"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The rhythm of water--a review

The rhythm of clear water moving over smooth stones, shining in the sun or lost in fog, filling your senses with sight and sound and memories.

How else to describe the new book with a unique pairing of watercolors and poetry, "The River White,"  by brothers Duane and Ken Hada? 

This graceful 104-page  volume from Mongrel Empire Press mongrelempire.org  is a work of art in itself in design along with 46 poems and double the number of watercolors tracing the White River for 700 miles, from source in Northwest Arkansas to the Mississippi. The title of each poem is a location on the river. It and a small watercolor on the right pages face a full page watercolor on the left.  Twin brush strokes--words and color. A masterpiece of publishing and talent.

Poetry and watercolor have much in common--Economy of brush and pen stroke and words, vivid imagery, and emotion and meaning beyond the surface. But less is more. It may be a small book, but the poems reach deep and the paintings shimmer. How better to capture the spirit of a river and its wildlife and a humid atmosphere than with transparent watercolor?  On the back cover, there's a photo of the two brothers as kids in 1970 along the banks of the river, a creel and fresh caught fish in front. Today Ken's a professor and poet in Ada, and Duane a watercolor artist and fisherman in Mountain Home, Arkansas. I expect they've been working on this book all their lives.


There's more than a touch of literature in Ken's words. 
A touch of William Carlos Williams' "Red Wheelbarrow"--Ken's words in Parker Bend, Beaver Tailwater
"So much depends on red
canoes, on water
purling past white rock."

A touch of Shelley-- Ken's words in Rosey:
"If winter always comes
do we not feel certain
our bareness is destined?"

There's outright Zen in the closing lines of the opening poem The Source at Boston:
"You cannot see
700 miles  until you
muse the bubbles
before you. Truth 
more than what is,
but also, what
likely will be."

There's more than a touch in the entire book of John Graves' "Goodbye to a River," though Graves was looking backward as he floated the Brazos, and the Hadas are looking inside themselves and downstream in life.

Obviously I'm hooked. I'm not a fisherman, though  there's a forward by a fisherman. But as a watercolorist, once a canoe paddler with a red Old Town canoe, a traveler of rivers and backroads and a lover of being alone, the book takes me on journeys.

It'll take you on journeys too, especially if you're an aging male, I suspect. The brothers are a little young, I think, to feel the mortality flowing in this book, but going down a river will do that, awaken and feed the muse. If there's an underlying theme, I suspect this is it. It's not morbid though--it is full of life. You can't escape that theme with the quote from Norman Maclean in "A River Runs Through It" on the opening page.

Some favorite excerpts (already underlined in my twice-read copy) follow.

From Headwaters Near St. Paul:
"Often we need 
to  be reminded of
depths below the surface."

This book does this on every page.
My favorite--Duane's painting of Morning Fog: State Park
Some of Ken's words on the opposite page:

"Be honest now-you
feel what you cannot name,
you fear to articulate what you feel--"
Partee Shoals:
"We're just wildflowers
blooming on a
sandy bank."
Cotter bridge:
"Dreams, like rivers, are forged
in valleys of desire."
Poetry and painting...the confluence

"the rhythm of water"
Shipps Ferry:
"...ferries
were used by men
to transport their
economy
as bards float words
but in truth it
is the river
that moves us...
so much more than metaphor."

Upper Boswell:
"Do you see the tracks 
in the soft shallows'
where life has preceded
you?"
Boswell Shoals:
"I am shadowed
though I bathe in sun. 
We live the rays between
pigments of history."


The Bend at Oil Trough:
"I have journeyed far,
my life's canoe seems
spent, feels flexed, old
But an end is not yet.
These tired oars, scarred by
use, rise and dip in
disciplined measure."

Newport Bridge:
"If you go with me far enough
you will recognize yourself
swinging through the coils of 
time--…."
Jacks Bay:
"There is one current
 in us, keening
beneath various faces."

I had one wish as I read the book--that the authors had included a rough sketch map of the river and the location of the paintings and poetry. I grew up with National Geographic and love maps, and Graves' book also had sketched maps. So I started pulling up maps from the Internet, trying to find them all. Alas.

Then I remembered Ken's words in Rim Shoals:
"I always feel
like I'm on top
of a world here
like teetering 
at the edge of 
things unnamed
a place unmapped."

Maybe you can't map the emotions in this book, except with poetry and watercolor..

In View from the Mississippi, he writes
"…I
cannot imagine life
without a journey."


I'm ready to go. You will be too, and the book will take you on unexpected journeys as well. You can order it signed by Ken Hada at his email, from Duane's gallery website,  or from Amazon.I'm getting two copies for friends and relatives who know the river and live not too far from the headwaters. I've reviewed his earlier poetry on this blog if you want to sample his prolific work, just search his name.


Thank you, for the adventures.


khada@ecok.edu 
http://rivertowngallery.com/


1 comment:

  1. Thanks Mr. Clark! A wonderful tribute. Brother and I are honored. Reviewing is an art too, and you do it so well.

    Ken

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