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An interview with Beate Conrad PDF Print E-mail

by Saša Važić

 

SV: In 2000 you moved to America? Why?

BC: For work reasons. Besides, I have been always curious about what it would be like to live in a foreign country.

SV: I ask you this because first, I had problems in finding much about you written in English on the net and second, by what I have found, I can conclude that your ties with Germany are very strong, which is normal, but again... you collaborate almost entirely with German poets and artists, German and Austrian magazines, and are involved with German haiku projects....

BC: Culturally, I will always be a German who has expanded into international life. German cultural life is very internationally oriented anyway. With respect to language, of course I am more at home in the German language. But that does not mean that I can't write in English.  And I do; and editors are accepting my writings in English, too. But for my work in English, I have to, and do, inform myself (book advice, friends' advice). But I do this often, too, when writing in German for publication. That's simply a solid practice.

SV: From your internet journal HaikuGlobus I've learned that, apart from literature, especially haiku poetry, you are occupied with music and painting, and you combine these gifts and loves in creating very nice pieces “for the eye”, “for the ear” and “for the mouth”, as you put it. Are you a trained musician and painter? Do you have your own studio?

BC: I am trained in music and painting to some extent. During childhood and adolescence I took violin lessons and played classical music in an orchestra. In school, the arts and the French language became my favorite subjects. I love choir singing and folk songs, I always did, and still do. At the university, I attended extracurricular lectures, seminars, and workshops on painting and drawing, lectures on music theory and acoustics. At thirty I took piano and base-guitar lessons for a couple of years, and I joined an all-women rockband project directed by a professional. We often practiced in her own studio. That was a good opportunity to experiment with other instruments and gave me some insight in sound mixing, too. We even had a short, but exciting performance on local TV.
No, I do not own a professional studio, but a "home-studio" is tailored to my creative and technical needs. That includes equipment and computers for recording, digital sound generation and processing, and for a wider range of graphic processing.

SV: A series of your pastel drawings (Glances into a Year) with nineteen haiku by Horst Ludwig, a German haiku poet working as an associate professor of German in Minnesota, USA, is presented on the HaikuGlobus. These works are beautiful and put on sale. Tell us something about this collaboration and if there is a demand for your works.

Examples from “Glances Into a Year”

Early ink drawing.

  A special edited part clipped from the final pastel drawing series.
 

Pencil drawing, second step in the early creation process.

 

 Pastel drawing, a version of the indian summer theme we didn't use in the final series.

Note:

The original pastels, handwriting and signing are only accessible to buyers and owners of the haiga-portfolio. During the process Beate produced different drawings in different media like ink, pencil and pastels. These examples illustrate the creative process over a year. 

 

 A pastel drawing version we didn't use in the final series.

 

BC: Horst Ludwig and I share a similar cultural background, the love for the German language, and especially for haiku. Of course, he knows a lot about literature in general; and I often use his knowledge of fine points in language and language history [both English and German] when I write. I like to share my skills and knowledge, too. Horst Ludwig's precise observations often helped to correct little flaws in drawings. All in all, it was a vivid and enriching exchange during the entire process.
To start from the beginning: Horst Ludwig had this great idea of a haiga art portfolio, putting a collection of prints together as many artists have done before. A special relationship of haiku and image resulted in this so far unique Western adaption of Japanese haiga. Although Western hand-writing has its own history as art and in the visual arts, it is less functional on a graphic level compared to Japanese calligraphy. In our collection, the haiku as Western handwriting is still a graphic element but stronger on linguistic message. That is the reason for just clear and simple handwriting in the series, as Horst Ludwig beautifully did.
Because the haiku came first, it is generating the image in form of a reaction answering to the haiku. That kept haiku and image in a dynamic and symbiotic balance. The realistic character and the seasonal element of each haiku set the mood and influenced the choice of media, motif and style, — finally leading to realistic color depictions of landscapes, especially cultural landscapes, people, and scenes of daily life.
I started attempting different media: Following the author's wish, I first made some ink drawings, which produced very sharp contrasts, which were actually undermining a desired mood. So I switched to pencil with soft transitions and tried pastels as well. Finally, I drew the entire series in pencil and pastels. Considering the range of illustration to juxtaposition, a number of variations on themes and motifs piled up as well. Surprisingly, the seasonal element and mood of every single haiga showed in color and particular motifs as inner order of the drawings. That was a noticeable difference to creating a single haiga. This "seasonal order" was appealing and led to something rounded. The title "Glances into a Year" represents this "seasonal order", which relates well both in content and in form to the essence of haiku as a "poem in and out of time" and to many Japanese haiku collections.
Of course, haiku art is tough business and almost never sells. Yet a third of our work is gone.

SV: Recently you've made a videoclip and music (Haiku in Motion: Cherry Blossom Shower) set to a haiku by Horst Ludwig.... (more info)  

Would you tell us something about this project? What's its message? How long did it take you to produce this short but memorable piece of a beautiful artwork?

Dim lights Embed Embed this video on your site

BC: I am always working on many projects simultaneously. So it is hard to tell. All in all, approximately 3 months, I assume. In 2007 I stumbled on this cherry blossom haiku originally written in German. The final clip came through in 2011 due to my new technical equipment in high definition. The videoclip captures the fleeting beauty of cherry blossoms, of youth, of fancy, and of life in general. Early spring is a time of optimism and renewal. The word shower is loaded with meanings, sensation and onomatopoetic quality. In haiku context, it implies breeze, wind, accumulation, to rain, to pour, outer and inner excitement. Shower is associated with a slight tingle growing into a full flush including the aftermath. I worked with that element intentionally suggestive on the audio and visual level. "Although I've seen cherry blossoms many times before, watching this video carefully and several times", I can quote a friend, who is in no way a “haijin” or haiku-inclined, "I experienced spring from a new perspective. Too bad, that it is over so quickly!" That's, what art is about. And taking the term haiku into account, yes, there is a message, but it completes itself only with the active individual viewer.
The basic idea for visualization and sound came to me directly from the haiku and its qualities: Horst Ludwig's well-crafted use of language. Despite the significant differences between the sound- and rhythmic systems of language and music in general, these qualities translated directly into melody in my mind.
The same happened in my haiku audio album "Ruf der Engel/Call of the Angels"(released 2010). In that case, haiku lead to theme-oriented broad symphonic soundscape. However, the difference with the video is that motion over time in language [stressed intonation], in music [song], and in film links and synchronizes each art. This "multimediatic" transition forms a new and complex piece of art.
Putting "Haiku in Motion" is my way of keeping a playful mind. But in order to use and apply arts effectively in haiku context, it is necessary to know and to respect the inner workings of each art in question.

Examples for music set to haiku and haiga taken from the audio album "Ruf der Engel/Call of the Angels" (HaikuGlobus:  http://www.haikuglobus.org/Engelindex.html)


Track 2.  In hellem Mondlicht  1:02.62

Track 4.  Unterm Glockengeläut  0:53.16

Note:

The music is generated of little (only seconds) sound-snippets from different soundpools and with virtual instruments (meaning computer generated/"virtual sound studio"); voices, sampling, re-sampling and all arrangements by Beate Conrad.

 

SV: Photography, haiga (awarded by the WHA), haibun, short stories... so many interests and great works. Which comes first on your list? In which of these fields have you achieved the greatest success, in your opinion?

BC: In terms of achievements with international recognition haiku and haiga come first and are approximately on the same level. The Cherry Blossom Shower videoclip turns out to be successful, too. It recently passed the 1000 viewer mark and it was also presented on DVD along with many slideshows at the National HSA meeting this June in Bend, Oregon. In terms of inner ranking, music, painting, graphics combined with haiku stands out. But I also love critical haiku related work. I have two legs, so I simply refuse to walk just on one. Honestly, in this early stage of haiku related work my greatest success takes place in the field of learning and growing.

SV: You are also involved with the German Saijiki Project since its founding. Would you tell us something about this project and your role in it?

BC: Yes, that was a project of the Hamburger Haiku Verlag starting late in 2005 and ending in early 2009. Stefan Wolfschütz and his wife, as publisher and owner of the haiku.de internet portal, and three other haijins formed the "Hamburger Haiku Team". Its task was to establish an online German-Saijiki-Database with descriptions, image and haiku illustrations, accessible for every haijin as reference.
In addition we held quarterly haiku-contests for special season words. As jury we commented on winning haiku, also for reasons of education. The winning haiku were inserted into the Saijiki and linked to the comments. Occasionally we moderated a special section for traditional haiku. That was all team-effort. The "Saijiki-Gallery", which contains everyday-life and nature oriented photo series was a byproduct. Three of the team members including myself contributed photographs.

SV: In April 2010 you attended a "haiku evening in the tower" held in Nuremberg, Germany. What was it about? Your impressions...

BC: No, that is not accurate. The Pegnesische Blumenorden (Pegnesian Flower Order, a language society founded in 1644) in Nuremberg, of which Horst Ludwig is a member, devoted one of its open sessions to a presenteation and discussion of "Glances into a Year", the haiga collection.

SV: Are you familiar with the history of haiku in Germany? It would be interesting for our readers to know more about its beginning and development...

BC: Actually not so much. But Rilke was one of the first German poets concerned with haiku. German scholars of East Asian culture and a few (very few) poets did comment on this Japanese form of poetry. After Coudenhove's “Vollmond und Zikadenklänge” in the mid-fifties, there came the first broader attempts to write haiku. That's also when Horst Ludwig began to write haiku.

SV: How and when where you introduced to haiku, and what attracted you to it?

BC: I was briefly introduced in high school ("haiku is something weird from Japan, just that you know"). At that time, I was interested in poetry of the Romantic period, short stories and novels. Many years later and with time on my hands on a transatlantic flight, a collection of traditional Japanese haiku got my attention. The unusually powerful images surprised me. I felt I definitely had to find out how such a tiny poem becomes so powerful. This haiku collection with an extra note reading "haiku.de" was a gift of an old German friend I just had visited. That was in early 2005. I signed up for a three week online haiku class conducted by Stefan Wolfschütz of the Hamburger Haiku Verlag. That beginning turned out to be one of great influence on me.

SV: Of the many haiku you have written, would you cite at least two examples that represent you best, and explain why?

BC:  Der Entwurf auf dem Schreibtisch.
         Mein Chef zerklatscht Fliegen.

         My boss swatting flies
         on his desk
         the draft

I wrote this haiku in early summer 2006 in many variations. It depicts an everyday work situation with seasonal reference. It is authentic, simple, vivid. Already some remarkable use of onomatopoeia, logopoeia and melopoeia, which then I did not use as consciously as I do nowadays. The haiku got its final German two segment form in early 2007. For beginners the 5-7-5-pattern gives definite structure. Pretty fast for many this form gets tedious, because it demands good language skills, solid craftwork. Still the final form of my haiku here in 7-6 is no "lazy or experimental version", it merely shows the conscious effort to understand form as part of content and vice versa, this also in regard of Japanese haiku roots. This haiku was added to a list of exemplary German haiku writing, which the German Haiku Society and several leading German haiku-columns used in a press release accompanied by an introduction. My English 5-3-2 version shows quite some difference in form: Three segments, the entire middle segment has pivot function. I chose this form due to sound, content, and language structure. Well, translation is a traitorous business anyway. The English version was first published in 2007 in the German section of the World Haiku Club along with the German original. The haiku has also been translated into French and was mentioned in an article about German contemporary Haiku in the Franco-Canadian Journal *tempslibre* in 2008: "Regard par-dessus la clôture: Coup d’œil sur quelques haïkus" by Monika Thoma-Petital, Montreal (http://575.tempslibres.org/aphp/page3.php?page=v02n4p31).

Thundering skies
wild white horses
reaching the beach

This haiku uses synesthesia of sound, movement/rhythm and contrasting light/color in dimension-defined space. Yet it seems to be only a simple summer scene, with running horses, clouds and waves on the beach, while a thunderstorm is rolling in. Looking more closely, it alludes to specific literature, visual arts and music activating images and events of the past, present, and future, taking the reader to certain existential uncertainty until the sun will come up again.
This final version from early 2010 is another example for working on language and its sound-qualities, revising haiku over a longer period of time. Starting with the version "stormy skies / wild white horses / reaching the shore" in 2008.  In the final version language flows naturally, sound and rhythm varies, enhancing image and sensational experience. The structure is balanced in 4-syllable-segments. In this case it is as close as it gets to the closed form without being artificial, in my opinion. The use of literary and cultural reference enriches the  reader's imagination. This shows solid work with language and points to the authors understanding of haiku as literary genre.  This haiku was first published in Summer 2010, Asahi Haikuist Column. Recently, Jack Galmitz has it selected to appear on the "Per Diem feature on The Haiku Foundation website".

SV: How do you understand haiku? How would you define it?

BC: In the second half of the last century and with the beginning of this century, haiku, which separated itself from Japanese courtly poetry on purpose, became popular around the globe.  This happened not by accident, — as shortest poem it fills a gap in the system of Western lyric forms. Haiku, short for haikai no ku, is a poem that traditionally consists of three segments with 5-7-5 sound units.As a moment in and out of time, it catches an occurrence or observance mostly of daily life and refers to a season. It is a realistic short poem. Ku means traditionally verse; but in the case of haiku the 5-7-5 syllables became an entire poem.  According to the great Japanese master Bashô haiku captures the essence of everday beauty and stresses tension between the fleeting and the unchangeable. Because of its brevity with concise and condensed, yet simple and “objective" language haiku is more powerful in unlocking the reader's own imagination than any other poetry. And see the above.

SV: What sources do you rely on in your study of Japanese short form poetry?

BC:  First of all life. Secondly books and journals, magazines on haiku (Japanese old and modern masters) and haiku related subjects, culture, history, literature theory, linguistics, haiku criticism, and related arts. Advice from haiku friends and from literature and language professionals.

SV: What are your future plans considering all the arts you are involved in and do you intend to publish a book of your haiku related work?

BC:  As "Part One" implies, I will continue my project "Haiku in Motion". I am already working on two other projects, one of it involves sounds, the other haiku analysis and criticism.  Publishing my own haiku related book on paper and as e-book with advanced features is a long term perspective.

 


Beate Conrad was born and raised in Lower-Saxony, Germany. She studied educational science, logopedics, psychology, and philosophy. She lives and works with her husband in Michigan, USA. 
Early on Beate Conrad found herself occupied with music and painting. She is interested in literature, especially in haiku and its analysis. In 2005 she took up haiku writing. Her essays on esthetics, sound and rhythm in haiku, reading and interpreting haiku have been published in Sommergras, the quarterly haiku magazine of the German Haiku Society. 
In 2009 she won a Tokusen [2.prize] Kusamakura-Contest, Japan and several honorable mentions within international haiku contests.
She also creates haiga as paintings, photography and mixed media. Her haiku and haiga are published by Sommergras, Der Sperling, Taubenschlag, Chrysanthemum, Hamburger Haiku Verlag, Haiku heute, Haikuscope, Haiku-Steg, Albatros, Haiku Association France, Wowwi, Asahi Haikuist Column, Mainichi Daily News, World Haiku Association monthly contest, WHC-German, World Haiku Festival-India, Worldkigo-Database, Haiku Reality and Notes from the Gean. 
Beate Conrad won a second haiga prize of the World Haiku Association, Japan in 2007 and a first prize in 2009. 
She also works on long term projects combining haiku and other arts: "Ruf der Engel [Call of the Angels]", an audio album; "Glances Into A Year", a haiga-art portfolio; "Haiku in Motion" multimedia approach to haiku: "Cherry Blossom Shower" the first video has been recently released on youtube. All projects are presented on www.HaikuGlobus.org.