The next book from Nanaimo’s first Poet Laureate contains both written and visual art.
Last month, Naomi Beth Wakan released her latest book, Now and Here. It’s a collaborative effort with Maine editor and photographer Christine Brooks Cote, in which Wakan, who turned 90 in July, wrote poetry in response to Cote’s photographs of New England farms, of abandoned buildings and nature.
“There’s a kind of Cape-Cod-morning-light feeling about them,” Wakan said of the footage. “It’s hard to describe but it’s really cool to combine the east coast and the west coast with my poetry and photography.”
Wakan met Côté nearly 10 years ago and has written numerous essays and books for her over the years. Wakan said Cote often used his own photographs as the cover, and Wakan proposed that they work together on a joint book of poetry and photography. Together they compiled 60 pairs of poems and photographs before whittling down that number.
“I wrote poems for all the photos she sent in, then she weeded out the photos she didn’t think were quite up to par,” Wakan said. “I never waste poetry, noted all those [unused poems] and I can send them to different places.
Wakan said she used to visit the New England area when she lived in Toronto. She said the area had “a whole feeling about it” that reminded her of the worn siding of old houses and Cote provided plenty of images of “misty farmhouses”. Wakan said it was “quite demanding” to match his poems with the photos.
“Sometimes a sentence comes up immediately or I have real knowledge of the photo – I know different places and things,” she said. “Usually I sit down and it usually goes up very quickly. When I was Poet Laureate I had to do poems on demand and I’m very, very quick.
The poems were written in the Japanese tanka format, a favorite of Wakan which she prefers to the other well-known Japanese style, haiku. She said the tanka allowed her to express herself better.
“Haiku is very limited. It has a lot of rules about things you can’t and shouldn’t do,” she said. “In haiku you try to catch a minute, a moment, so there’s no room for philosophy, whereas in tanka you can put the kitchen sink in there.”
now and here is available at Page’s Resort and Marina, 3350 Coast Rd., Gabriola Island, and online.