In 1981, I was a mere 7 years young. Michael Balisle (a.k.a. The Unknown Poet) featured my artworks in his latest book. Almost four decades later, my father and I will be collaborating on a new project featuring art inspired by his poetry. Nothing and everything has changed.
Our history meanders at a galactic pace while frozen in time. Turning an “idea” into reality requires quiet introspection. Forgotten and vivid memories enter. Questions swirl. What’s the mission? Carpe diem of course!
As abstract technicians, our outputs are diverse: literal vs. visual. Congruently, the selected poetry mimics a deliberate manifesto. According to my father, the overall concept is to “believe the poem itself should be the explanation.” The theme borrows imagery that has endured the human condition for a glimpse of beauty.
The book will highlight 15-20 poems with custom artworks responding to content. My emotive response dictates the final form and medium. Perhaps the artworks feature minimalist lines, a limited color palette, elements of animation, expansive areas, and resting spaces. The words guide us.
Inspiration for the book runs deep. My father admires the dedication and quest of photographer Sooyong Park. From PBS: “Sooyong Park has spent many months tracking Siberian tigers but also many months incarcerated in a hide, hoping to catch a glimpse of a tiger. Totally alone in the forests of far-eastern Russia, he has endured temperatures of -30 degrees Celsius and the most basic conditions, in an effort to capture this most elusive tiger on film.”
My thoughts were of Choctaw patterns and the compositions of Japanese Ukiyo-e style woodblock prints. Immediately, my father shared that my grandmother wrote a master’s thesis paper about the Ainu people of Japan. From CNN: “The Ainu people are the indigenous inhabitants of Hokkaido. They’re also present on Sakhalin, the island off the east coast of Russia, as well as northern Honshu, Japan’s biggest island. Meeting a modern day Ainu isn’t common. Estimates put the population of Ainu at around 24,000, and finding any who can speak the critically endangered language fluently is harder still: the Endangered Language Project puts the number of native speakers at just 10.”
From telling the truth like a lie by Mike Balisle (1979):
today at the playground
we kissed for flavors
“that was vanilla” I’d say
“I wanted peach”
you would kiss me again and I’d change to blackberry swirl
on the swings
i heard you say the word “millions” for the first time
so i asked you to count to a million
the furthest you counted
was twenty eight
to whatever is me
i no longer live in the same house with you
“daddy moved out”
in the morning
before i get going into the day
the day of movement around people
practicing saying hello
i worry about your loneliness
in which fairy tale do you explain my absence
to your little hands
to your little hands
How does one translate loss and opportunity visually? The Jenny poem evokes a pattern of lines hugged by an expansive void. As a complete poetry collection comes into focus, a vision enters. According to my father, the book will explore when “your eyes aren’t your eyes.”
Capturing time one page at a time.