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Wednesday, 2 December 2015

We're delighted to share this review by Susan Constable of Deep in the Valley of Tea Bowls by Kathy Kituai and Fergus Stewart, which appears in the latest issue of Expositions.



In this collaboration, the Australian poet, Kathy Kituai, travels to Scotland to spend three months interacting with the potter, Fergus Stewart, who produces beautiful art through the use of his hands and creative eye. While appreciating the time and patience he exhibits with his craft, Kituai displays her own artistic talent by using images and words to express what she sees and feels.

they limber up …
he with clay centred
on the wheel
she with pen on paper
steadying each word 

In the introduction, Kituai notes that “although poets use less physical energy they can be weary at the end of a day’s writing. Fergus and I came to the conclusion that the main difference between pottery and poetry, was only an extra ‘t’ in pottery.”

Perhaps that’s true, for it seems there are many similarities between these two artists, including knowledge and skill for their chosen art form, as well as prolonged concentration, patience, and a willingness to experiment and takes risks with their pots or poems. Just as potters take handfuls of wet clay and mould it into vases, bowls, cups, and pots for us to use in our daily lives, poets use words and images to mould their thoughts and ideas, enriching the world in which we live. Stewart shows us his work through colourful photos, Kituai reaches us through the printed word, and there’s a lovely balance between the two throughout this collection.

for all their talk
on poetry and pots
the wheel spins …

look at what might be said
simply without words 

no handle
or spout for this vessel
just five lines
pouring from the nib
to sip or savour 

Kathy Kituai

For the reader, Deep in the Valley of Tea Bowls is like arriving at an intersection where a visual art meets a verbal one. Such a lovely place to stop, sit for a while, and simply enjoy what’s going on when cups, bowls, and pots seem to live lives of their own.

they linger
in the corner of the kiln
tea bowls
glazed in deeper hues, 
smoke the colour of sorrow 

gossiping
hands on hips
teapots
facing each other
on a wooden shelf 

There’s a musicality to these poems and a smooth flow of words that seems to match the rhythm of the potter’s wheel. Many of the tanka sound effortless, which is surely not the case, but rather the result of a great deal of practise and considerable talent on the part of the poet. It takes time and attention to get the wording, the line breaks, and the use of sounds ‘just right.’ Consider the following tanka with its alliteration of 3 hard C’s and 4 W’s, the consonance of P’s in line 1 and the assonance of long A’s in line 5. And then there’s the sound of the

wind itself. 
teapot and cup
her only companions
close by
the wind wailing 
with loose window frames 

Also in the introduction are these words from the poet:

“… the daily task of working with clay, be it plugging, glazing or trimming pots are much the same as writing zero drafts in a journal and moulding them, first to last draft, into poetry ready for publication.”
Her tanka go well beyond description. They leave the reader with dreaming room – a space to evoke our emotions and an invitation to ‘finish the poem’ which she’s begun.

to which 
would Buddha bow …
this bowl
fitting the palm of her hand
or those the potter discarded?

every night 
she raises to her mouth
his tea bowl
whose idea was it
to glaze it with the moon? 

Deep in the Valley of Tea Bowls is a welcome addition to my tanka library. Nicely laid out with usually only one or two tanka per page, the book is broken into numerous sections, including ‘pots and poetry’, ‘a mantra of pots’, ‘no other spice’, and ‘set with a linen cloth’. The many pictures, by various photographers, add a wonderful splash of colour, while providing a good look at the potter’s workplace and finished products. The tanka, including the title poem, stand well on their own and speak for themselves.

Fergus Stewart

Oh! to rest 
deep in the valley
of tea bowls
the clay … the kiln
and craftsmanship 

Kituai says, “I embarked on this journey wondering if I could take a handful of words, five lines, no more than that, and like potters, set out to create vessels in which to offer up food for thought.” Considering the consistency in the quality of her writing, the poignancy of many of her tanka, and her ability to convert imagery into words, her success is readily apparent.

– Susan Constable, Expositions

2 comments:

  1. Soft, humane, kind yet confronting -- the fusing of life with one's art.

    ReplyDelete