POSTCARDS TO DONALD EVANS, by Tikashi Hiraide, translated by Tomoyki Iino. Tibor de Nagy Editions, 2003.
Intrigued by a collection of hand-painted watercolor postage stamps, first seen in a Tokyo gallery in 1984, Japanese poet, Tikashi Hiraide—one of Japan’s leading poets of the post-war generation—enters a quest to better know Donald Evans, the American artist who created them. Although Evans died in an Amsterdam fire eight years earlier, Hiraide addresses him as though they have been lifelong friends in a series of postcard entries that are a combination diary, homage to the artist and interior journey. After spending three months in Iowa City at a writer’s workshop the author visits the friends and family of Donald Evans in Morristown, Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington, DC. While traveling from the east coast to Seattle, Hiraide relays the story of Donald Evan’s in his own postcards. The artist’s childhood to adulthood is covered including Evans’ original artistic inspiration: a stamp collection he started at six-years-old.
Hirade continues to chronicle his thoughts for and about the artist back home in Tokyo. Then, almost two years later, he travels to Amsterdam where Evans resided over the last five years of his life. Here Hirade becomes even more intimate with the artist as he walks the streets Evan’s walked and visits houses and rooms where he lived and worked.
“Coming from Morristown, you gained access to another world and entered it. In the attic of 63 Krom Boomssloot, you built yourself a final workshop. The door facing the street by the river is shut as though your world were still enclosed in there, and I can’t get inside.”
Tikashi Hiraide’s narrative is thoughtful and poignant, his descriptions of Donald Evans, endearing. I became fond of both Takashi and Donald as the postcard journal unfolded. It is obvious Hiraide felt a strong kindredship with Evans to take his journey into such far reaches, both internally and externally. In Hiraide’s testament, there is a strong sense of intimacy, of brotherhood across cultures and across time.
The publishers would have solidified the incredible draw Hiraide felt for Evan’s if they had offered a more vivid likeness of his work and included a greater number of his postcard art reproductions. During the last five years of his life, Evan’s created thousands of postage stamps from imaginary countries that were based upon actual international influences. His stamp subjects included domestic, political and ecological topics and were rendered in soft colors true to European stamp form. The black and grey reproductions of Evan’s work—scattered rather scarcely amidst the passages—do not do justice to Evan’s colorful, detailed work, and thus to Tikashi’s poetic homage. In addition, photographs of the artist and the poet would have added a human dimension to this obviously predestined connection.
Throughout his postcard-narrative, Hiraide grieves the deaths of friends in Japan. Using his poetic skills of acute observation and attention to minute detail, he produces an equally intriguing complement to Donald Evans’s catalog of postage stamp images.
“Although the hours of my writing were thus shadowed by the images of the dead, the postcards to Donald did soar with momentary weight, only to be scattered onto the earth without ever reaching another world.”
This book review originally appeared in the International Examiner, Seattle Washington, under the name Cathy Ruiz.
Catherine Kigerl is a contributing author to New Halem Tales Secrets. She is also the author of Stirring up the Water (under the name Cat Ruiz) published in 2008 by Salt Publishing Ltd, Cambridge UK. Her projects in the works include: The Further Adventures of the Parking Lot Prophet and No Expectations. A second collection of poems, The Water Settles, is also forthcoming. You'll find The Parking Lot Prophet in New Halem Tales Secrets. Check out the book here. The book trailer and excerpts here and more about Cathy at 5 NW Authors.