Welcome to our ninth renku session under the sponsorship of The Haiku Foundation. This will be a Jûnichô (twelve verse) renku, under the guidance of John Stevenson.
This week I’m going to start (rather than finish) with a quote from Earl Miner’s Japanese Linked Poetry (1979, Princeton University Press). There is, he writes, “a constant temptation…for poets to compose impressive stanzas rather than seek to create impressive sequences.” He makes this point by the way in which he displays classic renga and haikai sequences. First, he shows the hokku as a discreet unit. Then he shows the hokku and second verse together, as a new unit, then the second and third together, and so on. This makes the point that I’ve tried to make by saying that renku (like renga and haikai) is not a haiku sequence. The only “impressive” verse is the hokku. After that, the poetry is in the byplay of a verse and the verse to which it links.
While renku does not have narrative plot, it does have a style of progression. I think it may be useful to compare it to the design of an art gallery. We don’t usually see the paintings in a gallery displayed in groups that are based upon “great examples of portraiture,” with a DaVinci, next to a Van Gogh, next to a Picasso, etc. The more usual thing is to have the variety of style within a room be subtle and the rooms themselves be the units through which a larger sense of change and progression is featured.
We had a wonderful week of poetry this time. Thirty-one poets presented ninety possible love verses. We are already far enough along that some good verses are running afoul of our desire to avoid repeating earlier images and associations, and even previously used words. Here are some of the many offers I found tempting:
we’ll always have
For much of the submission period, I thought this would be my selection. I love the twist in it, which matches the bittersweet, unrequited nature of classical love verses. It does feature another long “e” and one that can’t easily be edited because the quotation is so well known. The main reason that I looked elsewhere this time is that I would like our love verses to suggest real life rather than fiction, however beautifully realized that fiction may be. There were quite a number of other fictional allusions offered, many of them very good verses that I passed on for the same reason.
that night in Xian
when their child was conceived
I like the “all the tea in China” link, juxtaposed with a place that, for many years, had a “one child” policy. Not sure about the use of third person. Had we used this verse, I would have been tempted to change it to “our” child. Another long “e” here. Once you start seeing a thing like that, it’s hard to ignore.
shyly they fold down
the heirloom quilt
This verse follows up on the old-fashioned quality of a china tea service with an heirloom linen. It might suggest that sexual modesty is also more characteristic of our past than our present.
soft patter of rain
as they dance in the dark
Romantic and capable of being transformed by a following love verse into some other, less romantic image.
the tingle of flesh
on her porcelain skin
Barbara A. Taylor
I like this verse a lot. I wouldn’t want to say “her” in successive verses but that word could be omitted here without harming the verse.
a glance lingers a while
on round white shoulders
This verse is also tempting. One consideration in English-language renku that does not exist in Japanese is the use of articles. If possible, I would like to avoid starting a lot of verses with an article. And, in this case, the leap-over verse (the verse before the verse to which we are currently linking) begins with “a.” That is exacerbated in this verse by repetition of this article in the first line, though that repetition could be eliminated easily enough.
that side of the bed
with no depression
This verse was also a contender, right down to my final choice. The relationship between memories and depression is enticing (though I am trying to ignore the link to “memory foam”) I like the way in which attention is being drawn away from the side of the bed on which there is a depression, possibly made by (and experienced by) the poet narrator.
her whole body shakes
spotting him with her friend
This is the kind of unhappy love verse, full of a terrible longing, that would match what I was trying to suggest with last week’s Earl Minor quote. Unfortunately, this body shaking is too close to the bee’s motion in the leap-over verse. The linking of anything to either the leap-over verse or the hokku is to be avoided in renku.
we still sing in a low voice
the words of our song
This is a very good idea, I think. But it probably hasn’t found its best form of expression yet. I see that several others tried to work on the idiom of “our song.”
la petite mort
upon spying his tumbler
A nice combination of foreign words, lust, and technology. I have my doubts that “tumbler” really works as a double entendre. The web application uses “Tumblr.”
OUR FIRST LOVE VERSE
the delicate neck
of my housemaid
I imagine this as a continuation of the scene in verse three, a maid serving the tea. The curve of her neck matches the elegant arc of the poured tea. The interest in her physical grace may be the speaker’s own or it may be a bit of jealousy over the interest taken by another. I imagine it as subtle to an observer but deeply felt. The word “my” could possibly be amplified in importance by a following love verse. In addition to a topic of love, this verse introduces elements of wealth, class, and a specific occupation.
One misgiving; this verse does not strongly announce itself as a love verse. Usually, this is not a problem because the reader knows which verses are traditionally about love. But we are working in a very free format, which does not have prescribed placements to the degree that longer and older renku have. Frankly, I am going to pretend that readers are expecting a love verse here. And I will appreciate it if the next verse can work with this one in such a way as to make it very clear that both should be read as love verses.
REQUIREMENTS FOR OUR NEXT VERSE
- A winter love verse
- Three lines, without a break
- Linking with verse four but not with the first three verses
OUR RENKU, SO FAR
scent of new growth
in the trees
a pollen-covered bee’s
her china cups
filled with oolong
Liz Ann Winkler
the delicate neck
of my housemaid
Please use the “Leave a Reply” box, below, to submit your verse five offers. I will be reviewing them until the submission deadline of midnight, New York time, on Monday, October 1. My selection and commentary, together with an invitation for the fifth verse will appear here on Thursday, October 4.
I look forward to seeing your winter love verses!