Inspired by Art

Perhaps one of the most famous images of the past two centuries is the 1831-33 woodblock print by Japanese artist Hokusai known as The Great Wave off Kanagawa: that tsunami wave dwarfing all else, including Mount Fuji.

This summer, thanks to a local exhibition of Japanese art, I was able to stand and gaze at this image for as long as I liked. Hence the poem below.

Happy news! The response to this poem has, frankly, astounded me. At the weekend, some of my work (including this poem) was chosen as the only poetry from a British writer to be read and celebrated at the Houston Poetry Festival in the USA. Invited to read my work there, I could not travel the distance at short notice. Even so, this poem was among several read to the many assembled this weekend in Texas for this well-established festival; it is now to be published in the festival anthology.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa

after Katshushika Hokusai

I am the one in the lowest boat
my head flung back
my face the colour of rice
the colour of the distant moon
as the great wave  too  flings back  crests
up over  curving curling   caving in

while I am only a white foam-speck
my face a pale flint-fleck
my blue fishing jacket
a drop of indigo water
at the foot of the glowering        towering  tide

our painted prow rises skywards
on the wave          but we are overswept

the mountain shakes
even the very sea-bed quakes
heaves up  the tsunami
soaring      over      me

by beauty are we so engulfed
in the unstoppable     rising      roaring  wave
all white-fingered
more          mountainous          than Fuji

that we are done for

small consolation to be dying a beauteous death
forever           poised                below                the wave
immortalised by Hokusai’s     deep              dangerous          ink

© Lizzie Ballagher

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