Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Japanese culture: poetic aesthetics, artistry, and martial arts, inspired me to write haiku and tanka

January 9, 2021

Discovering and writing haiku and tanka

Many years ago, at a local bookstore I used to frequent, I came across a profound little poem on a poster with a beautiful image from nature. The name of the poet, Kiyo, appeared under the poem. It may have been the first type of Japanese poetry I’d ever read, in English translation of course. I had discovered haiku—a 3-line poem of 5-7-5 syllables respectively. I had written it down and recently found it. Here it is.

Softly unfolding,
Beauty awakens each heart
to wonder … to life.

I’d never heard of Kiyo. Did a search and found Ungo Kiyo (1582–1659), a Japanese Rinzai Zen master and poet. Couldn’t find any more poetry, just a quote on enlightenment in an antique book of calligraphy.

Even though we can’t adequately translate haiku into English due to the syntactical differences of a pictorial language, an important aspect of it was explained to me by a Japanese TM teacher I had met on an international course. Haiku was part of his educational upbringing. They usually have a seasonal reference. To be effective, the first 2 lines describe something in nature, but the 3rd line brings in another element that causes the mind to skip a beat, have an ‘aha’ moment of realization.

Kiyo’s beautiful short poem inspired me to start writing haiku and then tanka, a 2-stanza poem combining haiku with 2 lines of 7 syllables each. The second part would continue the theme of the first part, but give it a slightly new angle. In olden times, the Japanese court poets used to compete with each other in rounds of tanka called renga, linked verses.

I wrote my first haiku after a walk-and-talk about relationships with a lady friend. I noticed a furry caterpillar crawling on the ground. It became the metaphor for a poem on commitment and spiritual transformation.

Transformed

Caterpillars spin
increments of commitment;
Butterflies fly free!

I wrote many haiku and tanka over the years. I even wrote Haiku on The Nature of Haiku, which was very meta. These first 4 haiku—Defined, Discovered, Transformed, Translated—were among the 13 Ways to Write Haiku: A Poet’s Dozen, published in The Dryland Fish, An Anthology of Contemporary Iowa Poets.

Five Haiku, selected from The Dryland Fish; Cold Wet Night, a tanka; and Poetry—The Art of the Voice, a poem; were published in This Enduring Gift—A Flowering of Fairfield Poetry. The University of Iowa’s “Iowa Writes” program also published Five Haiku on The Daily Palette.

Defined

3 lines, 2 spaces,
17 feet to walk thru;
then,   the unending

Discovered

a poem unfolds
as words take their place in line
this one’s a haiku

Translated
(Inspired by Gareth Jones–Roberts’ painting “Egrets in Morning Light”)

on the edge of space
two egrets in morning light
woken from a dream

I recently came across a poem I had written a while ago, but never posted it. A photograph of cranes flying in a snowstorm inspired this Japanese Haiku.

Red-crowned cranes in Akan National Park, Hokkaido, Japan. Photograph by Vincent Munier. Click on image to enlarge it.

Three Japanese cranes
Soar above trees in snowstorm
Grace under pressure

Tanka on the Japanese art of kintsugi

I discovered other aspects of Japanese culture, which inspired tanka poems. Click on the titles below for more information and images.

The first is about kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer thereby making it appear more beautiful than the original. Robert Yellin had tweeted an image of a repaired bowl to show this art, which is how I discovered it.

kintsugi tanka

kintsukuroi
turning obstacles into
opportunities

life’s lessons build character
what was broken is now whole

The Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs selected Robert to introduce Japanese craftsmen to the world in a special documentary, Takumi: Japan’s artisan tradition. Because of his expertise, Robert became a cultural ambassador. His film inspired people from all over the world to visit the country, and helped boost Japanese tourism.

How Robert ended up in Japan is revealed in the documentary film, Jerry’s Last Mission, about his father, Jerry Yellin, who was the last WWII fighter pilot, an author, and proponent of TM for veterans with PTSD.

Tanka on the Japanese martial art of Aikido

On a visit to see my son in California, I wrote this tanka after watching his Aikido teacher demonstrate how to defend oneself from attack. She stood in one spot and effortlessly deflected the repeated charges from her students. It was mesmerizing! It took me a while to process what I had seen before writing the poem. I had emailed it to my son to read to her on her birthday. A volunteer at the dojo found the poem and posted it with a photo of a leaning tree as a screensaver on the office computer. It’s beautiful. Click the title and scroll down to see it.

My Son’s Sensei

Rooted to the ground
She repels her attackers
Flowing, not moving.

In storms, trees bear great burdens
Bending, not breaking.

Two tree tanka

Speaking of trees, this tanka is from the perspective of a willow tree. Click the title to see a photo of a special one, and links to audio clips of me reading the poem on different media platforms.

Willow Tree
An Overflowing Fountain of Green

Willow Tree Whispers
People say … Weeping Willow
But I’m not crying

Just bowing down … to the Earth
Kissing the ground … with my leaves

Another tree tanka resulted when I saw the willow that inspired the previous poem, and the honey locust next to it, intertwined on top! They were on each side of the entrance to the place I was living in at the time.

Friendship

Trees like to hold hands
Bending branches to link leaves
They forge deep friendships

Swaying with the wind—they dance
Under the moonlight—romance

A two-haiku relationship poem

When it comes to a committed relationship, this two-haiku poem turned out to be prophetically true.

COMMITTED

when the tide rolls in
bows of boats bump each other
tethered to the dock

with our ups and downs
we remain tied together
solid as a rock

© Ken Chawkin

See more haiku and tanka archived on The Uncarved Blog.

Suggested Reading

Jane Hirshfield’s 29-page essay about the life and poetry of Matsuo Bashō—recognized as a master of concise, compelling Japanese haiku—is worth reading. The Heart of Haiku was named “Best Kindle Single of 2011.” It was the first Kindle I ever bought, and described it in a post, Haiku on The Heart of Haiku, with links to interviews and more.

Author and translator Harold Stewart‘s essay On Haiku and Haiga in A Net of Fireflies: Japanese Haiku and Haiku Paintings, was very edifying.

This classic was recommended to me: Unknown Craftsman by Soetsu Yanagi. I see it’s been updated and illustrated by Bernard Leach and Soetsu Yanagi: The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty.

Although not Japanese, Creativity and Taoism: A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art, and Poetry by Chang Chung-yuan was also worth reading. A 2nd Edition is now available. I reference the Taoist concept of the uncarved block explaining How The Uncarved Blog got its name.

Norman McLaren’s 1968 NFB film ‘Pas de deux’ creates a spellbinding aesthetic experience

June 21, 2020

I remember seeing this beautiful short film when it first came out, either on Canadian television or in a theater. ‘Pas de deux‘ was made in 1968 by Norman McClaren at the National Film Board of Canada. I had never seen anything quite like it. There were no special effects; the technologies had not been developed yet. Expand it to full screen and enjoy a spellbinding aesthetic experience.

How it was made and received

Considered by many to be Norman McLaren‘s masterpiece, ‘Pas de deux‘ is a stunning meditation on form and movement. He photographed backlit dancers dressed in white against a black backdrop, then used an optical printer to expose individual frames up to 11 times.

The film is choreographed to the music of Romanian panpipes. Ludmilla Chiriaeff is the choreographer; Margaret Mercier and Vincent Warren are the dancers. Dobre Constantin plays the pan flute accompanied by the United Folk Orchestra of Romania.

The film won 20 awards, nationally and internationally, at festivals in Melbourne, Locarno, Buenos Aires, Chicago, New York and London, including a special Canadian Film Award for exceptional quality. It was nominated for best live-action short at the 1968 Academy Awards.

Fairfield artist Chad Starling’s Word and Form drawings boggle the mind, belie the imagination

April 30, 2020

Integrating deep reflection with artistic creation

Chad Starling is a Fairfield artist who combines the written word with a visual labyrinthine language into a body of work called Word and Form. He integrates deep reflection with artistic creation. His process of art-making is a meditative practice engaging eye, hand, heart and mind as he repeatedly writes a certain phrase over and over again in a specific pattern while experiencing a steady stillness in action.

I first saw his work featured a few summers ago at Art Fifty Two. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at—a series of repeated hand-written words or phrases from large to extremely small print made into shapes and patterns, some appearing as mandalas. A detailed large work can take up to two years to complete with writing sometimes as small as over 400 letters per square inch. Chad recently told me that he can usually create three pieces per year. The fact that he is dyslexic and can produce such accurate repetitive word drawings belies the imagination!

Chad Starling next to his I AM print expanded to mural size at Art Fifty Two

Here is an example of his work, I AM, which was blown up to a wall size mural for the show. The actual size of the piece is 18 x 24 inches. Dale Stephens created this large size for Chad’s show at his Art Fifty Two. You get a perspective for the size of the mural with Chad standing next to it. Click on the title to see details of the work and closeups on his website.

I marveled at the JAI GURU DEV Mural. It’s amazing! Click on the title, then on the first image to expand it, and the arrow on the right twice to see increasing closeups of it. You will clearly see the words in the 3rd image at the center. Mind-boggling!

Words of Art Documentary

Chad Starling and Ashia Fredeen with their 2019 IMPA Achievement Award

Ashia Fredeen, the daughter of a Canadian couple I know, came to Fairfield to study film making in the Cinematic Arts and New Media Department at MIU. She has a background in stage theater, creative writing, visual arts and music. Ashia helped Dick DeAngelis on his 2nd film of the Fairfield History Series serving as 1st assistant director for the entire length of the 9-month production.

During her 2nd year, inspired by his work, Ashia reached out to Chad Starling to see if he would be open to her making a short documentary on him. The result is this 7-minute film, Words of Art, which captures Chad’s unique process and work. The film won an Award of Achievement at the 2019 Iowa Motion Picture Association Awards. Chad posted it on his Word and Form YouTube channel.

Here are Chad’s artistic statement, artist bio and artwork description. Visit his website for more information and images: chadstarlingart.com.

ARTISTIC STATEMENT

Formed by the word, we are the word, creating through the word. There is a story that is being created every moment everywhere, which has neither beginning nor end. If we desire, we can be co-authors of this story on a much larger scale. For this reason I draw my purpose for living. Expressing my heart through abstract form, interpreted through literal meaning. In a steady stillness I repeat a phrase, experiencing it over and over again.

ARTIST BIO / ARTWORK DESCRIPTION

Starling is a contemporary artist using micrographic techniques with an added mental and spiritual dimension. Beyond the beauty of the forms he creates, Starling uses his once perceived handicap, dyslexia, as a tool to make a series of repeated hand-written words into visual mnemonic devices. With degrees in photography, graphic design, and theology, Starling pursues the integration of deep reflection with artistic creation.

I found this beautiful ethereal painting online, Walking Lily, by Vietnamese artist Xuan Loc Xuan

April 1, 2020

I found a beautiful painting on Colossal by Vietnamese freelance illustrator Xuan Loc Xuan. Titled, Walking Lily, it is also posted on her Instagram page. Her work is available at Toi Art Gallery.

“Life creates art while art changes life.” – Xuan Loc Xuan

Xuân Lộc Xuân was born in Vietnam. Her name means “Spring.” She lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Xuan Loc Xuan studied Fine Arts at HCM University, the biggest art school in the south of Vietnam. She’s been working as a freelance illustrator for several years. She uses traditional and digital tools to draw. Her designs tend to be minimalistic and the use of color is a main factor in her artworks. For her, “life creates art while art changes life.”

Independent journalist & editor of The Floating Magazine/TFM Studio, Payal Khandelwal interviewed Xuan via email. She introduces her: Xuan Loc Xuan dresses up melancholy in vibrant colors in most of her artworks, and the results are breathtaking. Having grown up as an introvert child in a large family, Xuan always felt an inherent sense of loneliness and sadness. And the essence of those feelings drips down into most of her work. Her subjects are always shying away from the audience. They are either glancing sideways or have their back to the world, and are always lost in their own thoughts. Most of Xuan’s work also has a very ethereal feel to it. Read the interview: People: Xuan Loc Xuan.

This is a magical, mystical image. I love the various shades of green in the picture, their textures, especially the girl’s dress, the different colored flowers. She appears contemplative, in her own world. This work holds an otherworldly, timeless silence. I found a companion piece, Water Lily, of a boy sleeping among the same water lilies, or lotuses.

Lily could be the girl’s name and/or the lilies, but these are lotuses. Their larger pads and flowers rise high above the water, whereas most water lilies, pads and flowers, float on the water, with some flowers rising a few inches above it. Maybe the word means the same for both in their language, but these are different species.

I learned that distinction over three decades ago in the fall, when a friend and I encountered many tall, large lotus pads and pods at the second Round Prairie Park pond in Fairfield, Iowa. There had been a drought that summer, and many stood high above the lowered water level. She began sketching them, and I attempted to write about the process in a poem as an observer. After several attempts, I gave up, switched perspectives, and surprisingly, the poem wrote itself; we had become the observed! You can read the poem and more about what happened afterwards in Ode to the Artist Sketching Lotus Pads at Round Prairie Park.

I submitted the poem to a poetry competition at Sparrowgrass Poetry Forum and forgot about it. Much to my surprise, on a very special day, I found out by Registered Mail that I had won their Distinguished Poet Award, which included a $100 check! They mailed the plaque separately, published the poem, and sent me a copy of Treasured Poems of America, their anthology, which contained my award-winning poem.

The editor requested a follow-up poem. The only thing I could write about was that mysterious, creative interaction that took place between us and the lotuses. He published Sometimes Poetry Happens in their next issue. Those experiences gave me the confidence to keep writing, and a flood of poems continued to flow from me, for which I was very thankful.

I like Walking Lily so much I ordered a large print of it to hang in my entrance way on the wall above the small antique green cabinet. I was given a 20% discount on my first order and free shipping, a nice surprise!

Another beautiful artwork is of a stunning sunrise or sunset in “A Fjord” painted by Norwegian artist Adelsteen Normann.

Xuan Loc Xuan later posted a new painting on her Instagram called Ocean Blue. It would make for a nice companion piece to Walking Lily. Both girls appear in magical realms where nature and imagination live together in one seamless reality. I love it!

The Poetry and Color of Love for Valentine’s Day

February 15, 2020

Donna Warwick posted this digital painting on her Instagram artsfusionist: “Happy Valentines Day Everyone ! I Love Hue!”

Good homonym! This is so vibrant, like a beating heart! Can you feel it?

Hope you all enjoyed a Happy Valentine’s Day. Whether you were with someone or by yourself, Love Is Love. I emailed most of this content below for Valentine’s Day and decided to post it afterwards with some additions.

The Poetry of Love

For those alone, here is an uplifting poem reminding us to love ourselves: Love after Love, by Derek Walcott, resonates deeply when you first acknowledge yourself. Includes videos of him reading his poetry.

For those sharing love, [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] by E.E. Cummings is a most beautiful poem about the intimate unity of the lover and the beloved within his heart.

And Emily Dickinson succinctly describes the eternal nature of Love in this short but powerful poem.

Since it was Valentine’s Day, again, I thought I’d mention last year’s post. The audio links have been updated: Dan Fogelberg’s song, Longer, and my 3 love poems complete today’s Valentine’s Day Show. The poems were written for and inspired by my muse and sweetheart Sali. The first two were written earlier in our relationship, the last one after she passed.

The Color of Love

When it comes to art, one artist stands out for me—Marc Chagall. The love for his wife is expressed in his art; his art expresses love in color. He says, “In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of LOVE.”

In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art. It is the color of LOVE. — Marc Chagall

This blog post contains the Canadian documentary film, Marc Chagall: The Colours of Love, and 2 short videos. They cover his life and work, and the love of his life, his muse and wife, Bella. Marc Chagall’s paintings contain beautiful colors of love and a joyful floating lightness of being.

These images are from those films: closeups from an early painting of Chagall’s then fiancée Bella Rosenfeld; of Bella and Marc Chagall in Les Amoureux [Lovers] (1928); and in L’Anniversaire [The Birthday] (1915).

Closeup of Bella Rosenfeld, Marc Chagall’s fiancée
Top section of Les Amoureux (1928)
L’Anniversaire (1915)

The Chagall documentary ends with these words about the poet-artist: “He has painted the unity of the universe in all things. His song of songs is really a song of love, like a bouquet of flowers. Marc Chagall’s light, his message, his life, has been a gift to us all.”

May Love Always Be—within and among us expressed in poetry and art.

John O’Donohue’s 4 short lines say it all for poets

January 27, 2020

These 4 short lines by John O’Donohue describe how he lived his creative life—amazed by each revelatory moment, turning them into poems.

Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

— John O’Donohue

Enjoy 3 more of his lovely poems: A Blessing of Solitude (Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom); The Inner History of a Day and For a New Beginning (To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings).

William Stafford expressed the same notion in his talks and poems of being innocent, spontaneous, and responding creatively in the moment: A Course in Creative Writing, You and Art, and When I Met My Muse.

This poem my son wrote when he was in 6th grade epitomizes this idea: INSPIRATION, a poem by Nathanael Chawkin.

These poems I wrote on the process share in that same sentiment: Writing; Storytelling; and Sometimes Poetry Happens, which turned out to be a commentary on this revealed poem, ODE TO THE ARTIST: Sketching Lotus Pads at Round Prairie Park.

In our efforts to fluently express ourselves, writing, primarily, is a process of self-discovery. Burghild Nina Holzer says journal writing allows us to discover who we are and what we have to say.

Talking to paper is talking to the divine. Paper is infinitely patient. Each time you scratch on it, you trace part of yourself, and thus part of the world, and thus part of the grammar of the universe. It is a huge language, but each of us tracks his or her particular understanding of it.

WHO ARE YOU?, a poem in the film, Words and Pictures, invites us to write and discover who we are. There’s a fascinating story behind it.

In the words of Donald Hall, “Writing is the process of using language to discover meaning in experience and to communicate it.”

In this collection of Writers on Writing–What Writing Means To Writers, Hall also wrote:

A good writer uses words to discover, and to bring that discovery to other people. He rewrites so that his prose is a pleasure that carries knowledge with it. That pleasure-carrying knowledge comes from self-understanding, and creates understanding in the minds of other people.

The playful joy of effortless creation displayed by Donna Warwick inspired this haiku turned tanka

November 29, 2019

Author, visual artist, and TM teacher Donna Warwick posts digital paintings on her Instagram as @artsfusionist. She created this painting that expresses the effortless mysterious process of creation. The Absolute becoming Relative. BEing BEcoming. To me it looks like the moment of conception, and also the sprouting of a seed idea. Either way, it’s creation. It inspired me to write this haiku, then extend it to a tanka. Read Donna’s description below.

Effortless Creation

Inspired by a painting by Donna Warwick

I AM THAT I AM
I AM ONE — Become Many
BEING Becoming

I AM therefore I Create
An Idea of My Self

®Ken Chawkin
Nov. 29, 2019

Donna added this description for Thanksgiving Day: Thought and Action:
It is the frictionless flow between thought and action that produces effortless achievement in life. One feels the profound connection between the source of thought and the fulfillment of the action. The sweetest thing is that the result of this is the bliss of experiencing something greater than our small selves. For the true source of all success is not the ego. Nor is it the wide assortment of details about one’s personality/individuality. That is why the experience of unity with unbounded pure consciousness is so fulfilling. Consciousness is that which is shared by all. For me, that experience is one of the natural results of my practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. On this Thanksgiving I feel waves of gratitude to my TM teacher.

A photograph by Julia Preminger of the Catskill Mountains covered in snow inspired this haiku

November 27, 2019

I saw this photograph of an early winter forest scene that Julia Preminger had posted on her Instagram. It inspired me to write this haiku.

Snowy forest winter wonderland in the Catskill Mountains, NY. Photo by Julia Preminger

another winter haiku
based on a photograph by Julia Preminger

white wisps of winter
nature powders her features
we watch in wonder

®Ken Chawkin
Nov. 27, 2019

Here’s an earlier one: this snow buddha photo inspired a winter haiku.

This stunningly beautiful scene of “A Fjord” was painted by Norwegian artist Adelsteen Normann

April 15, 2019
A Fjord painted by Norwegian artist Adelsteen Normann

I discovered this beautiful painting on Twitter. Don’t know whether this scene represents a sunrise or a sunset between the mountains. Either way, the vivid colors on the horizon and in the sky, and their reflection on the water are spectacular! I did some research to learn more about this impressive artist and found some of his paintings at artnet and in videos 1 & 2. Click on the video description to read more about this master painter. Here’s an excerpt from this Wikipedia biograhy.

Eilert Adelsteen Normann (May 1, 1848 – December 26, 1918) was a Norwegian painter who worked in Berlin. He was a noted painter of landscapes of Norway. Normann was the artist who invited Edvard Munch to Berlin, where he painted The Scream. Normann’s fjord paintings are credited with making the Norwegian fjords a more popular tourist destination.

this snow buddha photo inspired a winter haiku

March 22, 2019

My daughter Shara and her husband Toby live on Lopez Island, WA. On Feb 12, Toby took this photograph of their buddha statue covered in snow. About a foot tall, it’s located in their back yard near the clifftop seats overlooking the ocean. It’s quite the view! I visited them in June 2017. Toby said: “We had quite a bit of snow here, it was really lovely just for that week.” He recently added the photo to his impressive collection on Instagram. I was inspired to write him a winter haiku on this first day of spring!

a winter haiku

wrapped in white silence
contemplating nothingness
the buddha ascends

©Ken Chawkin
March 21, 2019
Fairfield, Iowa

Here is a later one: A photograph by Julia Preminger of the Catskill Mountains covered in snow inspired this haiku.


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