November 11, 2014

The Poppies Blow

        First Armistice Day, celebrating the end of hostilities in the war that was to end all wars, then Remembrance Day, and now, in the US, Veterans Day, I’m sorry that we seem to have turned a celebration of peace into a celebration of militarism.  But whatever the day is called, we can all agree that those who were killed in war must be remembered.
        The red poppy has been a symbol of the dead since the Napoleonic Wars, because it grows in the disturbed earth of battlefields and field graves.  Popularized as a symbol by Canadian John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields at the beginning of World War I, and spread still further after the war by US-ian Moira Michael, the poppy is a beautiful reminder of the terrible costs and sacrifices of war.  Here’s a bouquet of poppies in relief block prints.
        Thinking of all this, it seems to me that there’s something poignant about relief block prints of these ephemeral blossoms with their tissue petals.  First there’s the contradiction of carving their image into the block, like carving up the earth, using physical effort, cutting and pressing, to replicate something effortless and fragile.  And then of course, all this work is to make permanent record of something that lasts only a few days - what is a block print of a flower, after all, but a remembrance of something precious and gone?  How fitting.  The difference, of course, between remembering the poppies and remembering the dead of war is that next year’s poppies will bring us all the joy and beauty of this year’s.  Let us 
never forget that each individual human, unlike a poppy, is not only precious but unique and irreplaceable.

[Pictures: Poppy Field, linocut by Helen Maxfield (Image from;
Papaver, woodcut by Leonhart Fuchs from De historia stirpium commentarii insignes, 1542 (Image from University of Minnesota Libraries);
Common Poppy, rubber block print by AEGN, 1997;
Summer Song:Poppy, reduction woodcut by Renee Covalucci (Image from Zullo Gallery).]

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