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Bookstories 25: Ellen Peckham’s Haiga

libraryofbabelEvery book tells its story, but what of the other story, the story behind the book? Bookstories offers an opportunity to tell that story. If you have a story about a book or poem you would like to share, contact us and we’ll help you make it happen. Thanks for letting us know the rest of the story!


In winter of 2008 I rented a place in Montauk, the village at the tip of Long Island, so that I could concentrate on the Spanish translations of my poems I was preparing. The last thing on my mind was haiku. But, while walking the beaches, poems in verses of 3/5/3 or 5/7/5 rolled in on waves, appeared written on seaweed, were dictated by gulls. As I had a small
sketchbook with me, I recorded them.

And later, looking for background information, found that there is a form of art, haiga, specifically containing haiku. Inspired, I set up a temporary studio on an outdoor walkway and began to do ink interpretations of the poems. And all year long haiku presented themselves to me and I had so many, and so many haiga, published and exhibited, that I decided to create books. Such fragile offerings, I thought, should be supported, protected and presented together.

Wanting to give my contemporary haiga (not wash or woodcut but etchings) an aesthetic as strictly defined as the lines of the poems are, I set a discipline: each designed with a base paper, two etching plates ­an interpretative drawing and a text plate, the first cut irregularly ­and two forms in chine collé: fine papers melded with the base paper. To get many images keeping to this format has been a challenge in terms of form, color variations, placement, and, especially, the abstract visual expression of the words.

Preparing a folder to show I collaged the cover with bits of early proofs and the chine collé that came from them. And as the edition of books developed collage stayed an element, each unique and giving, in its own title, a name to the copy. The cover collages still contain state proofs and elements of the chine collé but also vintage, Asian and hand-made papers and fabrics from my collections.

The books as they are—collections of hand-pulled prints—have sold and are in a few Collections but now I am working with an art house to bring them out in facsimile even to the press marks. In a more library-friendly size they will be offered more widely.

—Ellen Peckham

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Her explanation is fascinating. If only she had added an illustration of one haiga. I would enjoy seeing illustrations of her books as the process seems to have come to her naturally. A true artist.

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