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Ekphrastic Tanka
Linda Papanicolaou

Ekphrasis always interests me. The present collection grew from researching how fire has historically been treated in Art, in preparation for this issue. I was also influenced by the theme of modernization that recurs in the Kiyochika prints I selected as graphics. It was a fascinating excursion that began with a broad search across the centuries, though I soon settled on five painters of early twentieth century America: Stuart Davis, Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, Gerald Clery Murphy, Georgia O'Keeffe and Charles Sheeler.

These artists, born in the 1870s through 1890s, were of my grandparents' generation, and Kiyochika's younger contemporaries. The particular artworks were chosen because I've long known them, or because they connected however subtly or tenuously to the issue's theme. Four date concurrently wiith my parents' childhood, two with my own.

In its Greek and Roman origins, ekphrasis meant descriptive writing about a work of visual art. Classically, it was a very different kind of text/image interaction than is generally favored in modern haiga, where descriptive texts are generally dismissed as "caption-ku". Through later centuries to the present, boundaries have been pushed wider and contemporary ekphrastic writing embraces a range of options including the kind of renku-like linking we look for in good haiga.

Strictly speaking, this portfolio isn't haiga, though not because of the poeming: the tanka are all some personal response of memory triggered by each image. As I worked with the paintings, however, I realized that they're all so complete in themselves that none seemed to want the poem texts inserted. I've respected their integrity and set the poems beneath. This generates a different relationship, more like that of photo haiku.


In addition to an image credit, each image itself
is hyperlinked to its outside source page.