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The Renku Sessions: Distant melody, a summing up

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Distant melody

cooling off –
our feet in the river
with the ducks

– Lorin Ford

the distant melody
of an ice-cream truck

– Maria Tomczak

paper planes
by the window
ready for his bag

– Sanjuktaa Asopa

welcome to Gaza
from Banksy and friends

– Betty Shropshire

somewhere a missing key
among sprouts
of green grass

– Maureen Virchau

and a pot of daffodils
at the end of the rainbow

– Marion Clarke

on re-entry
the cosmonaut inhales
the scent of her body

– Patrick Sweeney

his pride tied to the bedpost
with her thermal undies

– Karen Cesar

I hear the nuns
roaring over Seinfeld’s
show about nothing

– Marilyn Potter

clinking single malts
on the balcony

– Paul MacNeil

halfway across the world
a skein of clouds halfway
across the moon

– Michael Henry Lee

one last circle dance
before the lights go out

– Barbara A Taylor

Tomegaki, a summing up by Sandra Simpson

It is traditional at the end of a renku session for the sabaki to present a summing up of the process and poem in a tomegaki.

Junicho is a modern form of renku and was developed expressly to strip away some of the conventions of the traditional styles – however, some things don’t change and for beginners junicho is a good place to start. A completed poem doesn’t take too long to write and includes all the things that a 36-verse kasen also includes, such as a blossom verse, a moon verse, love verses and no-season verses. It also uses the same dynamic pattern of jo-ha-kyu in a 3-6-3 pattern, which brings the tone and writing to a crescendo in the middle section.

Even the most skilled writers of haiku find a wrenching gear change is required to successfully participate in a renku so there is no embarrassment in not getting one’s verse offerings right first time (we’ve all been there) and I hope that none was experienced by those participating in this junicho. We were embarking on a classroom lesson, more or less, but we have also, I believe, written a pretty good junicho. Any faults that are apparent in the chosen verses and overall poem must rest with my choices as sabaki.

I noted at the start of our junicho that I have a fairly conservative approach as sabaki but one area where I have eschewed convention was to make our love verses overtly sexual. According to Jane Reichhold: “The love verses never admit to the joys of love in traditional renga. Instead love is desire, waiting, unfulfilled, or wasting away. Thus, sex never enters the picture.” Bah, humbug to that (at least in this case)! Our two verses fell in the full-throated ha section and so I believe it is right that they are full of the love of life, as well as the pleasures of the flesh.

We have “daffodil” as our spring flower verse as junicho are not tied to “blossom”, but I opted for moon in an autumn verse, its traditional renku position, although it can appear with any season in a junicho.

Link and shift, which underpins all renku, is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp but if we are to participate in a renku, grasp it we must. The white space between verses is equally important, if not more so, than the verses themselves … which sounds bass ackwards but is an important part of renku composition. All I can say from my own experience is, keep trying and one day it may become intuitive or, at least, you don’t have to puzzle over it for too long.

One issue I discovered as sabaki was the number of verses offered that fell outside the parameters given for each position. It is important that participants in a renku listen to/read the instructions given and work to those instructions. On the other hand, questions are to be encouraged if things aren’t clear. Sabaki are human and mistakes may be made.

A number of writers submitted verses using nouns that had already been used, a complete no-no in any renku. In longer forms, repetition of concepts (not words) is fine so long as the verses are well apart from one another – in a short form it’s much harder to argue for repetition so I have tried to be strict on that.

One failing this junicho may have is that poets often didn’t consider changing verse construction or settings (indoors and out). I occasionally edited a chosen verse for a variation in the tone of the overall poem. How dull it would be if every other verse began with a gerund, or an article. It may help to read the poem out loud before you compose your offerings. Variation in the rhythm of verses is helpful too – from languid to abrupt, for instance. This junicho may have benefited from at least one shorter verse.

It has been pointed out to me privately that I rather short-changed participating poets by choosing a hokku that covered so many topics – body parts, waterfowl, fresh water and temperature – and that did come back to bite me when I had to edit Michael Henry Lee’s verse to eliminate waterfowl. However, the hokku was such a delightful verse that I couldn’t imagine our shared experience beginning with any other. The hokku, traditionally, is considered a ‘greeting’ verse and the use of “our” seemed to set the right tone for what is an inclusive endeavour. The ageku echoes it perfectly with its tone of a group parting after our renku dance.

Thank you to everyone who participated, it’s a shame I couldn’t have included more of you as I could see how hard everyone was trying. I hope that you have all been filled with the fire of renku and will seek out further opportunities and reading:

  • The schema I have used for this poem is one of John Carley’s and for anyone interested in trying more junicho, there is a set of suggested schema here.
  • There is some good writing available on the net for those who wish to read further on renku – and I keep hoping that John Carley’s book, which has been “forthcoming” from before his death in 2013!, will appear at any time. In the meantime, there are some of his thoughts held in essays at Haiku NewZ under renku.
  • The Bare Bones School of Renga by Jane Reichhold is also worth a look. The lesson plans are free to download and use (but may not be sold).
  • Useful information, including a list of season words, and examples of renku are to be found at the site of the late William J Higginson.

I look forward to seeing more of your work in the next Renku Sessions. Thanks too, to Dave Russo for his excellent technical support at The Haiku Foundation.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. I very much appreciated your leadership and wisdom as I entered into this new art form. I had the pleasure of participating in the renku party at Haiku Canada last week; something I might not have ventured into without your foundation lessons. Thank you.

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