Haiga is the Japanese term for a combination of haiku poems and visual images — hai comes from haiku, and ga is the Japanese word for painting (as in Zenga etc.). All the great Japanese haiku masters, including Bashō, Buson, Issa, and Shiki, occasionally added paintings to their poems, almost always in a simplified style that did not overwhelm the haiku. Buson’s haiga are very skillfully done, while Issa’s are almost childlike, but they all contribute to the total experience. In other words, the images are not just illustrations to the poems, and the poems are not merely verbal explanations of the images, but they add resonance to each other, creating something new.
Haiga have been slow to develop outside Japan, but in recent years more and more poets, and some painters, have experimented with the form. The haiga punctuating this first issue of Juxtapositions reflect a variety of approaches and styles, testifying to the increasing interest in this fascinating combination of visual and verbal. What these eight haiga have in common is finding ways to combine words and images in creative ways.
— Stephen Addiss, Haiga Editor
Sometimes text takes a seemingly modest role in haiku, as in Guy Beining’s “the rope within.” Here in the upper left, the words seem to have been cut and pasted on, while the “rope unwinds” of the poem occupies the center as it leads — or arrives from — the left. Other elements appear, offering viewers/readers opportunities to puzzle out the possibly multiple meanings of the total work. The power of the black-and-white style certainly invites our attention, especially the center large form with its cursive shapes, but what does it all signify?
In contrast, Ion Codrescu’s “for a moment” offers words growing like leaves in two areas of the composition, while the empty space in between allows us to consider if the sharing occurs entirely in the haiga, or more broadly in its interaction with viewers/readers. Surely “we share the same place” for a few moments. The lively calligraphy of the words certainly adds to the total visual rhythm, as does the burst of orange under the soft green of the leaves.
Color is even more important in the haiga by Annette Makino, where gold suffuses the space. However, the influx of white at the corners suggests that the work of the bees is not yet done. Their black-and-gold forms both reinforce and contrast with the various tones of gold, invoking the alchemy that is their life and work. The poem adds black linear shapes that, along with the red seal, anchor the total composition.
Ron C. Moss utilizes a variety of ink tones, rather than color, to give life to his “black tulip.” Standing out against the darkness above it, this tulip is encased in white, and bends gracefully, just a little towards the right. This gentle sense of movement is echoed in one of the leaf forms below, as though the entire plant were reaching into the dark. White, grey, black — nothing more is needed for this strong composition, and we can only visualize what will happen when the dusk grows stronger. Will the tulip disappear?
The forms of Marlene Mountain are more abstract, and yet they seem to be ready to give birth. The calligraphy flows over the animistic oval, in which we can visualize floating and swimming forms; these are set against the purple circle which never begins or ends. For her own invented language, the artist/poet has provided a translation, “In mysheself I am all that need be.”
Evocative abstract forms also enliven the haiga by Ellen Packham, but here the text is mysterious in different ways, first by being difficult to read against the black, and second by its surprising combinations, such as ants and umbrellas. In common with the previous haiku, the middle-ground is made up of writhing pink shapes, while the many-armed black form is full of animate power and energy. Although many haiga offer illustrative effects, the lack of obvious connections between verbal and visual can be effective in inviting us to take part in the discovery of meanings.
Alexis Rotella also avoids obvious text/image connections in her “soltice” haiga. The large overlapping forms, in variations of yellow to orange to red, hint at a figure (with the lower part of a face at the top) while presenting a strong sense of autumn leaves — or might viewers offer other possibilities? The poem, set at an angle, is strong both in typeface and meaning — as the poet/artist continues drumming up a sense of light.
While these haiga reflect in one case the Western tradition of collage, and in other cases Western watercolor techniques, the “power outage” of Lidia Rozmus is clearly based upon East Asian ink-painting values. First, there is more empty space than in any of the previous haiga, and second, a few lines and dots of grey-to-black ink are all that is necessary to create a strong sense of life and movement.The decision to offer nothing but two thickening-and-thinning linear strokes, along with three varied-size dots, shows a great deal of artistic courage. This confidence is amply rewarded by the harmony of the forms. As in all fine haiku and haiga, nothing more is needed.