April 2004

Michael Farrelly

poetry

One Hundred Famous Views of Edo by Doug MacPherson and Edward Smallfield

In Japanese painting, the slightest curve of a brush can change a lady’s back into the crouching form of a tiger. Doug MacPherson and Edward Smallfield have put out a volume of poetry, inspired by a Japanese painter, which is no less delicate and equally as masterful.

One Hundred Famous Views of Edo is the work of two wordsmiths, and while “wordsmith” might have corny connotations, it is dead on accurate for these men. They have forged poetry out of rawer stuff that dances delicately on the page. For those wondering how poets worked in a dyad the collaborative process is illuminated in an afterword that takes the form of a conversation between the authors.

The number of poems is the same number of paintings of Edo done by master painter Utagawa Hiroshige. Each poem paints a delicate portrait of Japanese society from the imperial era to the modern day. Images that resonate from World War II mix with lustful descriptions and intimate moments between mother and child.

There is clear narrative here a progression in the linear sense from one point in old Japan to the modern world, but there is also a sense of timelessness to the poems that evokes nostalgia even for the every day. This example comes from late in the book.

lXXXiX This is one
Van Gogh copied

before Gauguin
before the ear

on Alan’s wall
a copy of a copy of a copy

how skinny
these men
on a bridge
under the rain

skinny maybe
skinny as the Master
years later
at Arles

Evoking not only artistic mastery, but also memory and a sense of remembered place One Hundred Famous Views of Edo is a brief and beautiful masterpiece of poetry that even an artist can love.

One Hundred Famous Views of Edo by Doug MacPherson & Edward Smallfield
ISBN 0972302107
Battery Press