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The Renku Sessions: Breathing In – Week 5

renku_300

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
Casablanca

Chris Patchel

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

Marina Bellini

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

Judt Shrode

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

Mary Kendall

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

Marietta McGregor

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

Julie Emerson

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

Victor Ortiz

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

Angiola Inglese

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

Betty Shropshire

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

                                          Maureen Virchau

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

 

breathing in
scent of new growth
in the trees

                                    Shane Pruett

a pollen-covered bee’s
waggle dance

                                    Polona Oblak

her china cups
filled with oolong
and memories

                                    Liz Ann Winkler

the delicate neck
of my housemaid

                                  Maureen Virchau

 

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!

John Stevenson

 

This Post Has 145 Comments

  1. Thanks everyone. The submission window is now closed and I have to get right to work!

  2. Wonderful image Maureen and well chosen John. I do love reading your comments on the many contenders. Still wanting to play along.
    *
    the delicate neck

    of my housemaid
                                      Maureen Virchau
    *
    etching “MeToo”
    into the frosted window pane
    of her bedroom window

  3. the delicate neck
    of my housemaid
    .
    — Maureen Virchau
    .
    a deeper chill
    sets in after
    the wedding
    .
    no double duvet
    however diligently
    they searched
    .
    shivers
    as a goose walks
    on thin ice
    .

  4. by the tavern hearth
    our feet and toes tingle
    with anticipation
    .
    our feet and toes tingle
    with anticipation
    by the tavern hearth

  5. I found an article about a drive-in cinema that operates in winter and started imagining a few scenes!
    .
    he convinces her
    it’ll be cool
    at the winter drive-in
    .
    they take a blanket
    instead of bug repellent
    to the winter drive-in
    .
    snuggled up
    under their duvet
    at the winter drive-in
    .
    an over-active heater
    makes them shed clothes
    at the winter drive-in

    1. I remember winter drive-in theatres in Tasmania, Marion! Notably, the Elwick Drive-In at the Hobart Showground. One would miss a lot of the on-screen action, because the windows fogged up. Didn’t matter! 😁 At the end, it was too, too easy to drive off with the speaker still through the car window, so there would be an awful ‘spang’ and a quick get-away! Thanks for reminding me!

    1. hmmm…that didn’t come out right
      *
      more charades
      as the year passes bound
      by ironclad pre-nups

  6. I’m finding that a lot of possibilities have to be nixed to avoid pronoun repetition, which makes me wonder if the previous ‘her’ might be dropped without much loss? Just a thought.
    .
    his dying wish
    on the shortest day
    to renew their vows

    1. That is certainly a possibility. I have a lot to choose from this time and it probably won’t be necessary but that is certainly the kind of editing that can be done when we may have “painted ourselves into a corner.”

  7. Maybe ‘flickering’ is too much of a ‘waggle’?
    .
    .
    firelight playing
    over our skin
    this stolen night

  8. .
    .
    affecting
    the cold carp of tall blondes
    in shattered silk
    .
    cold mums
    and a breeding silence
    set off their boston marriage
    .
    at first frost
    the upper hand clutches
    a platinum solitaire
    .
    .

  9. the delicate neck
    of my housemaid
    .
    Maureen Virchau
    .
    Antonio
    among the angler fish
    for his trespass
    .

    Anglerfish, angler fish (ankoo)
    .

    ***** Location: Japan
    ***** Season: All winter
    ***** Category: Animal and Humanity
    .
    – Lorin

    1. Antonio sleeps
      among the angler fish
      for his trespass
      .
      . . . taking note, in my own way, of the preference that this ‘love verse’ progresses to “not a happy, fulfillment type of image”. 🙂
      ( as well as avoiding yet another pronoun)
      .
      – Lorin

  10. the delicate neck
    of my housemaid
    Maureen Virchau

    .
    this winter night
    Antonio sleeps
    with the fishes
    .
    or

    .
    Antonio
    sleeps with the fishes
    this winter night
    .
    – Lorin

  11. unfamiliar
    perfume on his mittens
    in the hamper
    *
    *
    the two unique
    snowflakes can have
    each other

    1. maybe “those two” on that last one
      *
      those two unique
      snowflakes can have
      each other

  12. my fifth verse:
    *
    this shiver
    under the quilt
    at first touch
    *
    (entertaining to consider if shivering is close to bees’ directional signaling, colloquially called “a waggle dance”)

  13. ops…

    while outside is snowing
    loosen the knot
    of his tie

    **************************
    strolling on the boardwalk
    I wrap with your wool scarf
    when you hear my cough

  14. while outside is snowing
    loosen the knot
    of his tie

    strolling on the boardwalk
    I wrap with your wool scarf
    when you hear my cough

  15. recalls how she giggled
    at the size
    of his snowballs
    +

    he fondles the locket
    holding her woven
    silvered hair

  16. Well done, Maureen!
    .

    cleaning
    her widow’s ring
    on Valentine’s Day
    .
    discovering
    our deepest stories
    all midwinter night
    .
    “can’t you
    ever pick
    the right tie?”
    .
    “why can’t we
    be lovers
    again”

  17. two warm sides
    that touch each other
    in half-sleep
    ***
    entwined to each other
    a snowflake
    touches their noses
    ***
    in the fireplace’s
    magic circle kisses
    and pine nuts
    ***
    a pine branch
    lays its load of snow
    on our hug

  18. Hi again, Marietta. Just wanted to let you know that I absolutely adore your “Wind Horses” in the latest issue of Contemporary Haibun Online. I’ve read it several times. I grew up riding horses, and your writing reignited my love for these magnificent creatures. Your haibun also reminded me of “Horses” by Pablo Neruda. Bravo!

    1. So pleased you loved the haibun and it touched a chord, Maureen. Thank you very much for the kind words. Lucky you to grow up with horses!

      1. And I’ve just now searched out, and read for the first time, Pablo Neruda’s “Horses”. Sublime. Thank you for leading me to it!

  19. our log cabin
    covered in icicles and filled
    with our absence
    .
    an icy wind blows
    through the broken windows
    of our first home

      1. Drat – can’t believe I did that!
        .
        our absence
        echoes in the log cabin
        covered in icicles

  20. I wondered why the ether had gone quiet. Thought it was just me! Glad we’re back, thanks to Dave. Great verse, Maureen. Like Carmen, I too saw a maiko’s bare, white-painted nape. Very erotic in some circles!

    the delicate neck
    of my housemaid
    —Maureen Virchau
    .

    stepping on
    his dead wife’s hairbrush
    one snowy dawn

    — I’m not sure if this is too clumsy an allusion, John!
    .
    his thick jackets
    folded again and again
    for warmth and comfort
    .
    old boots still leaving
    his familiar track in the snow
    behind her
    .

    1. I restrained myself in regard to some very good allusion- based verses last week and noted that I would like the love verses to suggest fact rather than fiction. I love the way that poets go their own way and, despite my stated preference, I do find this Buson reference very tempting. I can’t read the original, Japanese version of his poem but the key object is usually translated into English as “comb” rather than “brush.” And I also wonder about the part that is usually translated as “chill,” not being certain whether it represents a winter kigo in the original. Perhaps I don’t need to know that. And, finally, I’ve always pictured this happening in darkness (as opposed to dawn) but I also don’t know how accurate or true to the original that is.

      1. Yes, John, you’re right. The translation I’ve mainly seen is:
        Piercing chill—
        stepping on my dead wife’s comb
        in the bedroom
        — Buson, transl. Haruo Shirane
        .
        I think I saw a brush tangled with a few soft white hairs…

      2. “I . . . noted that I would like the love verses to suggest fact rather than fiction. ” – John
        .
        I’m sure, John, that you’re aware of the background to this haiku of Buson’s but for anyone who might not be: Buson’s haiku in question is, I believe, more a ‘ghost story’ ku than anything. (The Japanese have loved their ghost stories.) I’ve read that Buson’s ‘dead wife’ was, in fact, alive and kicking when it was published and she survived Buson’s death by many years.
        .
        – Lorin

        1. Hahaha Lorin – perhaps she was combing her hair when he wrote it! 🙂
          .
          marion

          1. Ha, Marion, perhaps she was. 🙂
            We take inspiration where we find it. Have you seen the great prongs on those combs? Perhaps the mundane reality conjugal bliss in C18 Japan wasn’t much different from what it is, wherever, in our time?
            .
            Has anyone else noticed the pun in the literal translation to English, “it sinks in deep”? I think it might be there in the original Japanese, too. 🙂
            .
            in the bedroom
            I step on my wife’s comb
            which sinks in deep –
            this foot infection hurts
            like bloody hell!
            .

            – Lorin

        1. mi ni shimu — literally ‘it sinks in deep’, translated as piercing autumn wind, aka in Canberra as ‘lazy wind’ because it blows through you, not around…

    2. Thank you, Marietta! I sincerely appreciate your kind words. And thanks for letting me know what specific imagery came to mind.

  21. Maureen’s verse is so subtle, while being charged with tension. It immediately brought to mind the sensual Carol Ann Duffy poem, “Warming her Pearls”. Well done, Maureen!
    .
    Congrats also to the others highlighted with great commentary from John, as always.

    1. Hi, Marion! Thank you so much for your kind words. I had imagined the first stirrings of what would be considered an improper attraction. I had also imagined tragic consequences! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
      .
      Wow- such a powerful and evocative poem. I wasn’t familiar with that practice. What an intimate connection. Thank you for mentioning that poem. I have some more poetry books to add to my reading list!

    2. Nicely spotted, Marion! 🙂 Thanks for this, as it wouldn’t have occurred to me although I’m familiar with the poem.
      .
      – Lorin

      1. I only read the Carol Ann Duffy poem for the first time in recent years, Lorin, so perhaps that’s why it came to mind.
        .
        marion

  22. Congratulations Maureen
    .
    remembering those
    sleigh rides cuddled so close
    we didn’t need blankets

    grandkids’ photos
    on the mantle above
    our December fires
    .
    after sixty New Years maybe
    there aren’t bottle rockets
    but oh these sparklers!

        1. Sorry, now I wonder if ‘park’ might be overly similar to the hokku scene.
          .
          lovers in the square
          pelting each other
          with snowballs
          .
          lovers at the plaza
          pelting each other
          with snowballs
          .
          lovers in a field
          pelting each other
          with snowballs

  23. Verse 1:

    snowflakes falling outside
    as the master
    takes a mistress

    Verse 2:

    “Come upstairs
    and I’ll show you my etchings,”
    after she stoked the fire

    Verse 3:

    O the withering wind
    when I wrapped her golden tresses
    around it

    1. I love this verse but I have misgivings about a body of water and cups of tea in the leap-over verse. Perhaps another winter setting?

        1. Yes, they are. But I would prefer more separation – personal preference – not a “rule.”

    1. That works. And thanks for not going with something like:
      .
      through frost lace
      waking to sunshine
      on our 50th

  24. my lover wears
    white beads like the snowfall
    since yesterday

    ***

    Behind the ice flowers
    I discern the face
    of my sweetheart

    1. Carol,
      .
      Can you rewrite this without the break? It’s that habit we have, from writing haiku, of creating a break by starting with a prepositional phrase.
      .
      John

    2. Apologies.
      *
      he fuels the fire
      in this bleak
      mid winter
      *
      *
      Hi John
      One of your comments of Michael Henry’s verses (eggnog and rum) – ‘love verses should suggest progression overtime, and it would be good if this one was not a happy and fulfilment type of image’ –
      *
      Michal Henry – ‘no rub, then –
      Very elegant 🙂
      I’m taking this as a ‘no happy ever after’ verse you are looking for?

      1. Right, Carol. I’m looking for something other than “happily ever after.” To be clear, this is not a matter of “rules” and I may end up with something light, happy and hopeful. But if I get a good one that is more about longing or regret, I would consider that a good addition to our renku “palette.”

  25. the delicate neck
    of my housemaid

    – Maureen Virchau
    .
    “it’s cold”, says the one
    unable to become
    a swan
    .
    – Lorin

  26. Congrats, Maureen!

    *

    deliberation
    over which tie to wear
    for this icy wake

    *

    quickly swept away
    into withered garden plots
    waiting for a new start

    *

    patio rendezvous
    now a secret place of fancy lace
    and melting snowflakes

    *

  27. Congrats Maureen. Perhaps, you know that in Japan the back of a woman’s neck is alluring to a man, especially when she is covered by a kimono.
    .
    the delicate neck
    of my housemaid
    .
    Maureen Virchau

    1. Hi, Carmen! Thank you so much. Yes, I am familiar with that topic. It’s enchanting. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Thank you, John. Your insightful and detailed commentary is sincerely appreciated. I am grateful that you have placed this verse given its subtle nature. Looking forward to everyone’s offerings for the second love verse!

    1. Hi Betty. I like this verse but I don’t think it registers clearly as a love verse and, as I mentioned in my comments above, we need this one to be unmistakably love. That means love between two adult human beings.

  29. Thank you, John, for noticing the mioversetto, I’m happy to continue, it’s stimulating and fun, there are many beautiful verses. Kudos to Maureen, I also loved Chris, Marina and Julie.
    Thank goodness that everything now works

  30. the delicate neck
    of my housemaid
    *
    the mistress
    on her own
    till new year
    *
    fireside loving
    to ring in
    the new year
    *
    he hides
    the christmas gift
    from his lover

  31. Congratulations Maureen
    *******************
    left on thin ice
    with this proposal
    of marriage
    ***************
    more rum
    in the eggnog breaks
    down her resistance

    1. or perhaps in ” light “of current developments
      ***************************************
      to much rum
      in the eggnog simply
      spoils the moment

      1. I like a lot of things about this. The love verses should suggest a progression over time and it would be good if this one was not a happy, fulfillment type of image. But with tea in the leap over verse (and probably, in general), we would not want to mention another beverage at this point.

  32. the delicate neck
    of my housemaid
    Maureen Virchau

    *

    icicles
    gently melt on
    your full lips

    *****
    cold sparrows
    feed each other on the
    mopped doormat

    *****
    presenting
    the love haiku sequence on
    Basho’s Memorial Day

    *****
    between us
    lies a minimum space
    for the winter sun

    *****

  33. Just to ask, with the mention of ‘neck’ in Maureen’s verse, would I be right in thinking, no body parts, in the next verse, including footprints?

  34. Congratulations, Maureen, a very dainty and sensuous verse.
    *
    Thank you, Mr Russo, for getting us up and running.

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words, Carol. Looking forward to your verses!
      .
      Many thanks to Dave Russo for all his hard work.

    1. Nancy,
      .
      This is promising, if a bit sweeter and happier than I was hoping for. Can you rewrite it to eliminate the break?
      .
      John

  35. Looks like we are back. We’ve lost most of a day, so I’m going to extend the deadline for offers to Tuesday, Midnight (New York time). That will give me less time to prepare a reply, so I may be comparatively brief in my next posting.

    1. Was unavailable until this afternoon on my count…thank you for the mentions! Lovely choices thus far!

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