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The Renku Sessions: Pilgrims’ Stride

renkuchainWelcome to The Renku Sessions. Renku is a participatory literary game, following a set of rules that are implemented by the leader of the session (sensei). Success, as with all games, is achieved by playing well and creatively within the rules to reach the goal: a collaborative poem featuring many voices and widely ranging subject matter. The object, as with all games, is to have fun. The more you incorporate the rules into your practice, the greater your achievement, the more fun you have. Examples of renku previously completed here can be seen here.

I’m John Stevenson, and I will serve as your guide for this session, a thirty-six verse (kasen) renku. I’ve supplied the opening verse (hokku), and have offered some suggestions about what I’ll be looking for in the second verse (wakiku), and in general throughout the session.

Here is the verse you must link to:

comparing maps
to the mountain shrines—
pilgrims’ stride

This is the opening verse, and I’ve taken the title of the renku from it. The opening verse in a renku should

  • reflect the season in which the renku is begun (in this case, spring, because of the northern hemisphere poet offering it.) This seasonal reference is accomplished through the use of a season word (kigo), a traditional word or phrase associated with a specific season in renku practice. In this verse, the season word is pilgrim or pilgrimage, which is traditionally a spring activity in Japan. A link to a list of season words for your use in this renku appears below.
  • offer an indirect compliment to the host. In our hokku, this compliment consists of an acknowledgment of The Haiku Foundation’s role in bringing haiku poets together.
  • contain a “cut” (after the second line in this case).
  • be written in three lines (for English practitioners).
  • set an appropriate tone for the opening sequence of six verses; the jo or prologue. The late Professor Shinku Fukuda said of this portion of the renku it is as if “we are writing in a suit and a tie.”

What We’ll Be Looking For — Next Link

The second verse is written

  • often by the host.
  • with reference to the same season as the first verse (spring) and can be closely linked to it, a continuation of the scene.
  • in two lines (again, for English) without a “cut.” In fact, the cut will not be a feature of any of the remaining verses. The poetry will come from the interplay between verses more than within each individual verse.
  • within the tone of the prologue — here in the range of serenity, gratitude, wonder, slight humor, affection, and the like.

Add your suggested two-line link below, in the Comments box. You have until midnight EST, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. You may submit as many verses as you like, but please use a new comment box for each one. I will announce my selection for the next link on Thursday, March 13 here on the blog, and provide information and instruction for submitting the next link.

What We’ll Be Looking For — Throughout the Session

There are many schematic outlines for a kasen renku. We will be using one set out by Professor Fukuda in his book Introduction to World-linking Renku. It will not be necessary for you to have a copy of this book since instructions will be offered before each verse is solicited.

It is a good idea for those participating in the composition of a renku to make use of the same list of season words. There are a number of these lists available and I intend no judgment of their relative value. For purposes of this session I am suggesting the use of The Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words.

Pilgrims’ Stride to Date

comparing maps
to the mountain shrines—
pilgrims’ stride

    –John Stevenson

This Post Has 129 Comments

  1. Dear Lorin and others,
    Found the archives by going into “search” and typing in “Pilgrim’s stride 1 (or whichever number).” Quickly found “no further cuts in the renku” as a rule. This will really help . . . a rule to be remembered.
    Thanks again!
    Yours,
    Alice

  2. Thanks, Chris Patchel, for raising this question.
    Regarding the question of a double kigo – it is less a matter of rule than of generosity. Each image that we use reduces the availability of that image or related images for use in the subsequent verses of a renku. Since certain later verses will require kigo for each season, the moon, spring blossoms, and love images, it can be somewhat ungenerous to use any of these images in superabundance during the prologue. One of the key skills of the renku poet is a kind of instinctive generosity toward collaborators.

  3. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    a bush warbler’s song
    breaks up our chatter

  4. John, Your comment on blossom stanzas outside 17 & 35 is appreciated. Also your further clarification of the direction for this and future renkus sessions on Troutswirl. I shall, therefore, shift my stance to conform with that of Shinku Fukuda. With a smile and appreciation for your ability to walk this slender tightrope.

  5. a cabbage white
    in March wind

    I’m not sure if this is a double kigo or not (and if that’s a no-no in renku) but cabbage whites appear spring through autumn (and aren’t on the list).

  6. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    at snowmelt half a footprint
    here and there

  7. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    snow melt- half a footprint
    here and there

    bit short with nine syls?

  8. more haste… mine should read ‘crosses’ not ‘crossed’ :

    a wobbly line of ladybirds
    crosses the window

  9. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    breakfast leftovers
    sparrows too, are followers

  10. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines–
    pilgrim’s stride

    a drizzle fills
    the hermit’s bowl

  11. Welcome to the newly arriving poets! By my count, there are 36 of us, so far. Additional offers for the second verse (wakiku) will be accepted until midnight (eastern US time zone) tonight.

  12. Great. You guys are serious when i am drunk. I’ll check in tomorrow if you’re still playing.

  13. It’s going to be almost painful to let some of these offers go; there are so many good ones. When I am writing renku in a live session, I write a series of offers for each verse, as some of you have done, and, therefore, always have some unused material afterward. These are not complete poems but they frequently serve later as the basis for haiku or other poems. I hope you will benefit in some way, too, from having this “pro-ku” material available.

    Christopher: I take your point about the blossom verses. Not only are there frequent examples of variations in renku practice but there are also multiple versions of the base-line for the ordering of verses. The Haiku Foundation envisions this as a permanent feature, with new leaders for each renku session. A variety of approaches will thus be displayed over time. To get us started, I have selected the spring Kasen layout in Shinku Fududa’s Introduction to World-linking Renku. As you know from our previous renku experiences, I am more than willing to make an exception for good cause. However, since this is the first time around for these Haiku Foundation renku, I intend to stick closely to the format given by Fukuda-san, which calls for the blossom verses to be 17 and 35. My idea is to establish a baseline and to leave variations for future sessions. It’s going to be a bit of a tightrope experience; making these sessions useful for both newcomers and those, like you, with many years of renku practice. A challenge, but fun, too.

  14. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    a waterbottle toast
    to the vernal equinox

    (if the season can’t be assumed)

  15. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    on the first steps
    just a little snow left

    – Lorin Ford

    … it all depends upon that plural possessive case in the hokku … “pilgrims’ stride” 🙂 (I’m still not sure whether or not that’s a typo, but have been assuming that it isn’t)

  16. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    a waterbottle toast
    to the equinox

    (or ‘spring equinox’ if need be)

  17. Although one must be careful with blossom verses due to their traditional locations, there are plenty of examples of blossoms appearing in stanzas other than 17 and 35. It’s important, however, that they aren’t presented near those stanzas. And, it certainly not a good idea to employ cherry blossoms in a stanza other than the aforementioned. My two cents.

  18. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    an east wind
    scatters the slivers of rice

  19. Here’s a non-floral offering:

    comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    the cautious one
    flushes pheasant

  20. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    lingering day lends
    warm traveling light

  21. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    on a warm breeze
    the bells of Kumano

    * perhaps amended to ‘ Kumano’ taking in all three shrines and used more figuratively and with a better relationship between length of long and short verses?

  22. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    on a warm breeze, the bells
    of Hongu Taisha

  23. If jizo meets the spring criteria (by virtue of the traveler link?) it strikes me as a highly fresh link.

  24. ” Am I right in avoiding blossom verses at this point?”

    This is another great question, Christopher. I have tried to keep the instructions relatively simple but there are, of course, additional factors to consider. One of them is not to be premature with a topic that has a traditional spot in the renku. In this case, verses 17 and 35 will both feature spring blossoms. So, it would be well to avoid blossoms and perhaps plants altogether in the opening sequence.

    Welcome to some new players! This reminds me of something I want to mention. Some of you are identified by first name only in your posts. That’s fine. But in case your verse is selected and you would like to have your full name posted with it, please consider adding it after your verse offer(s). Thanks.

  25. Hi John and everyone,

    This looks like some fun –

    comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    tossing my hat at the jizo
    I miss

  26. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    a pheasant strays
    across the path

    Jennifer

  27. Trying to resist revising, and failing.

    comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    this way and that way
    in March wind

    Am I right in avoiding blossom verses at this point?

  28. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    this way and that
    in March wind

  29. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    with a walking stick
    in a leafing woods

  30. That’s a great question, Christopher. The topic, as it appears in the season list we are using, is “tree buds.” But variations on the specific term are fine. In fact, the hokku contains such a variation. The listed season word is “pilgrimage” but “pilgrim(s’)” is a simple variation.

  31. Thank you Kevin and Debbie! Christopher – you or someone else may yet get away with an exception at some point in this renku. I want to get us started with things that are more the rule than the exception but this may relax a bit as we go on.

  32. Ok. Thought I might get away with an ellipsis since there’s one in the example renku.

  33. Comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines –
    pilgrims’ stride

    former footprints till
    the path’s soil

  34. I’m enjoying your verses, Christopher. Your poems are always interesting. I’m going to be pretty consistent, though, about the idea of “no cut” in renku verses other than the hokku. Haiku is an evolutionary result of the hokku. If it had evolved from some other renku verse, it would not have included a “cutting word” as one of its characteristics (and might not have included a seasonal reference, either). Those of us who have been writing haiku for a while will find it almost second nature to incorporate a break, cut, or some kind of aural space within our verses. But for renku verses, after the hokku, it is a good idea to think of the cut as occurring between the verses, rather than within them.

  35. I just realized there’s an insect by that same name.

    comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    my walking stick . . .
    the leafing canopy

  36. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    walking stick…
    the leafing canopy

    (Bending the rules, though there is a precedent).

  37. Thank you, Sue. I will just note that “hawk” is marked as a winter topic in our season words list. Season words are not always intuitive. This is especially the case with animals, many of which are evident on a year-round basis but are assigned by tradition to certain seasons in renku practice.

  38. Wow! I just took some time off to sleep and look at all the wonderful gifts that appeared overnight (as we see things in Nassau, NY, USA). I will just say thank you to all of you for this! So very encouraging. I only wish that Fukuda-san could be here to see it.

  39. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    a selection of seedlings
    in the rice planters hand

    Ron

  40. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines —
    pilgrims’ stride

    troutswirl by troutswirl
    the road reveals itself

  41. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines —
    pilgrims’ stride

    bootprints in the mud
    show stragglers the way

  42. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines —
    pilgrims’ stride

    trellis wisteria
    falls off the grid

  43. Thank you, Sandra. You bring up a good point with your revision. We will want to think about variety in our images as we go on. This can be promoted in many ways, and using sensory images from the full range of senses is one excellent way.

  44. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines —
    pilgrims’ stride

    a boutonnière of new leaves
    and the sound of singing

  45. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines —
    pilgrims’ stride

    the taste of fresh tea
    made from river water

    (better taste than scent I think)

  46. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines —
    pilgrims’ stride

    the sound a river makes
    when it meets rocks

  47. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines —
    pilgrims’ stride

    the scent of fresh tea
    made from river water

  48. Thank you, everyone. We are rolling along now! Thanks Bill. Karen, thanks for taking me up on the invitation to submit more than one verse. Thank you Lorin and Christopher for making it clear that there is room for revisions and variations. And thank you, Alan, for offering some feedback on what is working best for you, so far. I will have to wait until I have seen everything that comes in through Tuesday before I think too much about that but this should not prevent anyone who wishes to from offering feedback. Let’s keep the feedback positive, as Alan has done.

  49. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    no step is wasted
    along the tranquil path

  50. Nice verses, and good to see the description amended now to posting the previous verse.

    My favourite so far is:

    Billie Wilson

    a sun-warmed stone bridge
    over snowmelt

  51. Like I said, wish we could revise ; )

    comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    through the mud
    or turn around?

  52. Thanks, John. Maybe ‘departing’, so close as it is to ‘comparing’, is a tad inelegant?

    A possible rewording:

    comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    for north-bound geese
    a procession of sedge hats

  53. comparing maps
    to the mountain shrines—
    pilgrims’ stride

    a forgotten knapsack
    beside the swollen stream

  54. Thank you, Christopher. Yes, Dave’s offer is playful and maybe a little mischievous?
    And thank you, Lorin. Your format here suggests something important. Having displayed both verses, you make it clear that you understand the poetry is supposed to be in the interplay between verses. When I am working in a live session, I always recite the previous verse and the offer together so that I can hear whether this interplay is working.

  55. a muddy trudge
    to songbird calls

    I wish this was on the forum instead so we could make revisions.

  56. I’m hoping for a mixture of new and experienced poets and will be attempting to make this experience interesting and enjoyable for all.

  57. We say that all the time here, Dave is amazing.

    Thank you, John, for guiding us on this journey. I am a beginner, and here to learn.

  58. Thank you, Mark, for being the first to offer a verse! I am hoping that there will be many offers, including more from you if you feel so inspired. I do appreciate quickness and spontaneity in renku, though my favorite writing partners are about evenly divided between the quick and the “slow but sure.”

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