the delicate beauty
Photo: of a Henry Moore sculpture on Hampstead Heath
Barbara Hepworth, sculptor, created her first pierced form in 1931, the year she gave birth to her child.
Jeanette Winterson, appraising Hepworth’s creation in her essay “The Hole of Life,” sees this as a breakthrough not only in art, but also in the understanding of human existence. Pointing to the advances in science – in which, far from a universe of oppositions (like mind and matter, space and form), Einstein, Planck, and others conceived of a universe in constant play, forever involved in creative tension – Winterson shows Hepworth’s sculpture to be a timely response to them.
“The atom itself, the supposed building-block of matter, was no longer an object, but an energy – points of light surrounded by empty space.”
“If the scientists were right, and space is as much a part of form as mass, then it is the space we need to see – but how? Hepworth made an astonishing discovery the day she pierced one of her sculptures. She allowed us to see nothing – a privilege previously enjoyed only by God.”
Nothing and everything! Winterson understands Hepworth to have mirrored the new developments in theorizing about the cosmos in her hole forms as the (w)hole of life, expanding space to include the invisible, and connecting to both time (in terms of the past) and timelessness in her sculptures
Henry Moore, who had studied art at the same time as Hepworth, grappled with spatial form and in his attempts to give it an extra perspective, cut holes through his sculptures soon after her. Of the various interpretations this act has received, I prefer the one which conceives of it as offering a 3-D perspective (literally and metaphorically) to the viewer.
What if we were to play with Winterson’s take on the holes in Hepworth’s sculptures, along with Moore’s contribution, and relate them to ‘the cut’ in haiku? What if we ‘saw’ the space between the two juxtaposed ideas, between the two parts (not only the pause created by the punctuation) as being more than an empty hole to be filled-in, or a gap to be crossed, but as an energy field being fueled by and fueling meaning? We wouldn’t be the first of course*, but the thought experiment is exciting… Do you resonate with this idea?
And, even though I am oversimplifying, isn’t there a paradox here: cutting away in order to create extra depth (which is where Hepworth and Moore come in)?
One might see a similar paradox in the writings of Winnicott, the English pediatrician and psychoanalyst. For instance, in “The Capacity to be Alone,” he argues that one achieves creative aloneness if, as a child, one had the experience of being in the presence of a watchful, but non-intrusive parent. The capacity for attachment is required before one can deal with loss; the capacity to foresee and accept loss, before love can be truly there, and so on. – I see the opening or cutting away in order to increase the perceived depth and space to be similar to this approach.
Interestingly, there is another paradox giving rise to a ‘hole,’ if we look at the opposite case scenario – where it seems that everything is being said, without any ‘holes.’ Lucian Freud, the painter, painted men and women in their naked, real, and true form. He studied his sitters over months or years, revealing in the portrait the person they happened to be (as he saw them) through paying particular attention to their skin.
In a perceptive essay, Dodds,** points out:
“there is an evocation of abjection, of the corporeal mother who must be symbolically expelled in order for the subject to come into being. And yet rather than staging a ‘rite of defilement’, there is a fascination, we are drawn in. The ‘glare’ of the portraits refers both to the external sources of light reflected on bodily surfaces, and also glare as in look, the stare… We are caught in the gaze of bodies. After first looking away… there is a return, to the folds, the textures, the touch and smell, the loving portrait of every bump of skin, to a fascination with Freud’s cartography of flesh.”
Even when everything is said and done, the people portrayed by Lucian Freud are there and not there. The person is present and absent at the same time: present in their corporeality, yet – like a psychoanalysis which is never finished – their portrait does not say it all. What it says is what has been rejected by social and cultural values, yet by saying so, by bringing in the abject, it rejects socio-cultural values, thus creating a ‘hole.’ The viewer has work to do.
The haiku reader too. From the monumental portrait to the miniscule text: it is not the physical size or amount of detail that matter when it comes to the energy available and the meaning(s) generated – especially through the cut – in haiku. In the haiku moment that the opening of the ‘hole’ creates, a space is entered that is a whole world.
An essay by Jeanette Winterson on Barbara Hepworth and her response to the concept of ‘hole’, originally published in Tate Magazine, can be found here
*For the cut: “like a spark plug that enables a spark to leap the gap” by Michael Dylan Welch in his essay “Haiku . . . Under the Bedsheets: Juxtaposition and Seasonal Reference” in Graceguts
If you are interested in the angle of Lucian Freud and the ‘abject’ you can find a short essay here, together with paintings!
** Based on a paper read to the Czech Psychoanalysis Society on 28 May 2011, “Confronting the Abject: Reflections on Rotraut De Clerck’s (2011) ‘How deep is the skin? Surface and Depth in Lucian Freud´s Female Nudes’” (Dodds 2011b).
On the wider issues relating to space in haiku: “Haiku and its Relationship to Space” by Tracy Koretsky, in the homepage of the New Zealand Poetry Society here
Posted in Haiku Matters, the blog of Gean Tree Press
When reading haiku, what is it that attracts you as a reader? What makes you click with one poem and leaves you indifferent towards another? Which qualities speak to you?
Might one draw a parallel between ‘picking’ haiku and beachcombing? Let’s take as an example Henry Moore, the English sculptor (1898-1986). Moore, famous for his monumental semi-abstract sculptures dotted in the landscape all around the world, was inspired by nature. During his walks, he collected stones, shells, driftwood, animal bones, rocks, that he brought back to his studio and kept for inspiration. Some of these ‘found’ objects were singled out as art objects by his artist’s eye, and transformed into works of art. Others became favorite objects to go back to with new questions, kept for inspiration. Like a super-spectator, super-audience or super-reader, he saw the value(s) residing in the shapes, form of sticks, rocks, and stones, picked them up and brought them in from the cold world into his art studio.
In a sense, as writers, we have something in common with Moore and his walks. Through the day, we gather experiences, pick up some in words, discard or ignore others. As readers too, we collect from our walks round the social medialand, from our reading journals and books, from our discussing topics, poetic thoughts or experiences, from the walks in nature and through the cityscapes surrounding us.
From another perspective, appreciating haiku as a crafted, rather than a natural, object may be more akin to appreciating paintings or sculptures on a gallery visit. Works of art hang on gallery walls, are placed in gallery rooms – like haiku sit on the pages of journals and books – for us to observe and mull over; we stand in front of them, around them for a short while, then move on and walk through the rooms – pages – quickly, too quickly often.
Henry Moore’s huge sculptures standing tall or reclining in the landscape demand our attention; whether we see perfection in them or the unruly shapes of our innermost selves, something in them appeals to us as viewers. And while we cannot pick them up physically, they come home with us. So it is with haiku, I believe. Which one speaks to us, creates a reaction in us, which one we pick to remember, to give it a home in our hearts, depends on many factors.
Something in it, in its shape, depth, sensory and sensual appeal resonates with us. There is a personal, familial, local, national, global, colonial, post-colonial, feminist, literary, yet to be named perspective(s) each of us carries, treasures, contributes to and responds with to the world. Often more than one. Hopefully more than one. Naturally, we all differ in our perspectives, ideologies, in our poems, in our choices of haiku.
But there are common, global elements too; essences, values, basics we share as humans that hold together a haiku and bring it to our reader’s eyes fresh from beyond culture, history, limiting perspectives and allegiances. And with our global, in addition to our local, receptors – much like the single neurons and neuronal assemblies we all harbor in the perceptual parts of our brains, each tuned to picking single elements or whole configurations – we are able to pick and enjoy those poems too. Jim Kacian, in his essay “Tapping the Common Well” in Bones: journal for contemporary haiku, while considering what it is about the haiku poem’s universality, points out this extra or underlying dimension:
“It is universal, because what it seeks is not the relative truths of nationalities or religions, but the universal truths between people: that which can be shared, recognized, valued around the world. This does not mean rain and sun mean the same thing to all people: certainly desert-dwellers have very different emotions about such things than those who live in a rain forest… There are always points of view. But haiku express values beyond these regional and economic differences, revealing the truth of things as they are, which is more at the core of how we feel most deeply as people. Haiku finds that which is not superfluous in the hearts of men, and expresses the values found there, as deep as that may go.”
And so in our lives as readers, as well as writers, armed or rather blessed with a variety of sensory and psychological receptors – some uniquely personal, others shared by the whole species – we pick poems that offer us the chance to recognize, come to terms with, or celebrate one moment from the river of our experience, one splinter from the tree of our lives; to reconnect with our humanity and to nourish our being.
So which haiku ‘receptors’ do you use? How do you like your haiku? Let us know here. It would be good to hear your take on this.
Kacian, Jim: Tapping the Common Well, in Bones: journal for contemporary haiku, Issue 1, December 15, 2012.
This essay was first posted here
I was delighted to be invited by Colin Steward Jones to guest-blog for the Scotland based Gean Tree Press. Since its inception, its blog, Haiku Matters! has been a hotbed of intellectual storm, liberal thinking, and wisdom… all about haiku.
I posted my first, introductory guest blog post on Haiku Matters! today! More to come soon, as I’ll be blogging for the whole month of May. On the menu: a walk or two, a bit of reading, playing with a couple of wild and not so wild ideas, reaching out to and from other genres, while touching on issues relating to the reader all along. Our reader, ourselves as readers, other poets’ readers.
If you have the time, do visit, take a look, and share your own point of view…
(Picture: Creative Commons)