I am John Stevenson and I will be your guide for a twelve-verse renku, in which we will compose one verse per week until completion. A longer session, with a different leader, is being planned to follow this one.
Renku is a kind of game for poets, through which a collaborative poem is created. Succeeding verses are written by different contributors. Throughout the entire work, each new verse connects in some way with the one preceding it but with no others. A renku is not narrative in nature. Rather, it has been likened to traveling down a winding river, in which we know where we have been and which way we must turn to follow the river, but not yet where or in which direction we will have to turn next.
Thank you, everyone, for a very active second week of renku. We had one-hundred-nine offers from forty-five poets! You may notice that we are now using “Tawny Jacket” as a title. This is a working title, mostly for keeping track of this renku on The Haiku Foundation web site. After we have composed our final verse, we will discuss a permanent title for the renku.
As was the case last week, there were many more worthy offers than I can comment on here. Some were passed over for technical considerations, despite their other attractive qualities. Many didn’t register, for me, as containing autumn images. We have a special challenge here because we are writing as a world-wide group and northern hemisphere holidays associated with autumn occur during spring in the southern hemisphere. While we are going to have images that reflect local flora or fauna from different parts of the world, I would like to keep the season references as inclusive as climate variations will allow.
There are other considerations that I did not announce in advance as “requirements” and some may think that this a little unfair. It is, in a way. But I am trying to offer a session here that is not overburdened with instructions. My hope is that participation will be fun for those who are new or relatively new to renku, even if more experienced participants may have some advantages. I will be doing my best to have the final work contain contributions from both new and experienced players.
Here are some of my favorites from this week:
three chestnuts for good luck
in the backpack pocket
One thing I did ask for was a verse that makes us see the first verse in a different way. For me, this second verse suggests that the person depicted in verse one is young. One thing I didn’t mention is that the linking between these first two verses is usually the closest in the entire renku – often a continuation of the scene set by the opening verse.
the straw hair of the scarecrow
tipped with frost
Liz Ann Winkler
Since our hokku sets up the idea of a journey, our next verse can easily be things that we might see along the way. There were quite a lot of good offers of that sort. I like this one. Would have been satisfied even with just the first line, broken in two: the straw hair / of the scarecrow.
a dark wind pushing
at bales of rolled hay
This verse brings powerful forces into play. In a longer renku, we would wait a while before doing that but in a short one, this is an option; and a tempting one, at that!
by the fireplace
Agnes Eva Savich
I haven’t prescribed a list of season words or phrases that we should be working from this time. In some such listings “fireplace” would appear as a winter topic. Also, having begun our renku with the image of a journey, we probably don’t want to frustrate that sense of motion with a sedentary follow-up. On the other hand, this verse does make me see the first verse in a different way – as perhaps a book about a journey that we are reading in the comfort of our home. In any case, a gorgeous image!
the cobblestone street
lit by a full moon
This verse also serves as a continuation of the images in verse one, adding a particular kind of “pathway” and a time of day. And the mere mention of the moon makes it an autumn verse!
Our second verse is:
the still-warm hollow
where the deer slept
I am taking “deer” as the autumn reference. Although we have deer throughout the year (as we have the moon), they are especially busy and visible in autumn. As a consequence, they are often considered an autumn image in renku.
The journey suggested in the first verse now takes us into a wooded area, very recently occupied by a deer, who may have been startled by a person in a tawny jacket (which would not be the standard apparel of a hunter, in my neck of the woods).
For our third verse, these will be the requirements:
- a three-line verse, a single sentence or phrase (no breaks)
- no seasonal reference
- connecting in some way to the second verse and in no way to the first verse
- connecting in a way other than “continuation of the scene”
Our renku, so far:
she sets out in
her tawny jacket
the still-warm hollow
where the deer slept
Please enter your verse offers in the comments box, below. I will be reviewing these offers until midnight on Tuesday, December 3 (New York time zone). On Thursday, December 5, there will be a new posting containing my selection for our third verse, some discussion of other appreciated offers, and instructions for composing the fourth verse.
I look forward to seeing your offers!