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October 2013, vol 8, no 3

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Bruce Ross

On Mark Smith's "Linger" and Ryan Jessup's "A Light"

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
Albert Einstein

Memory is incomplete experience.
J. Krishnamurti

The relationship between the aesthetic and the spiritual often runs along a fine border of the imagination, memory, dreams, and transpersonal experience. Two haibun accepted for this current issue of cho reflect two sides of this border, one focusing on feeling generated by or in resonance with a painting and the other a rumination on an intense lifelong experience of something ineffable, stood out for me.

What is imagination but the engaging of the mind with the actual substance of our being right here and now? What is memory but the continued development of feeling in the present?

Mark Smith's "Linger" is seemingly a response to the Andrew Wyeth painting "On the Edge" (2001). Rather, the painting resonates with Smith's own fine poetic treatment of the nature of consciousness. Wyeth is known for the meticulous detail of his subjects in which the texture of things is almost three-dimensional. This style precedes high definition media. But color in Wyeth is almost washed out with certain aspects slightly highlighted. Thus in "On the Edge" a figure on an ocean cliff towered over by a grainy white rock stands on seaweed and stares out to the sea where waves crash on the cliff and some rocks out from shore, the figure's back to us; however, among the muted rock and sea colors the figure's blond hair and red brown boots stand out. So, we are in a dreamlike state that black and white film often tried to duplicate and which perhaps culminated in the Hungarian director Bela Tarr's "The Turin Horse" (2011) with its muted and grainy high definition black and white treatment. In both the painting and the film and the haibun's concluding haiku wind creates a moody atmosphere that is a metaphor of perception and consciousness as an ongoing complex of temporality and embodiment based in the present. Mark approaches the haiku:

from thinking
to not thinking . . .
shifting wind

through an emotional rumination on and within such a complex. His first sentence spells it out: "This is where I come to let my mind linger . . . " and the last sentence of that first paragraph expresses his true aim, a suppression of complexity, his wish to "vanish into the landscape." The Wyeth connection to his wish occurs in the second and third paragraphs: "Maybe Wyeth's study was his way [of dealing with "complexity]" and "if only I could give it up and become what Wyeth brushed . . . ." Mark's "complexity" is the stuff of ordinary existence: "And I've tried almost a lifetime to shed a worn path, forget all debt, all broken love." But the larger desire is that endless moment of translucency that will not come (or has it in this rumination?) that is hinted at in the poetic prose of the haibun's last sentence before returning to the "complexity" of transcendence and immanence, thinking and not thinking in the haiku.

Ryan Jessup's "A Light" is filled with emotional depth that directly engages Smith's desire for transcendence. An absence of punctuation underscores the heartfelt nature of this desire. His haibun records his lifelong engagement with literal and transformative light: "I would fall deep into thought about life and a random light would appear in the distance untouched and free telling me not to worry . . . . " Despite metaphysical doubt ("I wondered . . . if the light truly held answers . . ."), he associates a glow in the mind and heart with God and a tower light or a street light with dead relatives and friends. He concludes the prose with the "complexity" leaning on the side of transcendence: "I am no longer here I am there with the answers but the light continues here . . . ." This true "cry of the heart" and Ryan's preoccupation with light is concretized in the concluding haiku which expresses his search for transcendence:

like two stars
the ceiling light reflected
in my child's eyes