Friday, June 4, 2010

5 Questions for Christy Hale -- Part II

Author/illustrator Christy Hale and I have been discussing the places where art and poetry meet. Read the first part of our conversation here.

Her children's biography, The East West House: Noguchi's Childhood in Japan, is about the early life of sculptor Isamu Noguchi, whose father was a Japanese poet. It came out in 2009.

She also illustrated an edition of poet May Swenson's The Complete Poems to Solve. (McMillan, 1993).

Christy, you illustrated a lovely collection of May Swenson's poetry. Why did you choose woodcuts as the medium for that book?

Again, thank you. By the time I was asked to illustrate The Complete Poems to Solve, I had published several chapbooks with poems (William Stafford, Eamonn Wall, Quitman Marshall and others). In several instances, I designed, illustrated printed and bound the books myself.

The Complete Poems to Solve was my first commercial project. I love the graphic quality of relief prints. Sometimes happy accidents occur when printing. The May Swenson book interior was printed in black, not full color, so linocuts seemed appropriate.

When you and I met at a regional SCBWI conference, we talked about the similarities between art and poetry -- how poetic line breaks function the way white space does in visual art. Would you like to expand on that idea?

White space gives visual room to breathe; poem line breaks are aural pauses when read aloud. The artist can guide the viewer's eye with compositional organization -- moving and directing the eye around a space, and also giving the eye rest, controlling visual tempo.

Visual tempo is an interesting idea. It's present when poets use a form with stanzas.

I'd love to bring this back around to Isamu Noguchi who said, "Sculpture becomes for me a preoccupation with impalpable voids and pressures, the punctuation of spaces. If sculpture is the rock, it is also the space between the rocks and between the rock and a man, and the communication and contemplation between."


Doesn't that convince you he was a visual poet?

Absolutely. Begin with, "A poem is the words, it is also the space between the words and between the words and a man..."  -- the quote fits both art and poetry.

Thanks so much for visiting, Christy. This conversation had my brain buzzing!

Christy tells me that she's been taking poetry classes, exploring different poetic forms like sonnet and pantoum. Look out for her next project -- a book of original concrete poetry called Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building. It comes out from Lee & Low, Spring 2012. I can't wait!

Poetry Friday: 5 Questions for Christy Hale

I'm so excited about Poetry Friday today.

Author/illustrator Christy Hale is visiting! I met Christy at a regional SCBWI conference this spring. As a poet who writes about art, I was fascinated with her book The East West House: Noguchi's Childhood in Japan, about the early life of sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

Christy and I began a discussion about the similarities between poetry and art. I'm thrilled to be continuing that conversation and sharing it with the Poetry Friday gang.

Thanks for being here, Christy. Did you read poetry as a child? What were some favorites?

As a big sister, it was my job to read to my little brothers every night before bedtime. I memorized countless Mother Goose rhymes and poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, Edward Lear, Christina Rossetti and many other children's poets. I still know many of these poems by heart.

I love the phrase "by heart" which speaks both of the pulse of poetry as well as the place we receive those rhythms -- deep in the heart.

It's funny you mentioned that phrase. My 10-year-old just memorized the poem "Jabberwocky" and was asking why we say "I know that poem by heart."

Your book The East West House: Noguchi's Childhood in Japan (Lee & Low, 2009) has been called lyrical, even though it's not, strictly, poetry. Why was it important that the story of the artist's early life have a poetic feel?

Isamu Noguchi was the son of a Japanese poet. Yonejiro Noguchi met Leonie Gilmour, a Scotch-Irish American editor and teacher in New York. She helped Yone publish his poems in English.

The two worked well together and a romance developed. They never married, and Yone returned to Japan in the spring of 1904, even though Leonie was expecting their child.  They continued to correspond, and Leonie and baby journeyed to Japan to join Yone in March of 1907. This is where my story begins.

Isamu's early childhood was spent in Japan, exploring temples and gardens, encountering art everywhere, as part of his everyday environment. Isamu developed a love of natural materials, simplicity in form, tools and craftsmanship.

Those sound like qualities shared by many poets.

In his early twenties, after completing a traditional academic sculptural training in New York City, Isamu Noguchi visited a gallery and saw "Bird in Space" by Constantin Brancusi.


An elegant ellipse suggested a bird in flight. The elimination of details and the distillation of form to essence seemed like Japanese poetry to Noguchi. The encounter triggered his conversion to abstraction.

He then applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship and stated his goal as interpreting the East to the West through sculpture, as his poet father had done with words.

Noguchi's sculpture is visual poetry inspired by his heritage, youth in Japan, and modernism.

I chose spare, lyrical language because I wanted to leave space for the reader to participate.

In high school and college I took all the art history classes available. My tastes evolved from a preference for realism (where more is presented and less is required from the viewer) to an appreciation of abstraction (where the viewer has to work harder and engage more fully to understand the work). Poetry seems like abstraction. The reader is active in a different way than when reading prose.

I've never heard abstract art explained in terms of what the viewer brings. That makes so much sense!

Christy, I love the page in East West House that reads, "Now father had another family. His home was not their harbor. Outside, a bamboo flute cried through barren trees and a chilly wind scattered leaves."



You don't explain the image of the flute, but trust young readers to sense Isamu's loneliness. Why?

Thank you. While researching, I discovered Yone Noguchi wrote an article for The Nation about Isamu's arrival in Japan. He described a bamboo flute playing on the street the first night. This lonely, shrill sound actually was part of young Isamu's experience.
 
Many years later, in his autobiography, Isamu wrote, "My earliest recollections are of a house in Tokyo where we arrived, myself aged two, from America, my mother a stranger. The house belonged to my father... In the garden were two large cherry trees, and surrounding it  was a high bamboo fence... The cherry blossoms came and then the wind that scattered them over the ground, so sadly."

Wafting notes and drifting leaves evoked transience for me, as I hoped they would for my young readers.

I think this is where I come closest to haiku (in content anyway). Leonie and Isamu's lives become those of wandering outsider, gaijin, when they realized that Yone had another new family. After their long sea voyage, they still could not harbor.

Those lines did remind me of haiku. The imagery itself evokes the emotion.

I'll post the rest of my conversation with Christy Hale later today. She'll tell us about illustrating a collection of May Swenson's poetry, and about her latest children's book. Meanwhile, check out her website: www.christyhale.com.

Poetry Friday is hosted by Kelly at the Cazzy Files today. She's sharing light-gathering poems -- perfect to welcome the summer months.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

50 State Tour: West Virginia

West Virginia is the 35th state (6/20/1863).

It's a popular retirement spot for Marylanders -- nearly  75% of the state is covered by forests. The golden delicious apple originated there.

But it's not all idyllic. There are some strange laws in West Virginia.Whistling underwater is prohibited, so watch yourself. And do not walk your lion, tiger or leopard -- even if it's leashed -- in the city of Alderson.

West Virginia's state poet laureate is Irene McKinney, who has held the position since 1994. There's a wonderful interview with her here. It gives McKinney's background and she speaks about the writing process.

In the introduction to the anthology Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia (2003), McKinney said, “I’m a hillbilly, a woman, and a poet, and I understood early on that nobody was going to listen to anything I had to say anyway, so I might as well just say what I want to.”

She's a fitting PL for the Mountain State, who's motto is "Mountaineers are always free."

Don't you love that quote? For me, it shows McKinney's connection to another woman who wrote what she wanted to, convinced nobody cared enough to listen. Here is McKinney's portrait of Emily Dickinson.



The Only Portrait of Emily Dickinson

by Irene McKinney


The straight neck held up out of the lace
is bound with a black velvet band.
She holds her mouth the way she chooses,
the full underlip constrained by a small muscle.

She doesn’t blink or look aside,
although her left eye is considering
a slant. She would smile
if she had time, but right now

there is composure to be invented.
She stares at the photographer.


Read on! The rest of the poem is at the Poetry Foundation.

Nevada is up next. It's been a while since we've visited a Poetic Wall of Shame state. Nevada has that dubious honor.