Views of an Imaginary City 2: The Teposensuki or “Lovers’ Bridge”

The Teposensuki (“Sensuka Bridge”) is the widest and most monumental of the bridges spanning the Juminta River in the central area of the city known as the Kadini (“Nest”). It is also notable for being the sole bridge in the capital built on two levels: a wider central carriageway for commercial traffic and two narrower raised passageways on either side, along which citizens and tourists can walk at a more leisurely pace and take in the impressive views over the riverfront.

Mounted at the very centre of the bridge’s south balustrade is a stone statue of a man and woman embracing, known simply as “The Lovers.” Such is the fame of this statue that the Teposensuki is often referred to as the Teponemoi (“Lovers’ Bridge”), and indeed that is the name by which it is most commonly known outside of Sensuka. The statue was created over a hundred years ago, in the reign of the Empress Aritokéh, by the celebrated sculptor Pumanton. According to legend, “The Lovers“ was originally two separate sculptures, commissioned for the garden of a nobleman’s villa. Upon completing the two figures, however, Pumanton was so taken with the beauty of his creations that he decided to keep them for himself. He therefore immediately set to work on a new pair of sculptures to give to the nobleman in their stead, temporarily placing the finished statues next to one another in a corner of his workshop. Such was the beauty of the statues, however, that they fell in love. When Pumanton arrived at his workshop one morning, he discovered the two in their present position, locked in each other’s arms. Far from being pleased by this supreme testament to his skill, however, Pumanton was overcome by a jealous rage and set upon the statues with his carving hammer—This is said to be the reason for the chips on the male statue’s right arm and on the female statue’s right knee. Fortunately, an apprentice presently arrived upon the scene, and forcibly subdued his master before he could do any more damage.

There is of course no historical evidence for this tale, and indeed there are records in the Imperial Archives of a commission for a statue of a pair of lovers to decorate the bridge. It is true that the two figures appear to be made out of two slightly different types of stone, but this is a result of the sculptor’s skillful handling of natural variations in the original stone block.

It has become popular for tourist couples to have their portrait taken next to the famous lovers. We see three such pairs posing at the base of the statue, being sketched by three short-order artists seated directly on the paved stone passageway. The neighbourhood just to the east of the bridge is home to many artists, mostly struggling, for whom such tourist portraits are a significant source of income. It is possible that the shaggy-haired, bespectacled portraitist on the left is a self-portrait of the artist.

In the foreground of the print, we see the top sections of closely packed carts and/or wagons on the central carriageway, suggesting the bridge’s characteristic hustle-and-bustle. Seated atop a pile of hay bales on one such vehicle, a curious child figure is holding up a banner on which is written a sentence that might be translated to: “Oh Sensuka, with you, business never stops.” This is a popular saying about the city, which could be seen as being illustrated here by the heavy commercial traffic along the Lovers’ Bridge. Its inclusion may also be intended as an ironic reference to the monetizing of The Lovers’ statue by the portraitists and by the city’s tourism industry in general.

The lovers themselves, meanwhile, sit high above the tumult on their stone pedestal, unconcerned with anything outside of their forever culminating passion for one another. Even as they kiss, they appear from their expressions to be on the verge of both laughter and tears, grasping at each other in ecstatic disbelief at the miracle that has brought them together forevermore.

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Video of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” read by Joseph Miller

The American actor Joseph Miller has put created this short video featuring his  dramatic reading of T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” combined with my comics illustrations of the same poem.

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Views of an Imaginary City 1: Entering Sensuka Bay

  1. Entering Sensuka Bay

In this opening print of the series, the viewer is transported onto the deck of one of the steam-powered ferries linking Sensuka to Kadonde, on the other side of the Golden Strait. The steamer is rounding the cape of Sakalumi Island at the entrance of Sensuka Bay, and the lower portion of the island’s celebrated seashell-shaped lighthouse is just visible on the left side of the image.

This is the moment, for all sea vessels approaching Sensuka from the west, in which the city’s spectacular natural harbour first comes into view. Spread out before us at the far end of the bay is the densely built-up peninsula of Orepi, which juts out into the harbour by the mouth of the Juminta River. Orepi’s famous spiral tower rises from the warehouses and the forest of masts lining the area’s bustling harbourfront, the nerve centre of all trade within the capital. Lomuku Castle—the city’s most iconic building, along with the Orepi Tower and the Sakalumi Lighthouse—dominates the city centre from its perch atop Labetachi Hill. Directly ahead of the ferryboat, another steamer ferry is moving in the opposite direction, away from the port, and the placement of the column of smoke rising from its chimneystack makes the Lomuku appear to be floating in the air. This is a nod to the castle’s name, which means “cloud.”

The view in this print is among the most dreamlike and deliberately enticing of the whole series. Particularly if one happens to live very far away from Sensuka, so that it would be difficult to imagine ever visiting the city in one’s lifetime, such an image may evoke escapist fantasies. The idea of pulling into that sun-bedazzled harbour, with the wind on one’s face and the crying of seagulls in one’s ear, and with the penguins leaping alongside the boat and all the wonders of the imperial capital awaiting one at the other end, might well seem like the very definition of that inaccessible exotic Elsewhere for which so many hearts are consciously or unconsciously yearning.

Nevertheless, it may be well to keep in mind that, wherever we may find ourselves, that location inevitably takes on for us the concreteness of the Here and Now. The sky and sunlight and wind above us, however momentarily exhilarating, are still after a short time a little too real, a little too similar to—and indeed, they are none other than—the sky, sun, and wind that we experience every day, in the overly-rendered reality of the present moment. And even on this steamer deck, at least somewhere at the back of our mind, we would no doubt already be worrying about the pick-pocketers awaiting us in the crowded wharves, the negotiating of transportation to our lodgings, that meeting tomorrow morning with the representatives of the silk weavers guild, or with that acquaintance of our cousin’s who said he could find us work, our incipient need to pee, the persistent gnawing of hunger in our stomach, the health of a relative, or simply the same old anxieties that are with us always, because they are anxieties about ourselves.

Looking closely at the open pages of the book being held by the seated passenger in the foreground of the print, we can see that the artist has included an allusion to the essential elusiveness of our desires for another world: The woman is reading an illustrated guide to Switzerland, which appears here as the embodiment of a longed-for escape.

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Video of “Spring and Fall” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

A beautiful and moving video by Jim Avis, pairing my comics adaptation of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Spring and Fall” with a musical interpretation of that same poem by Natalie Merchant.

The original comics adaptation, along with 23 others, can be found in my new book, Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry (Plough Publishing).

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Video of “Conscientious Objector” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

With Halloween around the corner, here is a suitably eerie video adaptation by Jim Avis of my own comics interpretation of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Conscientious Objector” (1934). The poem is read by Natalie Rushing.

The original comics adaptation, along with 23 others, can be found in my new book, Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry (Plough Publishing).

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“Not Waving But Drowning” by Stevie Smith in Plough Quarterly

My comics adaptation of one of my all-time favourite poems, Stevie Smith’s “Not Waving But Drowning”(1957) appears today on the website. The comic was created last year for inclusion in “Poems to See By,” (published by Plough Publishing in March of this year) but ultimately didn’t make the final cut.




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The Legend of Le Rocher Panet

The south shore of the St. Lawrence River around Montmagny and l’Islet is in places lacking in topographical variety. There are no cliffs nor steep slopes, but rather grassy beaches burgeoning with wild rice and sedges, murky from the fine clay of the tides. Towards the  north are vast horizons, along which the Laurentians are visible when the weather is clear. In the morning, the fog hides them away and drowns them in the ephemeral cottony mist that rises from the waters, and after nightfall, one may discern them by the illusory beacons that the fires are always lighting here and there upon their granite slopes.

L’Islet is an old village, a “bourg” as they say over there, slumbering peaceably by the tranquil waves, guarded since time immemorial by its rocky island, “l’Islette,” which is generally deserted. At most, a schooner may sometimes happen to moor there. A few barrels are unloaded, a few planks of wood carried aboard, and that’s the end of it.

The inhabitants of l’Islet, a population of old-timers, have many legends, and none is better substantiated than that of the Rocher Panet (“Panet’s rock”). This rock forms a pair with “l’Islette,” and is the visible outcropping of a little mountain submerged under the mud, surrounded by the tides, and which almost disappears at high water. It is really next to nothing, but this next to nothing has its own legend, which is perhaps only a tall tale. Everybody there knows it off by heart (or almost). It was written down in a little booklet by J. T. Jemmat, who relates it with great enthusiasm. Listen:

“A wretched woman, whose name and shame the legend has suppressed, had dared to sell her immortal soul and her eternal felicity to the devil, in exchange for dishonorable passions. The impure spirit appeared unsatisfied by this bargain, and wished to also possess the body of his unfortunate victim. Abusing of his power, his infernal malice cast her upon the rock, which had not the gloomy appearance that it has today: One would have thought it was an emerald floating upon the waves, resplendent in the greenness of its shrubbery and the brilliant hues of its flowers. No sooner had that cursed foot made contact with the island, however, that the petals folded inwards and wilted away, the shrubbery shriveled up and died. Continue reading

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Two Montreal Views in the Style of Ukiyo-e Prints

Two scenes from near where I live – an alley in Côte-Saint-Paul and a view along the aqueduct in Verdun – rendered in a style that tries to imitate that of the nineteenth-century Japanese ukiyo-e prints by such artists as Hokusai and Hiroshige.

I think one of the reasons I always find myself so captivated by those classic prints is that they remind me, in an odd, refracted way, of the environments that I grew up in in Montreal. The simple, often straight lines, bright primary colours, low lying buildings, and striking superimpositions of green and urban spaces are characteristic of both.

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Video of “When You Are Old” by William Butler Yeats

A beautiful anime-adjacent video interpretation by James Avis of my comics adaptation of William Butler Yeats’s poem “When You Are Old.” The drawings are a homage to the Japanese shojo manga tradition, and particularly to the work of the CLAMP collective. The digital screen tones effects are by the brilliant Maryse Daniel.

The original comics adaptation, along with 23 others, can be found in my new book, Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry (Plough Publishing):  

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Video of “may my heart always be open to little” by e e cummings

A delightful interpretation by Jim Avis of one my poetry comics, this time my adaptation of “may my hear always be open to little” by e e cummings.

The original comics adaptation, along with 23 others, can be found in my new book, Poems to See By: A Comic Artist Interprets Great Poetry (Plough Publishing):  

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