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Ay, Nako!! Thomas Fink's Visual Poetry:
The Hay(na)ku Paintings

It's been over three years since I concocted the hay(na)ku, a poetic form that involves a tercet whose first line is one word, second line two words, and third line three words. Since Philippine Independence Day, June 12, in 2003 when the form was announced to the public, numerous poets from around the world have written hay(na)ku. More information about the hay(na)ku is available at its Poetry Form Page (http://www.baymoon.com/~ariadne/form/haynaku.htm).

The hay(na)ku's popularity may be exemplified by how The First Hay(na)ku Anthology , involving 38 poets including its coeditors Jean Vengua (U.S.) and Mark Young (Australia), was released in 2005—thought to be the quickest anthology release following the invention of a poetic form . The Hay(na)ku Anthology, No. 2, is scheduled for release in 2007.

The hay(na)ku's popularity also may be epitomized by the wide range of variations from the basic tercet form, as created by various poets. These include, but are not limited to:

—"reverse hay(na)ku" whereby the word-numbering is reversed to create a first line of three words, second line two words, and third line one word;

—"sequence" where the poem continues past the first tercet for as long as the poet desires the poem to go;

—"ducktail hay(na)ku" where a tercet is followed by a second, one-line stanza whose line can be as long as desired by the poet (the inspiration is a haircut where hair is trimmed short except for a long strand dangling from the middle of the back of the head);

—"melting hay(na)ku" where the poem begins with the traditional tercet form before the stanzas "melt" into prose poetry paragraphs, sentences or fragments;

—"The Mayan Hay(na)ku" concocted by then 11-year-old Maya Fink whereby the first line has a word comprised of one letter, the second line two words each comprised of two letters, the third line three words each comprised of three letters, and so on for as long as the poet cares to take it;

—the internet's "moving hay(na)ku" concocted by Finnish poet Kari Kokko whereby, through the wonders of HTML, the lines move across the screen;

—"abecedarian hay(na)ku" first proposed by Scott Glassman where each word begins with each succeeding letter in the English alphabet;

—"worm hay(na)ku" from Ivy Alvarez, a Filipino poet residing in Wales , who describes it as "using letters that don't have tops (b, d, f, h, i, j, k, l, t) or tails (g, j, p, q, y);

—and various visual poetry forms of the hay(na)ku..

One of my favorite variations is the Hay(na)ku Painting Series created in 2005 by poet-painter Thomas Fink. The following reproduces a painting from the series:

Color is a narrative and, reflecting the two countries' shared history, the dominant colors of these paintings incorporate the colors of the U.S. and Philippine flags: red, white and blue. But also present is yellow or gold. The Philippine flag contains the color yellow, but yellow/gold is also a symbol of light, enlightenment. Its presence is apt for, does not a poem often shed light or illumine its subject matter? Indeed, the yellow on the Philippine flag portrays sun and stars. The gold is brilliantly sun-lit on the following painting:

As with all the paintings in the hay(na)ku series, the primary imagery are sets of three fluid "lines" in either increasing or decreasing length, mirroring the concept of the hay(na)ku tercet. But the set of lines are presented at varying angles, not just strictly horizontal as words might be written across a page. This looseness symbolizes the hay(na)ku's openness to variation. And, indeed, it is undoubtedly this openness to multiple creations and interpretations that has helped spread the hay(na)ku—reflecting, too, how I had wished this form to be a welcoming form, a form that encourages poets to engage with it for their and hopefully their readers' enjoyments.

It's worth noting the scale of these paintings. The largest in this series is 36" x 24", though that size is an outlier. Most are smaller at 16" x 20" or 24" x 12" or 8" x 10". Such scale reflects that the inspiration is a poem and, in its pre-variations version, a short poem. The paintings, like the poems, use scale to encourage an intimate relationship with the viewer; for example, due to their size, the paintings can be held, close to the body, close to the eyes.

The backgrounds to the paintings are multilayered with imagery that can evoke handwritten scrawls to organism-drenched seabeds to cells under a microscope to flower blossoms to moon craters. The backdrop can even evoke the spreading of a virus, albeit a positive one since the matter at hand is poetry. And the backgrounds, by evoking the sea, ultimately references what connects the Philippines and U.S. together so that, notwithstanding their earlier troubled history, they can unite through something like poetry. The sea or ocean may also be seen to refer to the Philippines' diasporic history and how such created a poetic form that's deliberately intended to be transnational.

The backgrounds are also not static—active spaces!—which is to say, just full of life! And that is what a poem is: a living organism large enough to be meaningful to a wide variety of readers and whose existence can change depending on different interpretations.

The three-line references to the hay(na)ku, however, seem to float atop the multilayered backdrops. It's as if the visual hay(na)ku come from but are not bounded to the depths of what inspired them—certainly, such can be the process for how something specific inspires the creation of a poem that later comes to transcend its original inspiration. But it also symbolizes the hay(na)ku as a living—that is, ever-evolving—creature. Unlike with other poetry forms with strict definitions, the hay(na)ku is open to evolution (its variations). As Mark Young, co-editor of The First Hay(na)ku Anthology succinctly concludes: "Any subject. No code."

Within the fluid forms that relate to the hay(na)ku lines, there also is inherent activity. There are pinprick images, often in yellow/gold evoking light. I'm happy to see this since, for me, poem-making can be a practice of lucidity, by which I mean that the act itself of creating a poem offers its own revelations: that, at times, one writes a poem to determine what it is that the poet and/or poem want to say. It can be in the act of making—in the writing itself - through which one learns what one didn't know prior to writing: "in the beginning was the Word". Embedded radiance is quite visible through the golden orbs within the hay(na)ku lines in the following painting entitled "Burrito Imbalance 2":

All the poems associated with Fink's Hay(na)ku paintings are in his forthcoming book, NO APPOINTMENT NECESSARY (Moria Books, 2006).

Inevitably, Fink's hay(na)ku paintings would come to include a black-and-white series, such as the following "Hay(naku) 8."

Because color is a narrative, black and white evokes the poem as black ink against the white page—fitting, since that is what the hay(na)ku was before Fink thought to paint its concept into new forms, into radiant lives.

© Eileen R. Tabios

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