A question I get asked often is how to read marine Ikebana poetry.
If you don’t know what marine Ikebana poetry is, please take a look at the infographic below.
As a general rule, you can read a visual poem in two ways:
1. notice the visual part first and then work your way through the text OR
2. read the words first and then analyze the shape of the poem and any other visual elements from the page
I find it hard to notice the text first as visual images are faster to process, but that’s just me.
Depending on what the marine Ikebana poem is displayed or printed on, the text may not even be that easy to read, but you can still distinguish the main elements of an Ikebana flower arrangement:
- the structural elements like the Ikebana container and the emerging branches from it
- the ample use of open space
- the wabi sabi aesthetics
- the inherent asymmetry in how the branches and their elements are displayed in space. Line as an element is rarely used in non-Japanese bouquets, but it plays a major role in Ikebana.
- the use of floral elements in different stages of life.
Marine Ikebana poetry compositions are different from what you may learn in Ikebana schools:
- Such an arrangement contains no living element. This is quite anathema in classical Ikebana and Japanese culture in general where freshness is valued. I valued keeping flowers alive and using marine memorials instead.
- So instead of flowers, each arrangement contains sculptural seashells of various sizes representing different stages of life.
- I reduced the color palette to the minimum by including the colors of the sea and the earth only, with a few accents of black and white where I deemed fit. Every visual poem has at least a touch of blue to signify that life as we know it can’t exist without water.
I designed each marine Ikebana poem like a puzzle.
It may take a couple of reads (maybe even some rotations of the book or print or whatever medium you’re reading it from) before you put all the pieces together so that the lyrics flow logically from one to another just like a rivulet smoothly flows into a river and from there into the big sea. It’s just like in life where you may need some trial and error before you figure out the big picture of what you really want to do with it.
As regards the poetic part of these collages, each major line of poetry starts from the Ikebana vase which is the largest seashell you first notice, with shorter branches flowing away from the longer ones. In some poems, the major lines of poetry end in the Ikebana vase or there may be a combination between the two ways of reading the lyrics.
In rare occasions, background poetry text displayed in a circle, spiral or star shape is read on its own with no reference to the vase and that text is included to complement the main story of the marine Ikebana arrangement. Either way, as a general rule, at least in English, the lines of poetry are always read from left to right as is usual in this language.
If you’re unfamiliar with this type of visual poetry, take a look at the video below and don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel on marine Ikebana poetry!