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 Comments and Critiques
by Michael Dylan Welch

 

Here are my comments on the photo-haiga at Illustrations of a Haiku.
"Photo-haiga" is perhaps a more accurate name for them than calling them haiga (or even "modern haiga"?), as "haiga," properly defined, strikes me as requiring a *painting* (though a photo could work) and a haiku, and that the haiku be done in calligraphy (not a computer font).

A general comment to begin: My poem has been treated with varying formatting by each contributor. I originally intended it as follows, with British spelling, left-justified:

tulip festival--
the colours of all the cars
in the parking lot

The two hyphens in the first line should properly be an em dash, and I think all of the photo-haiga could be improved with this typographical change (that unfortunately doesn't come through email). And indeed, anyone who typesets poetry or other text should learn about em and en dashes, and how to use them properly, and should also employ proper curly quotation marks and apostrophes, as necessary (as opposed to "straight" ones). As for changing the justification, I don't mind that some artists centered the poem, or chose to right-justify it, or sometimes put the poem in italics, as this was obviously helpful to them in rendering their ideas. I would prefer that normal capital letters be used in my name, though, because I feel that the use of all lowercase letters for a poet's name, while seeming to be "humble," actually has the opposite effect -- making someone aware of an attempted humility. To me all lowercase is simply pretentious. (And for what it's worth, E. E. Cummings actually treated his name with the usual capital letters, as can be discovered in essays reprinted from *Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings Society* by searching online, thus Cummings is not an example to cite for this practice! But I digress . . .)

Here are my comments on the individual pieces, keeping in mind 1) basic craft, 2) the relationship of poem to image and the effectiveness of linking/shifting techniques, and 3) overall emotional and aesthetic impression:

1. An original approach to representing the cars and colours by repeating the poem itself in different colours. However, doing so may make the reader more aware of the words themselves (as "words") rather than what the poem means, which I think detracts. When Alan Watts and Eric Amann wrote about haiku being a "wordless" poem, they didn't mean that it should be as brief as possible. What I think they meant is that the haiku should be as invisible as possible -- that one should not even be aware of the words at all, if possible, and immediately experience the focus of the poem itself. Likewise, in a novel, if it's written well, you can read page after page without ever noticing the text. Instead, you are simple absorbed in the story and become utterly unaware of the craft. Same with haiku -- one should not be drawn to the words or cleverness, or distracting things like rhyme or too much alliteration or metaphor or simile. Same, too, with haiga -- ideally, one should immediately experience its visual impression, though a haiga is understandably more complicated than just a painting or just a haiku. In this case, though I admire the creativity used to suggest the cars by repeating the poem in different colours, the technique points more at the creator rather than the subject of the creation.

2. This piece is crafted well. I like the fact that we can't see the exterior colour of the car in this one -- and that the car itself is in black and white! The poem is a little close to the right edge for my tastes, and could be right justified more precisely. There's a deftness to the way the photograph is handled, but the text placement does fight a bit with the part of the photo immediately behind it.

3. This presentation has an immediate impact -- it's colourful! The abstract figure in the middle suggests someone carrying a walking stick, though it seems to be carried a bit aggressively -- more like a baton. Also, I find the horizontal bands across the center of this piece to be distracting. And for my tastes, the poem is too close to the right edge, and I would probably put the name in italics or a smaller point size to provide a subconscious visual cue that the name is a different type of text than the poem. My comment is a small quibble, but it seems to me that if one is setting type for photo-haiga, it is worthwhile to know good typography and design rules. I recommend reading *The Mac Is Not a Typewriter* or *The PC Is Not a Typewriter* by Robin Williams (not the comedian) or Roger Parker's *One-Minute Designer* for good introductory texts on typography and design.

4. This is a more literal and simple rendering -- it's just a photograph with the poem placed on top of it. The yellow text is a little hard to read against the green leaves, though perhaps it just looks that way on my computer. What the maker has chosen to do is omit any cars from the photograph, so something that the poem-photo combination does is let us imagine the cars. What might have helped this picture, though, is having more colours in the tulips themselves.

5. This rendering uses a limited (and pleasing) palette of colours -- pinks, blacks, whites, and a bit of turquoise. This imparts a restrained mood. The bouyancy of cars having many colours, parked at a tulip festival, is contrasted with the old abandoned car in this picture. The graffiti seems to take up the "many colours" theme, so the energy still occurs here, but in an unexpected place. The curtain or cloth billowing out of the window (and repeated on the right side) adds mystery to this creation, though I'm not sure what the intent might be. Nicely limited palette of colours!

6. The dramatic colours here give this piece immediate graphic impact. I like the choice of the car represented here, echoing the shape of the tulips. The graphic image, though colourful, is relatively restrained (only three bulbs), with strong use of white space. Starting with red on the left side helps set up a sense of completion when we see the red again in the car on the right side, and the strong diagonal from upper left to lower right moves our eye well through this artwork. If I could pick on anything, it's that the two hyphens look awkward (almost like periods), so I hope an em dash is available in this energetic font. For an em dash, press ASCII code 0151 if you want to try entering it on your keyboard's number pad; make sure the Num Lock key is on, then press the Alt key while pressing 0, 1, 5, and then 1 on the number pad. This may or may not work in whatever software you're using -- hard to know! Check the Help system or manual for your software so you can learn hot to enter em dashes properly.

7. The old black-and-white photograph here presents "colourful" characters, I think. The choice of font, too, is well done, suggesting a handwritten note as was often written on old photographs. And note the white border, too, which adds to the feeling of this presentation. What's creative about this presentation is the complete lack of tulips and cars, yet there's still a possible connection -- though perhaps it's slimmer than in the other photo-haiga. Again, too, the em dash would have looked so much better than the two hyphens, at least to this typographer's eye!

8. Striking and immediate impact here, because of the colours. Some of the colour combinations seem a bit harsh to me (purple and orange, especially). It's worth getting to know the colour wheel to learn about complementary colours and colour theory (visit
http://www.saumag.edu/art/studio/chalkboard/c-wheel.html or http://www.color-wheel-pro.com/, or search for "color wheel" online). The use of UNcomplementary colours doesn't seem to add anything here. I also find the text a bit hard to read.

9. Again, a limited palette of colours here, though I don't think the choices are quite as good as image #5. The image has a jaunty feel to it, probably because of the woman's goggles, and because most motercycles with sidecars are a fun novelty. Indeed, the "colour" of this "car" is that it's not a car at all! For my money, I'd make the poem slightly small in the space it occupies, so it feels less crowded. Same with the name, too.

10. Here we have a focus on a single bloom, and I think the maker has deliberately used just a black-and-white image to allow the poem's words add the colour that it talks about. Thus this image is more restrained and subtle than many of the others, and gains something because of it. The positioning of the text seems a little close the left border and to the bottom of the bloom; I think I'd make the text slightly smaller so it has a bit more space to breathe. And again, I'd use an em dash, and would also make the name slightly smaller and would probably italicize it. I like the way each line, including the name, is centered on a vertical axis in this poem, adding a bit of formality that contrasts with the assymetry of the photograph.

11. Having the tylips reflect in the hubcap is an excellent idea -- a nice way to imply the car by showing only a small part of it, and of showing the flowers. We see the flowers because of the car and its reflection, so the two are brought together. Where I would refine this image, if time were not a factor, would be to limit the reflection to just the main parts of the hubcap. It seems the reflection (added to the tire image) is too perfect, and covers parts of the tire and wheel where it wouldn't actually reflect. There also seem to be some splotchy artifacts on the tire that make it seem unnatural. I imagine, too, that the angle of the reflected image isn't what you'd actually see if flowers really were reflected off this hubcap, but that's nitpicking. And if could make one more suggestion, it's that I would use a single colour for all of the poem. Putting "tulip festival" in yellow and "colours" in blue seems like it's trying too hard. On the other hand, I think the way this photograph is cropped is very effective, with good assymetry and balance.

12. The text is a bit hard to read here (text in ALL CAPS tends to be harder to read just for starters, because the eye no longer has varying word shapes to use that improve readability -- another thing that good typographers are aware of that you can also search online to learn more about). In addition to being all caps, the font, too, is a bit hard to read. Certain fonts are designed for use as titles. I'm sure you would agree that this font would be difficult and tiring to read if a whole page of text were set using it; and it's also difficult to read for something as short as a haiku -- the reader has to work at it. As for the image, I love the "glow" to this image that fades through variations of green toward the edges. The repetition of the image at the top is interesting, too (though I wouldn't have bottered repeating the text, as it's unintelligible, and doesn't add anything, at least for me). The impact of the image is strong here, and the limited colours and simple geometric forms of the flower emphasize that impact.

13. This is a more literal rendering. I suspect, too, that this picture was taken especially for the purpose (whereas many of the other photos seem to be stock photographs, albeit often manipulated). I could be wrong, though. I like the overall composition here, which allows good space for the text (though I think I'd make the text slightly smaller so the word "tulip" isn't quite so close to the flower). I like the choice of fonts and the contrast of colours and fonts/point sizes between the poem and the name. However, I don't know why extra spaces were added between the words in the first and third lines (but not in the middle line); I suggest using one space in all cases. I also note that the two hyphens (or em dash) was omitted here. This is fine with me. The lines are centered and formal, and the poem reads well enough without the dash in this context. If the context of a page of poems, with no grahpics, however, I would want the em dash. One final comment is that the lighting on the back and in the shadows of this photo looks a bit too yellow (incandescent lighting). I might try to whiten it a bit in Photoshop or whatever photo program you're using -- but be careful so the background remains subdued and doesn't compete with the excellent white space of the foreground.

14. The font choice here is excellent to match the movie theme of being parked at a drive-in theatre. Even the spotlight that partially illuminates the name echoes this theme. The still image from *Gone with the Wind* is the perfect choice as a movie archetype. What this creation does, as a whole, is rely on suggesting flowers rather than cars, but it also suggests the many colours of the cars, which aren't directly shown. A creative and impactful variation on the theme! Also note the care taken to align the text so it matches the perspective of the movie screen.

15. We certainly see the variety of flower colours here. And we are left to imagine the cars. The five photos, with the middle one seeming to "float" above the other four, creates a fairly formal presentation (because everything is centered, including the lines of the poem). The colour chosen for the poem brings out one of the more subtle colours in the photos, so that's nicely done. The name feels a bit squished (too close to the edge), and I'm sure it would be easier for some of these creations if the name could be left off altogether, though that's probably not an option if you want these photo-haiga to be able to stand alone. (But then, they could also have the name of the artist, too.)

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