An Painter (born Ann Louise Painter, October 1, 1946, White Plains, New York, U.S.A.; died December 30, 2001, Williston, North Carolina), American photographer, graphic artist, and haiku poet. She finished high school in Scarsdale, New York, and graduated from McGill University in Montreal, where she studied French and Italian. She lived in several places and traveled widely throughout the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. Her one book of haiku, A Coyote in the Garden, was published in 1988. She last resided in Carteret County, North Carolina.
Little public information is to be found about An Painter. She was born and attended school in Westchester County, New York, and studied French and Italian at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. For several years she worked as a biological technician, a florist, and a graphic artist, traveled around North America and Europe, and lived in various places, including the U. S. Virgin Islands, before settling in Corrales and Cedar Crest, New Mexico (1979–1993), where she made her living from photography and mediation. She resided in Williston/Smyrna, N.C., at the time of her death in 2001.
During a chance meeting on an airplane, Painter impressed her fellow traveler, Pulitzer Prize–winning Kiowa novelist and poet N. Scott Momaday, with her art photography (he later obtained several of her works) and surprised him with the fact that she also wrote poetry, specializing in haiku. Momaday edited and wrote the foreword to Painter’s only published collection, A Coyote in the Garden (1988), and was enthusiastic about her haiku as well as her photography:
She does not hesitate to depart on occasion from the fixed definition of haiku—there are not always seventeen syllables; the poems do not always bear specifically upon the seasons. But the incisive spirit of the form is realized remarkably. The economy, the precision of her verse, the profound clarity of image, these are beyond question. In her conciseness and concentration she reminds us of Emily Dickinson, perhaps. There is the same shorthand, as it were, the same uncanny turn of phrase, the same perception of wilderness.
Each of the 130 poems in A Coyote in the Garden is dated, and the earliest dates suggest that Painter began writing haiku in 1965 and reached her productive peak in 1986. Momaday’s assessment notwithstanding, her haiku follow the three-line, 5–7–5 syllabic structure almost exclusively, even when doing so results in unnatural line breaks, e.g.,
I dreamed I was with persimmons on their tree (our tree) — small, round, orange.1
One could also point to other characteristics of Painter’s haiku that were common practice in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s but have been avoided by later poets, including lack of juxtaposition of multiple images, making a simple statement or observation, and showing a penchant for Western aesthetics and tropes. For another example:
I made a cup with a hellebore leaf; the water became sacrament.2
Half of A Coyote in the Garden comprises haiku sequences: “A Paraphrase,” “Four Warrior Poems,” “Coyote Love,” “Underwater,” and “The Wilderness Poems.” Especially interesting is the 20-haiku sequence “Coyote Love.” The coyote figure appears in each verse and represents not only the predatory canine of the Southwestern desert and the trickster character of Native American folklore, but also symbolizes for Painter a (human) lover and even suggests the tribulations of love in general. A small sampling from “Coyote Love”:
Contemplating stars one by one, coyote dreaming a desert to life. When the coyote Howls at the moon he creates Love from sagebrush dust. Ardent coyote whispers hypnotic words while nibbling my earlobe. Coyote picks his sharp teeth with the slender bones of his beloved. 3
The most comprehensive review of A Coyote in the Garden was Wally Swist’s in Modern Haiku 19:3. He details a number of shortcomings in Painter‘s craft and style, points out that her work had “not been tested by acceptance in any magazine,” and faults Momaday for his fulsome praise of mostly mediocre haiku. Still, Swist concludes, “Other than certain disagreements with passages in the foreword and shortcomings as far as the craft of several of the haiku included, this reviewer enjoyed the few fine moments in this collection.”
An Painter did not publish any haiku after 1988. She died in North Carolina in 2001.
AUTHOR: Charles Trumbull
SOURCES / FURTHER READING
- An Painter. A Coyote in the Garden. Edited and with a foreword by N. Scott Momaday. Lewiston, Idaho: Confluence Press, 1988.
- Books, Wind Chimes 24 (1988), 37–38. Brief mention and 5 sample haiku.
- Books and Chapbooks Received, Frogpond 11:2 (May 1988), 43. Brief mention.
- Wally Swist. “A Coyote in the Garden.” Modern Haiku 19:3 (Fall 1988), 67–68. Review.
- Books Received, Dragonfly: East/West Haiku Quarterly 15:3 (Summer 1989), 60. Brief mention.