Haiga: Peindre en poésie, by Ion Codrescu (Barjols, France: Association Francophone de Haiku, 2012). 270 pages; 24 cm. Semigloss white, black, and red card covers; perfectbound. ISBN 978-2952217-85-9. Price: $25.00 from Martine Gonfalone at <http://firstname.lastname@example.org>.
The (French) title of Ion Codrescu’s new book translates as “Painting in Poetry.” It presents 100 haiga in the style of sumi-e (“ink painting”) by Codrescu based on 100 haiku by 100 poets from 15 countries. There are a foreword by Ito Isao and a preface by Jean Antonini in both French and English, an introduction by the artist himself in French with a synopsis in English. All haiga are printed on right-hand pages with the haiku in French, while both the French and English versions appear on the left-hand pages.
Haiku is an art of suggesting rather than showing and so is sumi-e. One can discern several elements in a haiga: the image, the calligraphy, the meaning of the text, the chops (stamped seals), the paper, and the ensemble of all elements.
Codrescu never makes the image an illustration of the text nor lets the text describe the image. These elements are associative, not a literal translation of each other. The two red chops are very subtle but add a strong compositional element to the black ink on white paper. The graphic signature stamp of the artist is the same for all haiga. The second seal is unique, made especially for each particular graphic and appropriate to the content of the poem.
near the old pond
I used to write the silence
between the clouds
The haiga featuring this haiku by Graziella Dupuy contains a frog, while the chop is a fish. Usually the artist places both chops close to one another, but here the fish is located at the bottom of the image, near some reeds, while the signature chop is at the top. Every element is carefully positioned in the composition.
A minor quibble is the show-though of the paper. It’s not so bad when looking at left-hand pages where a haiga shows through—in fact, it adds a certain charm—but it’s rather annoying when looking at a haiga on a right-hand page to see the printed text, or especially the next haiga, come shining through. However, this seems to have been a deliberate choice by the editors, who wanted the stock to be reminiscent of rice paper. So be it. Just lift the page a little and the problem is gone and you’re in for something good.