Foreground Focus with Guest Editor Alex Fyffe
Between me and the tiger was a thick pane of glass, and despite that, my heart couldn’t help but beat a little faster. My focus was on the tiger beyond the glass, not the glass itself. Often, we find our attention drawn through one thing and toward another, ignoring the foreground entirely to examine what is on the other side. The idea of this series is to think about the things we normally look through – barriers at the zoo, windows, fences, even the glasses (or contacts!) right in front of our very eyes.
next week’s theme: Obfuscation
Bob Mosier, an artist, teacher, and my father-in-law, inspired this month’s prompts with one of his latest artworks, “Obfuscation #1” (made entirely with sewing machine and thread). Here are his reflections on the piece:
“Sitting in the doctor’s office waiting room I was admiring two still-life photos by Robert Mapplethorpe. I was admiring the subtle tonalities which I could see so clearly represented in the works. It was looking back a second time that I noticed the reflection of the windows behind me, and the trees and cars parked outside on the glass of the photos. I had ignored them in my first fascination with the work, and yet there they were absolutely interfering and now rendered me unable to see the work behind the glare. It made me wonder how many fences, screen doors, and windows had I looked through but ignored in my life, and how many life situations had I done the same? I began creating artworks and placing “Obfuscations” – dashes, dots, symbols (like the X in this piece) – over the surfaces as a barrier, asking the viewer to decide what they saw.”
Today’s prompt asks you to take inspiration from the photo of “Obfuscation #1” and/or from Mosier’s commentary on the piece.
To find out more about Bob Mosier and view some of his art, visit his website here.
The deadline is midnight Central Daylight Time, Saturday June 24, 2023.
Please use the Haiku Dialogue submission form below to enter one or two original unpublished haiku inspired by the week’s theme, and then press Submit to send your entry. (The Submit button will not be available until the Name, Email, and Place of Residence fields are filled in.) With your poem, please include any special formatting requirements & your name & residence as you would like it to appear in the column. A few haiku will be selected for commentary each week. Please note that by submitting, you agree that your work may appear in the column – neither acknowledgment nor acceptance emails will be sent. All communication about the poems that are posted in the column will be added as blog comments.
Below is Alex’s commentary for Blur the Background too:
the sharp point
of a carmine red pencil
Cary, North Carolina
all over the buffer zone
Everything has been prepared and is ready to go, all except, perhaps, the motivation to read another stack of student papers. Straw’s relatable poem shows how we sometimes focus on the little details in order to avoid the bigger picture that’s looming over us. Similarly, Kuznetsova’s focus on the bees’ undisturbed work on the flowers in the buffer zone suggests a desire to avoid the disturbances implied by the very existence of that buffer. Here, at least, the conflict does not reach. I also felt that “undisturbed buzzing” could suggest a double meaning – the sounds of warfare continuing in the distance unabated. Either way, the poet is focused on the meadow flowers here despite that background.
within my reach
The Far North, Aotearoa, New Zealand
through lace curtains
also finely made
Cindy Putnam Guentherman
In Devi’s poem, we see an excellent use of the pivot line moving us from the background to the foreground. For the poet, the mountains seem to be within reach, almost as much as the persimmon being plucked. We can also see this blending of the background and foreground in Guentherman’s haiku. Although the poet’s focus is actually on the background figure through the curtains, the person whose form she admires, her attention is drawn back to the foreground seemingly for reasons of plausible deniability – “I wasn’t staring at you; I was only admiring the details on these excellent curtains!” The implied simile also gives this poem a romantic sensuality not seen in most of the entries.
watching a turtle
in the shallow pond
I tidy my hair
New Bern, North Carolina
Of all the reflective surface poems, Tau’s takes the cake. Like some of the other poems here, hers takes us on a journey from looking through something to looking at it, in this case looking through the water at a turtle to looking at her reflection on the water. But I admire how the poet uses the last line, “I tidy my hair,” to suggest this shift in focus instead of directly mentioning her reflection. She is doing one thing and then suddenly becomes aware of her own appearance as a result – a natural, fluid transition. Because of the wording, we could even read into the poem a bit and wonder if the poet doesn’t relate in some way to the appearance of the turtle.
patching the hole
in our tent –
Campbell has brought the background to the foreground by a clever perceptual manipulation. The moon has found its way down to the tent for some quick patchwork.
that rise in the
Barbara Anna Gaiardoni
Gaiardoni’s classy Prosecco bubbles fizz out line by shorter line inside of, it turns out, a cheap plastic glass. I like the way this takes us from the interior specificity of the Prosecco bubbles to their less impressive container.
a glass door —
Lorelyn De la Cruz Arevalo
the last dance
of a butterfly
in the spider’s net
Here we see the consequences of not observing the foreground closely. For Arevalo, it is a comedic classic, running headfirst into the glass door like a Buster Keaton character. But Suzuki’s butterfly suffers more than momentary humiliation. The spider’s trap relies on going unnoticed, and how effectively it works!
christmas which wallpaper group is her hose?
The speaker’s desire for an intense specificity of detail hints at an analytical mind always honing in on and classifying the minutiae that surrounds him. It also reveals a unique sense of humor in this case, wondering which type of geometrical wallpaper pattern the woman’s holiday hose fits into, perhaps as a distraction from other Christmas considerations.
the patterns the rain makes
on the windowpanes
The speaker in this poem also focuses on small, interior details, but out of physical necessity. When we are confined, our minds tend to attach to whatever they can to distract us from pain and/or our inability to change our situation. For this speaker, the rain is a welcome distraction, creating its transitory artwork on the window for him to admire.
the same question
The seasons may be changing around her, but the speaker is brought back to the moment thanks to her mother’s insistent questioning. This poem suggests so much – What is the question that bears repeating? How is the speaker going to respond? – but leaves the mystery for us to feel out. For me, the speaker is clearly distracted and seems reluctant to answer the question, implying a necessary conflict she might rather avoid even though she knows she won’t be able to.
blurring out everything
It just so happens that the next prompt is an ekphrastic one, so this poem about ekphrasis felt serendipitous. Chou expresses the way a poetic interpretation of another art form necessarily alters it by focusing on what the poet knows and leaving out the rest. The new artwork thus brings to the surface some element of the original but leaves the rest behind.
Join us next week for Alex’s selection of poems on the theme of Obfuscation…
Guest Editor Alex Fyffe teaches high school English in the Houston area. His haiku and senryu have been published in various journals, including Frogpond, Modern Haiku, Failed Haiku, Akitsu Quarterly, and the Asahi Haikuist Network. Some of his favorite short form poets include Issa, whose work he discovered in the intermediate Japanese textbook he used while studying in Hikone, Japan, and Santoka, whose writing introduced him to the liberating concept of “freeform haiku.” Currently, Alex uses haiku in the classroom to ease students into poetry and build their confidence as readers and writers. Alex also posts haiku, including translations of contemporary Japanese haiku, on Twitter @AsurasHaiku.
Lori Zajkowski is the Post Manager for Haiku Dialogue. A novice haiku poet, she lives in New York City.
Managing Editor Katherine Munro lives in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and publishes under the name kjmunro. She is Membership Secretary for Haiku Canada, and her debut poetry collection is contractions (Red Moon Press, 2019). Find her at: kjmunro1560.wordpress.com.
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