WELCOME to our "Washing the Inkstone" Issue
With his issue we take up another of Ernest Boyer’s ”Human Commonalities.” This time, it’s :”Language: all humans use symbols to express their thoughts, feelings, and emotions.” Itis certainly pertinent to haiga, an art form of both verbal and visual language. My thoughts from the beginning were that the issue's theme ought to be something related to ink brush painting and calligraphy.
My first go-to when researching a theme is Gabi Greve's World Kigo Database (WKD) and its related blogs. Among the entries are informative pages on haiku related to calligraphy, brushes and pens, and inkstones. I take ink brush painting classes but in the interest of time our teacher has us use bottled ink. I have an inkstone that I've used maybe once, and knew only vaguely that grinding ink was the way to prepare your mental focus before painting. Now, I have become fascinated with inkstones and am resolved to learn to use mine.
Archaeologists have discovered inkstones from the Yayoi Pottery Culture (300 B.C.-300 C. E.). These early examples may be little more than natural stone with a slight indentation, and have been called whetstones, though they indicate a long history of writing in Japan. Indeed, the WKD entry lists collecting stones suitable for inkstones (suzuri ishi toru 硯石取る) as a late spring kigo. This may be reflected in a hokku by Basho:
The next step was to prepare the stone by the traditional craft of carving and polishing. Google “inkstone” and you’ll find pages of intricately carved Chinese stones that are museum quality art works in their own right. Japanese stones might tend more toward simplicity but the writing box (suzuribako (硯箱) that contained them could be richly decorated. Among Japan's cultural treasures is this stone belonging to the Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu (Shiba Prefecture), which said to have been used by Murasaki Shikibu (973-1025? C.E) when she wrote the Tale of Genji. In the 19th century, Utagawa Kunisada put it on the frontispiece of a popular novel called the Fraudulent Murasaki (1829–42), and in a woodcut of Lady Murasaki at her desk:
Further insight may be gleaned from another inkstone poem by Basho, ascribed to the first death anniversary of his disciple Okamura Fuboku. Quoting Jane Reichhold, WKD notes that a cuckoo’s call evoked loss, that the the words of the poet remain in his old inkstone:
If there's a common thread that underlies the Murasaki inkstone and Basho's two poems, it is that the stone is not just an historical artifact. It bears an empathetic connection through the words that were realized through it.
To name this issue, I've selected a kigo that takes us technically out of season: “Washing the Inkstone” (suzuriarai 硯洗). It refers to a ritual practice at Tanabata, the autumn star festival. The ritual of inkstone washing is preparatory to writing a Tanabata poem slip. For children, it also involves clearing the workspace and prayers for success in studying. The WKD page shows a charming little painting of a man washing his stone over a wooden tub. By contrast, two Chinese examples from the 17th c. depict mountain landscapes with calligraphers washing at a mountain stream. I'm drawn to the latter for what they convey about the water and nature in brush painting and the sources of creative process.
Of course, you should regularly clean your inkstone as well as your brushes at the end of each painting session, so for me there's a complexity of meanings in the practice. It's a studio habit that signifies completion as well as preparation in the ritualistic sense of the kigo.
At this point, I must switch gears and make an announcement:
With this issue, I am washing the inkstone and Haigaonline will cease publication. Personal reasons have also factored in to my decision. As the current school year nears its end, I am retiring and will no longer have access to the software I have been using to make the issues. Also I have been maintaining the domain name and website on my own as a labor of love, but as I reprioritize, I've given Haigaonline a great deal of thought have decided that it is time to go.
We have long billed ourselves as the oldest journal devoted to haiga on the Internet. That is still true, but much has changed since Jeanne Emrich founded it as Haiga Online on AOL in 1998. Moving to Geocities/Yahoo with anya's editorship, then mine, it has grown, though some things remained unchanged until fairly recently. Traditional Haiga and Haiga this Haiku have been our signature feature, spotlighting selected haiku in translation by Hirome Inoue, calligraphy by Shisen, painting by Susan Frame, then Mary E. Rodning, and musical settings by Seiso (Paul Cooper). The concept originated as a way to include haiku poets who did ot have digital cameras or image-processing software.
Now, almost everyone has a digital camera and access to browser- or tablet-based apps. Haiga is a pleasure open to every haiku poet. That’s good, though limitations can breed creativity. Despite their limitations of software and primitive graphics display, those early haiga have stood up very well over time. I will be leaving the website up for the rest of this year and urge you open those early issues, remember how things used to be for our internet haiku and haiga community, and spend a moment to honor the authors and artists who are no longer with us.
One final time, my deepest thanks to those of you who have supported the journal by lending us your poetry and art. I'll be watching for you online and hope to continue the friendships we've developed.
In this year of ongoing pandemic, keep well.