Poet Laureate of Portsmouth, Tammi Truax, came up with a really cool project, a Japanese themed poetry broadside contest. A Broadside is generally a sheet of paper 11×17 with a poem and an image.
For this contest, Tammi asked that a poet team up with a visual artist to inspire each other and create the broadside together. I challenged my friend John-Michael Albert to come up with a poem that I could work with visually. He sent me almost twenty to choose from in the Japanese tanka form. But it was his poem about the crows and the question he asks that grabbed me.
In Japan the crow is both messenger of God and a bad omen. In Greek mythology, Apollo, the God of poetry and plagues sent a crow to spy on Coronis. Alberts poem captured all this mystery and intrigue about the crow for me. And being in the middle of the pandemic, the question that the poem asks feels especially appropriate as we learn the hard way that we are not the most powerful force in this world.
Another important aspect of the contest is that it brings attention to and celebrates Asian culture in a time when Asian Americans are experiencing new levels of prejudice and violence.
All the other entries for the contest can be viewed here on the PPLP website
I’m happy to say that our Broadside won the contest judged by poet and translator Patrick Donnelly This is what Donnelly had to say about our broadside
“I loved so many things about this broadside: the handmade feel of the whole production, and the integration of art and poetry, the dynamism of the artwork, and the surprise of scale in which an assertive crow surmounts the planet itself; the charming metaphors of the poem which evoke sound, sight, and even taste, and its skillful syllabics—of course, a gesture towards the ubiquitous syllable-counting of traditional Japanese poetry; the witty allusion to the inkan, the red mark of the artist’s stamp, with which Nelson and Albert sign their work; and the fact that the poem ends with questions, wondering whether crows or people are the rightful owners the world. The poem itself is, “smart, hungry, and curious”, which are extremely valuable qualities in making art.” Patrick Donnelly