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Deep in the Valley of Tea Bowls by Kathy Kituai and Fergus Stewart

Winner, 2016 ACT Writing and Publishing Award

What do a poet and a potter have in common?

Isn’t the daily task of working with clay, be it plugging, glazing or trimming pots ready to be fired in the kiln much the same as writing zero drafts in a journal and moulding these entries into poetry for publication?

After many years of taking notes at Fergus Stewart’s pottery studios, Kathy Kituai and Fergus Stewart, who both endeavour to capture the ordinary moment in their art, came to the conclusion that the main difference between pottery and poetry, was only an extra ‘t’.

Deep in the Valley of Tea Bowls, then, sets the process of craft into a fluid dialogue between art forms – pottery and poems – with pleasing and sometimes surprising results.

ISBN 9781922120885 (PB, 70pp);
140mm x 216mm
AUD $26 USD $18 NZD $27 GBP £12 EUR €14
ISBN 9781922120892 (eBook) AUD $13 USD $10 NZD $15 GBP £6 EUR €7

 

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In this collaboration, the Australian poet, Kathy Kituai, travels to Scotland to spend three months interacting with the potter, Fergus Stewart, who produces beautiful art through the use of his hands and creative eye. While appreciating the time and patience he exhibits with his craft, Kituai displays her own artistic talent by using images and words to express what she sees and feels.

they limber up …

he with clay centred

on the wheel

she with pen on paper

steadying each word 


In the introduction, Kituai notes that “although poets use less physical energy they can be weary at the end of a day’s writing. Fergus and I came to the conclusion that the main difference between pottery and poetry, was only an extra ‘t’ in pottery.”

Perhaps that’s true, for it seems there are many similarities between these two artists, including knowledge and skill for their chosen art form, as well as prolonged concentration, patience, and a willingness to experiment and takes risks with their pots or poems. Just as potters take handfuls of wet clay and mould it into vases, bowls, cups, and pots for us to use in our daily lives, poets use words and images to mould their thoughts and ideas, enriching the world in which we live. Stewart shows us his work through colourful photos, Kituai reaches us through the printed word, and there’s a lovely balance between the two throughout this collection. 


for all their talk

on poetry and pots

the wheel spins …

look at what might be said

simply without words

no handle

or spout for this vessel

just five lines

pouring from the nib

to sip or savour 


For the reader, Deep in the Valley of Tea Bowls is like arriving at an intersection where a visual art meets a verbal one. Such a lovely place to stop, sit for a while, and simply enjoy what’s going on when cups, bowls, and pots seem to live lives of their own. 


they linger

in the corner of the kiln

tea bowls

glazed in deeper hues, 

smoke the colour of sorrow

gossiping

hands on hips

teapots

facing each other

on a wooden shelf 


There’s a musicality to these poems and a smooth flow of words that seems to match the rhythm of the potter’s wheel. Many of the tanka sound effortless, which is surely not the case, but rather the result of a great deal of practise and considerable talent on the part of the poet. It takes time and attention to get the wording, the line breaks, and the use of sounds ‘just right.’ Consider the following tanka with its alliteration of 3 hard C’s and 4 W’s, the consonance of P’s in line 1 and the assonance of long A’s in line 5. And then there’s the sound of the

wind itself. 

teapot and cup

her only companions

close by

the wind wailing

with loose window frames

Also in the introduction are these words from the poet:

“… the daily task of working with clay, be it plugging, glazing or trimming pots are much the same as writing zero drafts in a journal and moulding them, first to last draft, into poetry ready for publication.”
Her tanka go well beyond description. They leave the reader with dreaming room – a space to evoke our emotions and an invitation to ‘finish the poem’ which she’s begun.


to which 

would Buddha bow …

this bowl

fitting the palm of her hand

or those the potter discarded?

every night

she raises to her mouth

his tea bowl

whose idea was it

to glaze it with the moon? 


Deep in the Valley of Tea Bowls is a welcome addition to my tanka library. Nicely laid out with usually only one or two tanka per page, the book is broken into numerous sections, including ‘pots and poetry’, ‘a mantra of pots’, ‘no other spice’, and ‘set with a linen cloth’. The many pictures, by various photographers, add a wonderful splash of colour, while providing a good look at the potter’s workplace and finished products. The tanka, including the title poem, stand well on their own and speak for themselves.

Oh! to rest 

deep in the valley

of tea bowls

the clay …
the kiln

and craftsmanship

Kituai says, “I embarked on this journey wondering if I could take a handful of words, five lines, no more than that, and like potters, set out to create vessels in which to offer up food for thought.” Considering the consistency in the quality of her writing, the poignancy of many of her tanka, and her ability to convert imagery into words, her success is readily apparent.
– Susan Constable, Expositions

Little did Kathy know when she first encountered Fergus Stewart plugging clay in a studio at Strathnairn Arts Centre, Canberra in the 1980s, she was about to embark on a friendship that would span more than two decades and lead to a unique collaboration between poet and potter. From the outset, she was not only fascinated by Fergus’ Aberdeen accent, but also the sheer physicality of his craft. In her prologue she says of potters, “knowing clay has a memory they learn its way of being and never lose sight of that fact.” For many of us tanka, too, is a way of being; moreover, it is a living being, born of breath and experience, something we can knead and mould into a form that expresses our deepest joys and fears, our full immersion in a given moment, our fundamental need to create, to make a mark. And afterwards, we can choose to keep that tanka-ware, or discard it; we can embellish it, or we can cherish it for its earthy simplicity.

can potter

and poet meet in each

turn of phrase?

test cones twist, melt

and break in the kiln

Throughout the collection, Kathy draws many comparisons between pottery and poetry, but as she says in her prologue, she and Fergus – whose beautiful work is showcased in full-colour photographs accompanying the tanka – concluded that the main difference between pottery and poetry is the extra ’t’ in the former. (How appropriate that the additional letter should be a ’t’ …) Potter and poet are both well acquainted with the is-ness of a moment; that space, however briefly inhabited, that reminds us we are beings, not doings.
– Claire Everett, Skylark

they linger

in the corner of the kiln

tea bowls

glazed in deeper hues

smoke the colour of sorrow

Kathy Kituai and Fergus Stewart, who both endeavour to capture the ordinary moment in their art, came to the conclusion that the main different between pottery and poetry was only an extra ’t’. We are used to the term ‘Haiku’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘Waka’. Less so ‘Tanka’. Haiku, when translated into English, is usually shown in three lines, of five, seven and five syllables, whilst the Waka has two extra lines, each of seven syllables. Anyone who is curious about the birth of the Tanka as a poetic form, and now as a worldwide movement, need only consult our online library, Google.

The book itself explains how this rather tenuous coupling came about. I have to admit I knew of it before sort and hard covers were to claim a place on bookshelves, and I declare a further interest in agreeing to pen an Afterword.
In this ‘instant’ world it is nice to think of the slow emergence of thoughts and the discipline involved in writing poetic form, and the even slower process from clay to a three-dimensional form before a pot takes place on a shelf. Both end up as nurture for the mind or an object of contemplation and use: both challenge the sensitivity and sensibilities with closer contact.

Kathy Kituai moulds words and thoughts with skill and sensitivity; with equal effect, Fergus Stewart applies his craftsmanship to clay – I enjoyed both. The book was launched, with equal skill and sensitivity, by Meredith McKinney, visiting fellow in the Japan Centre at the ANU, and a classical Japanese scholar and translator.
– Milton Moon, Journal of Australian Ceramics

In some sense ‘All art is about other art’ and in Kathy Kituai’s finely crafted, intelligent new collection, each tanka is an intricate bowl or cup that we read, fondle, sip from.  Sometimes we are pulled to contexts of landscape (camping in the Australian bush, beside a loch in Scotland), sharing a meal, nuances in the practice of writing or throwing pots: to which / would Budda bow- / this bowl / fitting the palm of her hand / or those the potter discarded.

Behind these apparently effortless brief poems are the traditions that embrace Keats’ Grecian Urn, Wallace Stevens’ Jar , Douglas Stewart’s Silkworms, Kate Llewellyn’s Breasts and Izumi Shikibu’s Dairy: joyous / after it rains / tadpoles / swimming in tea bowls / thrown away as seconds.

Written over four years and including a sustained collaboration with Scottish ceramicist, Fergus Stewart, Kathy Kituai’s tanka constructs subtle narratives and scenes where writer and artist work, think and feel, yoked together and apart: can we believe / in life after death / nasturtiums/ growing on the windowsill / in a broken teapot.

The poems position us in or just behind Kituai’s awareness of textures, images and meanings. They are lyrics choreographing moments of illumination, interrogations. They explore tension between mobility and stasis, understanding and mystery, tactility and visualisation, tantalising fragments, both intense and languorous.  Wonderful!!
– David Gilbey

An artist can interact with a material, responding to its signals. Improvising: or can allow an idea to develop by reacting as it reveals its twists and turns. A richer blending develops when artist collaborate with each other, the diffusion creating something richer than either had imagined. This book is such a collaboration.

Clay can be wrought into objects that are not there all at once either in the making or in the final manifestation. How they become is not necessarily how they were envisaged and how they are seen by others than the maker is not necessarily how the maker sees them.

Poetry is like that – the richness of the single word, in a combination with other rich words, leads the mind to wandering through possibilities for meaning, creating new paths not envisaged by either the poet or the reader.
Combine the two and you have a rich source of stimulation. I quote Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22, in a short story titled “The Sound of Asthma”: ‘You lived intimately with something for a long time, certain you knew what it was, and then one day it turned out to be something altogether different.’
– Owen Rye

""

Kathy Kituai

Poet, diarist, founder and facilitator of Limestone Tanka Poets, Kathy Kituai has facilitated creative writing workshops in Australia and Scotland. Her numerous commendations include two Canberra Critics Circle Awards, St Kilda Poetry Award, Banjo Patterson Poetry Award, Somerset National Poetry Prize, Tea Towel Tanka Award, Fuji Award, and an Arts ACT Award to work in Scotland, which inspired this book. Kathy has worked with dancers, visual artists, a musician, a potter, and is published in Japan, UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, PNG and Australia. President and Vice President of the Fellowship of Australian Writers (1987-1990), Kathy was also an editor for the Institute of PNG Studies and Musemagazine, a peer panelist for Arts ACT, and on the steering committee for the Weereewa Festival. She has judged  literary competitions over the years, the latest being the Brockman Poetry Competition for Manning Clark House, 2013.

Links


Kathy's Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Kathy's Straggling into Winter

Sample


Teapots and Cats
for Fergus
the glaze settles in sockets
like yellow cat’s eyes

you shape forms
that purr

from a place
older than your youthful hands

and the wheel turns
inward

turns clay into questions…
two lines slash its surface

you say ‘it breaks it up!’
and the wheel turns

outward
scars points of focus,

wood-fired uncertainty
you claw a living

in your studio
where pots prowl

at the back of your mind…

Trekking the Wetlands
I was afraid to speak
before…
a honey-white glaze
stilled the homestead

You leave the wheel, greet the gloaming
the way you would an old friend
who’s strayed over for late afternoon tea

Is it all those years of trekking the wetlands
of wayward pots that informs you…
the day often ends as enflamed

as fire in the kiln


can potter
and poet meet in each
turn of phrase?
test cones twist, melt
and break in the kiln

Read more on Google Play

Fergus Stewart has been a potter for over 35 years. Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, Stewart trained in Scotland and Australia and established his first independent studio practice in Perth in 1983. He helped to establish the ceramics workshop at the Strathnairn Arts complex in Holt ACT and lectured at the Canberra School of Art (ANU). Stewart travelled widely in Australia exhibiting and teaching workshops, building and firing wood burning kilns, and demonstrating at ceramics conferences. Eventually Stewart returned to Scotland, where he continues to produce wood-fired functional pots in his studio in the North West Highlands. Stewart has been a regular guest teacher for The Danish Design School and Glasgow School of Art and has exhibited around Europe, notably in Germany at Salzbrand and in Hungary at the International Ceramics Research Center. Stewart’s work has also been regularly exhibited in Denmark and the UK, and in 2012 he was invited to the Mungyeong Traditional Tea Bowl Festival of South Korea. His work is represented in many institutional and private collections.