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Call of the Page (Alan & Karen)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

ekphrasis - poetry and art, and when haiku met art

      our dialogue as a haiku poet with art

There are many ways into writing about a particular artwork. See towards the end a guest appearance by Patricia McGuire reacting to an artwork by George Segal.

For instance, what memories, from childhood or young adulthood etc... are evoked by a certain painting or other artwork you saw somewhere?

If it's a tanka there is more than room enough to add the title of a painting, and maybe the artist's name, and to a certain degree that can also be done in a haiku.


Monet’s Haystacks
a group of crows tug
at twilight

Alan Summers
Publication credits: Asahi Shimbun (Japan, 2010)


Monet’s pain–
the shadows of haybales
lengthening the sunset

Alan Summers
Publication credits: 
The Bath Burp: Poetry, Music & Arts Monthly Issue No. 10 (2012)

See Monet's haystacks:

van Gogh’s wheatfield
the width of a hand fills
with crows

Alan Summers
Publication credits: 
The Bath Burp: Poetry, Music & Arts Monthly Issue No. 10 (2012)

Wheatfield with Crows

Auvers-sur-Oise, July 1890 Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890) oil on canvas, 50.5 cm x 103 cm 

such old steps 
I water the sunflowers 
for van Gogh

Alan Summers
Publication credit: 
Stardust Haiku Issue 9 - September 2017

van Gogh's sunflowers:

4-line haiku from a talk at Victoria and Albert Museum about Japanese art, and in particular netsuke (pronounced 'net-ski).

the blue
of the aubergine
a spider is caught
in the netsuke

Alan Summers
Publication credits: Snapshots Seven (2000)

The aubergine netsuke at the V&A:

the hare with amber eyes
jumps back in again

Alan Summers
Publication credits: Mainichi Shimbun (Japan, May 2011)

the crows changing
into their colours

Alan Summers 

Siena rooftops
sketching the shapes
in my mind

Karen Hoy
Yomiuri Shimbun, Go-Shichi-Go Haiku in English / Using poetic color in haiku  (Japan, 2004)

The rooftops of Siena, Italy:

Madame Camellia
a teabag discarded
in autumn leaves

Karen Hoy
Publication credit: 
Blithe Spirit Vol. 27 No. 1 (February 2017) ISSN 1353-3320

La Dame aux Camelias aka Madame Camellia

Description by Karen Hoy:
I was walking home on an autumn day, and noticed that someone had chucked a teabag into the fallen leaves accumulated where the flagstone pathway met people’s front garden walls.  I had to think for a moment about why the image piqued something in me – it was a sludgy brown colour among autumn shades – it didn’t stand out.  

But then I realised that the tension was between these exotic cast-off leaves [tea being the dried leaves of a camellia bush, I believe] and the local autumn leaves.  And I had the image of some tragedy, of a decline, but without a loss of self-respect or dignity.  A sort of forbearing.  

I must have been influenced by the title Madame Butterfly too.  Also the film “La Dame aux Camelias” where the heroine has tuberculosis (which I think subconsciously linked to the dampness of the teabag – I can’t remember whether the autumn leaves were damp or dry, I think perhaps they were in-between).

from the Afterword by Alan Summers for Ekphrasis Between Image and Word

When we attempt ekphrastic forays, into the landscape of painting, haiku could be seen as two brushstrokes frozen in mid-air. Or, using another analogy, while attempting to capture the energy of painting, it’s not unlike the techniques made famous in The Matrix movie; freeze frames that an actor moves around, at will, while everyone and everything else is an individual ‘still life,’ or an intimate and suspended panorama.

When I write about a painting through my own poetry I am both telling a story, but also attempting to tell a story, all at the same time. 

[T]ravel the paintings, hear the echoes in between, and tell your own story too. 

Afterword extract from Alan Summers from the book:
Ekphrasis Between Image and Word

Paintings by Maria Pierides. Haiku responses by Stella Pierides
Foreword by Robert Lamoon 
Afterword by Alan Summers
Fruit Dove Press 
ISBN 978-3-944155-06-7

Ekphrasis: Between Image and Word

Two haiku from:
The British Haiku Society Members' Anthology 2017 
ed. Iliyana Stoyanova 

Mondrian's windmill
the browns - browns
from Mondrian

after the painting "Windmolen" (Windmill), 1917 by Piet Mondriaan

unnamed night
the aviator’s goggles
shaking feathers

after “Untitled (Dark Owl)” 2013 by Peter Doig

Alan Summers

Peter Doig:

The British Haiku Society Members' Anthology 2017 
ed. Iliyana Stoyanova 
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: The British Haiku Society (1 November 2017)
ISBN-10: 1906333084
ISBN-13: 978-1906333089


Wonderful guest Patricia McGuire has provided us with an intriguing ekphrastic response to a famous artist - see links to George Segal further down.

the painter 
sleeps on his shoes–– 
cigarette burns

Patricia McGuire

Patricia says:
"It was inspired by the piece “The Bowery” by George Segal 1970 and is in the Kunsthaus in Zürich."

"I don’t think of it as a description of the sculpture, but rather it is a little story inspired by what I saw, and coloured by my experience of living here in Zürich. I think that qualifies as ekphrasis, but you might think differently, and you are the expert."

I (Alan) said: 
"Well, even before I looked up the particular artwork, I got an instant spark off the verse. Perhaps because I've been both an artist (as a mosaicist, knowing time, even a whole day, could drift into night), and of course as a painter & decorator a la general builder with equally long hours sometimes."

"The figure is not a beggar, but someone to my eyes, who has succumbed to alcohol to such an extent they have lost probably their livelihood (office career, teaching, painting as an artist, or construction worker etc...)."

"I knew a fellow general builder who succumbed to excessively joints of ganja, and boozing, it was such a huge shame for this man to diminish himself."

the painter 
sleeps on his shoes–– 
cigarette burns

Patricia McGuire

Breaking it down:

The opening line:

the painter

We can immediately form an impression with the first line, and some readers will see an artist, some may see a decorator.

There is that concrete image, the names of everyday things, and a painter is a common sight where houses are being built or renovated. We also see the artist works of painters in various gallery shops, and also shops that sell greetings cards of famous paintings.

The second line:

sleeps on his shoes

I can imagine someone swaying on their feet, in between full sleep and a blurry wakefulness. I've been there myself, especially working a 23 hour day!

I remember watching bio-pics of the famous artists, how they laboured long into the night, and collapsed through exhaustion, and perhaps strong liquor.

The third line:

cigarette burns

I am jolted from my romanticising the scene. It's an abrupt scene changer, which juxtaposition can achieve, like ice-cold water.

Are these burns on his or her fingers, forgetting they are holding a cigarette in one hand? Is it a long burning cigarette left balanced on the edge of a table, that also holds absinthe or brandy?

Are they self-inflicted burns? Are they the last cigarette's burning effect as the artist collapsed into or near their bed?

Is the artist finally so destitute they are on the street, homeless without a patron?

When I couple the verse with the artwork I obtain further insights (mine alone, other's will be different). It's a man abandoned, not just by his family and friends and associates, but by himself. Another man casually watches the sprawled out figure lying near him, and smokes a cigarette.

When I saw the artwork it immediately appealed to me, and I could feel I understood why Patricia interpreted it in her own way. It worked immediately as a standalone verse and as an ekphrastic reaction. 

George Segal (artist)

Here is the startling artwork, where I find the
black and white version most effective: 

Here, other artists (photographers) captured the misfortunes and desperation of fellow humans:

New York City In The 1970s: Living It Low In The Bowery

When Leland Bobbé shared his pictures of 1970s New York City we loved them so much we split the gallery in two. If you’ve not seen his photographs of Times Square: Peep Shows And Pimps, please do check them out. In this gallery we see snapshots of New York’s otherworldly Subway system, China Town and The Bowery before the money moved in and the cool kids started to dress like they were grit-poor.

The artist often captured various people, not just people who were alcoholics but
those desperate from poverty:

photos of the Bowery:

I said to Patricia that as a professional Mall Santa I would travel into my old home city of Bristol (England) over November and right up to and including Christmas Eve and there were so many homeless, in various conditions, so this
interpretation worked powerfully for me. It's got good complexity whether matched with the artwork or not.

Here are the famous Bowery Santas:

I derived a powerful amount of feeling and meaning from Patricia's verse which she helped make possible because she reacted so closely and meaningfully with George Segal's artwork.

Thank you Patricia for allowing me to post your verse.

warmest regards, 

Patricia lives in Zürich, Switzerland. A Londoner by birth, when
people ask her where she is from she says she is Swiss, with Irish
blood and an English heart. (Apologies to Morrissey.) She splits her
time between professional recruiting, podcasting and writing haiku
and stories for young adults. 
You will find Patricia's podcasts at:

Online courses, and events at Call
of the Page with Karen & Alan:

Karen & Alan run ekphrastic online courses for both haiku and tanka from time to time. 
If you might be interested, drop a line to Karen:

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