my best works
pasted down on blocks
then rubbed away

little of me is left
not even a finger smudge

despite the finest carvers
and printmakers
who never listen
to my colour suggestions

my paintings merely fill
my stomach
they match spring kimonos
fuel bored imaginations
of more value to me
are the cast-offs that

people on the street buy
for a few coppers ―
my truest works
pasted on their walls
keep out drafts

Terry’s poems came out of  reading Penny’s series on the Tokaido, and deciding to use the haibun form, of which she is a master, interweaving her contemporary life, history, and memoir with that of the artist. My experience with Japanese forms, woodcut techniques and Japanese aesthetics, and our common background with lyric forms all came together for this project.

The title of the overall result is: HNA 2015, Cucumber Alley, Schenectady.  Many thanks Terry, for the suggestion, and to both poets for their poetic contributions. Staying in Cucumber Alley together was a wonderful experience, well worth commemorating!


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