Thursday, July 17, 2008

John Harter, Artist and Poet: In Memory



Cover art by John Harter



Over the past few days, I have been thinking of a wide variety of topics that I might consider today: the recent run of bad contemporary poetry books (or perhaps my own irascibility), the fact that today marks the one year anniversary of the combined Beneath Cherry Blossoms and Issa's Untidy Hut blogs, the war etc., along with a few others. Did I mention the paucity of good contemporary poetry books (or at least ones I've run into)?

Unfortunately, my topic found me.

When I opened yesterday's mail first thing this morning, I learned of the death of artist/poet John Harter. John was a longtime contributor to Lilliput, of both poetry and art.
John's work first appeared in LR #98, back in July 1998, ten years ago this month. The cover above is for #163, one of the two current issues just getting ready to go out in the mail.

This cover is a perfect example of John's work. If you look very closely, you will see some parallel vertical lines running beside and through the word "Sing": this is not sloppy scanning on my part but the postmark to the envelope/artwork John sent his work in (and on). Here's another example from an earlier post and issue:



Once again you may see that the artwork is part of the envelope, this time the Warhol stamp being used for postage is also the head of the drawn skeleton.

With his poetry, John was no less unique. Almost all of his work was done in caps, with his own eccentric spellings. At the risk of cliché, I will say that his poetry was most zen-like. As I said in the online Guest Book in his memory at the Everett Washington Daily Herald:

His words arrested the reader. They made s/he stop and think about the context of things, all things, and how we do and don't fit into that context.


Rather than the usual Thursday post from a back issue of Lilliput, I thought I'd highlight a small selection of work, from the over 20 poems John shared with Lillie readers over the years, as a celebration of his life, work and memory.


----------------------------------------------------------


WITH ALL THOS BLANK WALLS IN AMERICA
YOU WOULD THINK
YOU WOULD THINK


----------------------------------------------------------



CITIES ARE BIG AND COMPLECATED
THE UNIVERS IS BIG TOO
BUT VERY SIMPLE



----------------------------------------------------------


I RIP OFF YOU, YOU RIP OFF ME, WE RIP OFF THEM
THEY RIP OFF US, THEY RIP ME OFF, I RIP OFF THEM
YOU RIP OFF THEM, THAY RIP OFF YOU, HE RIPS OFF
ME, I RIP OFF HIM, HE RIPS OFF YOU, YOU RIP OFF
HIM, WE RIP OFF HIM, HE RIPS OFF US, I RIP OFF
HER, SHE RIPS OFF ME, SHE RIPS OFF YOU. YOU RIP
OFF HER, I RIP OFF ME, YOU RIP OFF YOU, THAY RIP
OFF THEMSELFS, I FOLLOW YOU, YOU FOLLOW ME AND
SO ON DOWN THE LINE, THAY HYPNOTIZE US, THAY
HYPNOTIZE US, I HYPNOTIZE YOU


----------------------------------------------------------


WORDS CAN EXPUNGE HISTORY
IMAGES CAN EXPUNGE HISTORY

CAN I CONTROL MY DANCING


----------------------------------------------------------


COPY COPY COPY
RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT


----------------------------------------------------------


THE PAINTING I'M PAINTING IS JUST THE
RIGHT SIZE TO CARRY ON YOUR
HEAD NO HANDS


----------------------------------------------------------


IT IS NOT
NOT SYMBOLIC
NOT ABSTRACT
NOT REAL-IS-TIC

IT IS NOT NOT

IT IS NOT IS

IT IS NOT IS NOT


----------------------------------------------------------


THE LIBRARIAN ASKED
CAN YOU WAIT
FOR THAT BOOK
ON FIFTH CENTURY
BUDDHIST STATUARY


----------------------------------------------------------


EVERYTHING THE MYSTERY THE
WOOD THE SMALL ANIMALS THE

BIRDS DEEP BEDS OF PINE NEEDLES

EVERYTHING



----------------------------------------------------------


I TURN ON THE LIGHT AND LEAVE




Bear, you're in my thoughts.

John, rest in peace, brother.

Don

5 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

Sorry to hear about John. I haven't been here long enough to familiar with his work, but the material you posted was excellent.

david giacalone said...

Hello, Don. Happy 1st Anniversary. Thank you for introducing me to John Harter. He did indeed leave the light on.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles, glad his work grabbed you. I'm still shaking off the fact that he's gone. It sounds as though he had good friends who'll be getting together tomorrow out in Seattle ...

Yes, David, John just always had a way. I remember originally using

"I turn on the light and leave"

to end an issue and thinking, how clever. Now, there is the true mixture of sorrow and joy that makes it resonant deeply.

Yes, he left us with the light.

Thanks for the good words.

Don

Greg Schwartz said...

Sorry about John. He will definitely be missed. His Buddhist statuary poem made me laugh.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Greg, being a librarian all my life, I got a hoot out of that one too and it resonates ...

Don