Gray on gray is the predominant color scheme in Upstate New York this time of year. My friend Yu Chang lives here in Schenectady (teaching electrical engineering at Union College and bringing the haiku spirit to all he does), so he knows that fact all too well. Nonetheless, if you stopped at the website of Simply Haiku Journal this weekend, you would have found a colorful reminder of the promise of Spring (beginning with the cover photo by Carol Raisfeld). Indeed, the Spring 2008 issue of Simply Haiku (Vol. 6:1) includes a portfolio of modern photo-haiga by Yu, which are guaranteed to overcome any light-deprivation-sadd-ness you might be suffering during the ides of February. [Haiga is a haiku-related genre that combines a painting, photo or other graphic image with a "linked" poem.]
If you’re more than a bit tired of grayscale, just click the link next to these b&w thumbnails from two of the haiga by Yu, to feel the magic of Spring:
at her ankles
In addition to four other pictures by Yu Chang, you’ll find many more antitdotes to wintry grays and whites in the new issue of Simply Haiku — including haiga images from Pris Campbell and Collin Barber, as well as Carol Raisfeld and Ashe. And, for some forward-looking commentary, check out George Swede’s last “Tracks in the Sand” column, where he talks about his new duties as editor of Frogpond.
stumbles in clover
………………………………….. by Matt Morden – Stumbles in Clover (2007)
Despite trying to avoid stressful online arguments lately, I don’t feel that I can in good conscience refer you to the Modern Haiga at Simply Haiku without raising an important issue concerning the essence of haiga excellence. Beyond my chronic complaint over the use of far too many “tell-em”/”psyku” poems (which tell you rather than “showing” you what is on the poet’s mind), I’ve been seeing far too many haiga that incorporate what I call “label-ku” — poems that describe what is happening in the accompanying graphic image, rather than being “subtly linked” to that image; the haiku appears to be a caption or title describing the image.
My introduction to modern haiga came through the intervention and inspiration of my friend Aurora Antonovic, who is the Haiga Editor at Simply Haiku (and much more). She encouraged me to try my hand at creating photo haiga (resulting, e.g., in this portfolio at SH). From the start, Aurora made it clear to me: quality haiga have subtly-linked poems. As she says in her Introduction to Modern Haiga at Simply Haiku:
Haiga, of course, is poem-art, but it is so much more than a three or five-line poem accompanying an image. The poem must not merely describe the image, nor is it to be confused as a slogan, but rather as an integral part of the whole. . . .
Work must possess simplicity, modesty, minimalism, beauty, and truth. Both image and haiku must be strong enough to stand alone, but together, form a completely new and enhancing artistic expression that would not have been possible otherwise.
The haiku and image need not be overtly associated with the other. In fact, the subtlest and gentlest associations often work best.
Here’s a haiga that fits Aurora’s description, from Simply Haiku (Spring 2008):
showers of snow melt
on someone’s cobs
……………. by Matt Morden
Because I’ve taken Aurora’s words to heart, I have been rather disheartened by some of the haiga selected for inclusion in Simply Haiku and other well-known haiga forums over the past year — journals that set the standard and teach by example. There have been far too many “label-ku-haiga.” As I suggested with tell-ems, I believe that haiga editors should be sending promising haiga that include label-ku back for a re-write, rather than putting them into top-tier publications — no matter how respected the haijin might be who submitted the piece.
Rather than point here to the work of a haijin who I do not know well and do not admire, I’m going to link to the new SH portfolio by one of our f/k/a family favorites, Matt Morden [see our rave review of his recent haiku collection Stumbles in Clover, from Snapshot Press]. At his weblog, Morden Haiku, Matt habitually illustrates his fine haiku with intriguing, often gorgeous, photography. Or, we might say, he uses intriguing haiku and senryu to help describe or explain his fine pictures.
Nowhere at Morden Haiku does Matt call his work haiga. I have always assumed that Matt did not use that term, because he does not consider the mere combination of a picture (no matter how artistically successful) with a poem that describes it (again, no matter how artistically successful) to be sufficent to create a haiga (at least not journal-worthy haiga that lives up to the Morden name for haikai excellence). Therefore, when I saw Matt’s name included in the Modern Haiga section of the new Simply Haiku, I was thrilled — anticipating great haiga that would fuse his fantastic photography and haiku-writing skills, and show us neophytes (as well as haiga veterans) how to create the “new and enhancing artistic expression” that is the goal of haiga, through the subtle linkage between words and image.
Sadly — and I truly hate to say this, because I have long admired his poetry (and photography) and Matt has so often said encouraging and generous things about my own — I was disappointed when I clicked through his new haiga portfolio. Except for the one haiga shown above, the selections simply failed to offer “subtle or gentle” associations between the words and often striking images. Because of the source — created by Matt Morden and selected by Aurora Antonovic for Simply Haiku — I am afraid that publishing such haiga gives the wrong signals, or gravely confusing ones, about what makes great haiga.
Sure, it’s possible that I’m too simple-minded, new to the genre, or definition-bound, to understand the subtleties in the concept of “subtle linkage.” If so, I humbly seek more instruction and explanation. It cannot simply be that “label-ku” [called "captional style" haiga by some experts] are acceptable if the picture or the words are each individually superb, or somehow offer many layers of interpretation and meaning. Every first-rate photo and first-rate poem is packed with myriad layers — or the potential to evoke them from the reader/audience. For me, the subtle link is at the core of the best haiga. Without it, we have illustrated haiku, not publication-worthy haiga.
I can find beautiful photos and excellent haiku in many places. When I go to the best haiga journals (which receive untold numbers of haiga from which to choose for publication), I expect much more than label-ku. To my haijin friends, Matt and Aurora, I apologize for raising this issue and giving us all more agita; I know you are both more than capable of withstanding the bite of this little gadfly. I will listen with an open, “beginner’s mind” to your responses, and to those of other haiga lovers, creators, and editors.
update (Feb. 19, 2008): With his usual class, Matt Morden has pointed his readers to this posting, saying: “Those of you who worry that an ingratiating culture of mutual congratulation may eventually lead to English-langauge haiku eating itself, will enjoy the folks at f/k/a‘s critique of my own attempts at something that may resemble haiga.” Of course, I’m still hoping he’ll weigh in on the questions I’ve raised about the essence of quality haiga and using captional-style haiku with photographs.
i join the line
………… by Yu Chang, Simply Haiku (Spring 2008)
Afterthoughts (Feb. 19, 2008): Unlike myself, the folks at HaigaOnline have given a lot of thought to the theory of image-poem linkage in haiga. For example, see “HAI + GA: Exercises in Linking Test and Image,” written by its editor Linda Papanicolaou, for the journal’s current edition (Issue 8-2, autumn/winter 2007). You are hereby encouraged to peruse and muse over Linda’s Haiga Workshop essay and associated display of photos and haiku. It begins:
“Modern haiga encompasses a wide range of approaches and styles, but every artist works towards the same goal—an art that’s more than the sum of its parts. The secret is in the link: how the text and the image relate to one another. In good haiga, both haiku and image should be able to stand on their own aesthetically, yet in juxtaposition with each other find new, deeper or richer resonance. The haiku does not simply describe the image—there’s a shift that creates openness in their relationship. This allows readers to engage and complete the meaning through their own experience.”
Linda is very reluctant to have “shoulds” and “musts” — believing it is better to show than to tell about haiga linkage theory and practice. As she says, “However one chooses to name the various modes of linking, the only real way to learn how they apply to haiga would be to choose a photo and haiku it in as many ways as possible.” Therefore, using four pictures taken by photographer-poet Ray Rasmussen, the Workshop — with nine participating authors experienced in haikai linkage — has “assembled the haiga in flash slideshows that give each text its turn with the image,” and includes a comparison chart to use as you click on the thumbnails and page through the workshop results. It’s an intriguing and helpful exercise.
Linda tells us:
“In the end, indeed, we found that the poetry of haiga depends on an open relationship between text and image. As one participant said, ‘I like the idea of the haiku capturing the mood of the haiga without repeating exactly what’s in the photo.”