It constantly astonishes me how many are bursting with talent and have decades of accomplishment. I don’t seem to get used to it. Ditch Walker (Yarrow, 2021) is an 87-page book of gentle haiku by Bernice Angeline Sorge of Dunham, Quebec. She has been an internationally known printmaker, (and occasional counterfeiter) for decades, and now is a published poet as well. She was part of the 2021 film, Emergence: Contemporary Women Poets of the Eastern Townships of Quebec.
Her agile haiku voice her ardent engagement with nature as she walks the road, and works in her garden.
The best poems here read on two levels, the physical and the reflection of plant as a person, such as in the first sample poem, the bolted parsnip also having a rare beauty coming to an unexpected late peak we can appreciate.
Adamant about noticing beauty as the book rolls through the seasons, Sorge lets poems unfold in the reader’s mind. For example, the second poem here where the day without a breeze and the swimming are left implied, and the act of removing yourself is giving a gift of vision and reflection.
the one that didn’t get picked
chartreuse parsnip in seed
Ditch Walker (Yarrow, 2021)
blazing hot sun
returning the pond
to the clouds
PP: Among your botanical prints is a bra series and flower head series which are palpably feminist. The same sense of whimsy in those are in the haiku,
she saves the centipede
all its legs kicking
PP: Writing haiku can be like writing poems that don’t know we are trying to save them as they try to wiggle away. What kind of composer are you? Constant notebook or reflecting back on the day from wee hours of morning or night?
BAS: The bra series (Solo, Unveiling the Bra, 2008, Toronto) and Flower Heads (solo, 2015, Ottawa) See website: bernicesorge.ca) are feminist questioning of what is. I am trying to say, “Listen up!” as one friend summarized for me.
I am more the anxious composer, day and night, up in the wee hours talking to the moon coming in my skylight, getting sidetracked by the mystery before me when all I wanted to do was figure out a three-line haiku: measuring it, linking it to the song of insects and wondering how I fit into it all.
But there are moments of spontaneous combustion, mostly always a piece of paper in my pocket just in case there is a jump start by nature’s odd orchestra of everything, like giving birth to a little Haiku with the help of a doula.
The whimsy you mention is part of the plan, even tricky! I lure people in to read more, see a deeper meaning in my visual work. As they see the wall totally covered in flower heads they are overcome by the breathtaking beauty of the mural, They are drawn to read the text set up by a 3-D flower head sitting nearby. It is about a young girl who was buried up to her head in sand and stoned to death because she was raped. Will her head be transformed and bloom into flowers? Will is decompose and recompose into something based on the whimsy of nature, maybe flowers? Could these flowers now growing where the young girl died be the memory, the memorial of such a sacrifice done by a misogynistic malevolent dictator.
Here we need the earth as the intermediary, as the restorer of memory, of truth, and of the inequality of women. Ergo hatred towards all vulnerable creatures including people.
PP: In your introduction, you say “the activities of animals and plants as seasons unfold […] never ceases to make us one.” Is pointing out this common ground of unison part of the aim of publishing this collection?
BAS: Definitely! I am trying to say that life is everywhere, even the ugly ditches, ugly because they are conveniently there for the arrogant driver who thinks a ditch is a place for refuse, just a depression where he can toss his trash out the window as he passes by. In the countryside along the gravel roads, I can tell what season it is by the type of trash in the ditch. Life in the ditches is played out as part of the interdependence between humans and other creatures as well as plants. All the actions and interactions are to survive, the ditch is the world in replica.
PP: In prints or poems, you seem driven by the dictum to record, what is, what is, what is yet your paintings are more abstracted. It is a different way of expressing what is. I realize you have just finished this book, but is there another book underway that are a counterpart to your impressionist painting for haiku, perhaps women’s perspective senryu?
Yes, the paintings are different in that they come from a need to express like a memoir of my physical body in motion. There is nothing on my mind, just one colour calling for the next, just one movement of my body making way for the next with the paint loaded tools. Just as I see something recognizable, I tear it apart with paint and other tools to rupture the beauty or the ugly. Why?
BAS: Artist statement:
The intimate relationship with the processes of the natural world influences my technique, color, materials, and content and is a testimony to the fact that I am nature. The textures, thick layers of color, the scratching, erasing, and smoothing over is in a way an experience of continual renewal and an expression of the never-ending process of re-creation. It is symbolic of the way I live my life in tune and in love with the unconditional force of nature, the ever-changing living process. Nature is the filter through which my experiences become art. Images arrive unannounced, spontaneous births in my paint: animals, birds, raindrops, wind. Nature is the tympanum through which we will be able to hear each other and potentially accept that all of us belong in some way to the same tree. Bernice Sorge©NYC, 2012 re: paintings.
PP: What was or will be your favourite moment(s) in making this book?
BAS: I must admit I wrote the haiku a day as a challenge which spurred me on to take time to be still and alone with space for just being there as I walked along the side of the road, the same road every day. But making the drawings was just plain fun! That was the best! And of course, ‘haikuing’ my partner into oblivious laughter. Some of those are not in the book!
PP: I realize you have just finished this book, but is there another book underway that is a counterpart to your impressionist painting for haiku, perhaps women’s perspective senryu?
BAS: Thank you for the idea!
I am researching Senryu and Tanka for another project.
I am not sure what the theme will be: Maybe insects, humour, feminist haiku, climate change.
But I am finishing a memoir about me and my mother who was a shepherd until she became a child bride.
PP: That sounds fascinating. Once again, people, check out her author/artist site.