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The Renku Sessions: Pilgrims' Stride 20

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. If you would like to learn more about renku go here. And if you would like to see a sample of a complete renku go here.

I’m John Stevenson, and I will serve as your guide for this session, a thirty-six verse (kasen) renku. I have supplied the opening verse (hokku) and each week I will select an additional verse from among those submitted prior to the Tuesday deadline.

From twenty-one poets, we have sixty-one verses to consider this time. Quite a large portion of them would work very well in this twentieth verse position. I will discuss some that I found especially interesting (again, from poets not yet included in the renku). I’ll try to clarify what may have held me back from selecting each, though these will be very small concerns and generally do not amount to “flaws” in my estimation, just “factors” in my decision making.

One tempting offer was joel irusta’s socks cover / deformed feet. This provides an almost shocking contrast to the truth and beauty of the skylark’s song. We have had little of such sharp departure of tone in the linking we have done so far. Minor reservations: it is a very short verse, it has us looking down, we already have a verse relating to a medical condition (cancer – though there are nine intervening verses), and I personally try to reserve any specific mention of the body for the love verses. Some might also consider that “feet” may be too closely related to “stride” in the hokku (opening verse). None of these reservations amounts to a disqualification in itself but they are, cumulatively, my reasons for passing.

A very short verse; radio static / in the kitchen (dt.haase) is very much to my taste. It is as if, by moving to the next verse, we have tuned to a place on the radio dial that is between clear song and whatever the next station might have to offer. There is a sense that the kitchen is either deserted or that anyone present is too distracted to attend to the radio. Or perhaps the radio is tuned in but the signal has been interrupted. This verse also responds to my request that we look for an indoor image. Only its brevity causes me to keep looking for another selection. (And, as I have previously said, I personally consider brevity a virtue so long as it does not sacrifice resonance. But I am trying to make sure that my personal preferences do no result in a renku that seems to have a single voice.)

Both stashed in the cookie tin / assorted shoelaces (Marilyn Potter) and the newspaper / folded to the crossword puzzle (Tricia Knoll) are tempting. If we were doing a renku in which I was making more suggestions or doing some rewriting, either of these might have been my choice. Revisions that I would have sought: in the first I would have removed the cut between lines by reversing their order and in the second I would have sought to make it a more natural two line verse by altering the four and eight syllable structure. Again, neither is a disqualification, though I have listed “without a cut” as a requirement for every verse after the hokku.

Perhaps my personal favorite offer is Hansha Teki’s a sigh unattached / to the obvious. It plays beautifully off of the notion of “plain truth.” My reservation is that this would be a great lead in to a series of love verses, or a great exit after the love verses. Who knows; when we get to the next set of love verses (twenty-six and twenty-seven) this verse may be resubmitted!

Our twentieth verse comes from Priscilla Van Valkenburgh. This also plays nicely against the notion of “plain truth.” It seems ruefully factual that we humans have to be reminded to breathe at times. And this is just the smallest example of how we attempt to simplify our lives through received wisdom. The verse is somewhat ambivalent about an indoor or outdoor setting, so an indoor image would still work nicely in the next verse.

Here is the verse you must link to:

our yoga instructor
tells us to breathe

    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

The next verse, the twenty-first, is the second in a series of three non-seasonal verses. Here are the formal requirements for verse twenty-one:

  • Non-seasonal image (should not contain words or phrases from our season word list)
  • Written in three lines, without a cut
  • Linking with the twentieth verse, and only the twentieth verse
  • Shifting widely to a new topic and setting

Add your suggested three-line link below, in the Comments box. You have until midnight EST, Tuesday, July 22, 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, July 24 here on the blog, and provide information and instructions 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 pass–
pilgrims’ stride

    –John Stevenson

a sun-warmed stone bridge
over snowmelt

    –Billie Wilson

dampened soil
of seed trays
in the glasshouse

    –Margaret Beverland

grandmother’s silverware
polished every monday

    –Polona Oblak

a sonata
on the concert Steinway
played to the moon

    –Lorin Ford

dragonflies hover
by the swaying reeds

    –Karen Cesar

slight hum
of a drone
in fog

    –Alice Frampton

the atmosphere
thick with teenage pheromones

    –Norman Darlington

I stumble
trying to reply
“I plight thee my troth.”

    –Paul MacNeil

thinking of a red wig
during chemo

    –Asni Amin

the woodland
of silent stories
and shadow

    –Alan Summers

he makes a wish
to become real

    –Marion Clarke

each mirror reflects
only the cool moon
rising

    –kris moon

freshly-caught fish
sizzles in the pan

    –Aalix Roake

a wealthy prince
exiled in Nigeria
soliciting my help

    –Christopher Patchel

sugar plum fairy came
and hit the streets…

    –Jennifer Sutherland

a milky nimbus
at dusk
beneath the cherry tree

    –Scott Mason

pulling in spring clouds
with a telephoto lens

    –Dru Philippou

plain truth
of a skylark’s
song

    –Stella Pierides

our yoga instructor
tells us to breathe

    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

This Post Has 64 Comments

  1. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe

    – Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    the habit of years
    finally broken as I get up
    and turn off the news

    – Sandra Simpson

  2. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe

    -Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    with equal probability
    in a random universe
    the “Mysterioso”

    -Patrick Sweeney

  3. the ominous envelope seemed to float
    in the wrinkled hands of the old man
    as he fell silently down the rough steps

  4. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe

    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    a day trader applies
    increasing pressure
    to his squeeze doll

  5. our yoga instructor
    tell us to breathe
    -Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    exiting parishioners
    each toe
    exhales

    -Patrick Sweeney

  6. Just a brief follow up on Christopher Patchel’s question. Having checked Professor Fukuda’s text, I have nothing to add to my earlier note. The “two parts” of the “ha” only relate to the way in which renku were originally presented in Japanese practice. For our purposes, we need make no special adjustments to reflect this.

  7. Oof…wasn’t ready…meant:

    spitting in buckets
    haute blind tasters
    eat cheese and crackers

  8. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe
    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    and yet
    a nagging doubt
    persists

  9. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe

    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    on the hogan
    floor, a coil basket
    half-finished

  10. “I’m curious what if any differences there are between the first ‘ha’ section and the second.”

    An interesting question, Christopher. I would like to consult Professor Fukuda’s Introduction to World-linking Renku on this question since I know he has some text on this subject but I am not presently at home, where my copy is located.

    My understanding is that the tone of both pages of the “ha” is very open. It’s like the “jo” (opening section) is sort of the preparation before the journey. The “ha” (middle section) is the journey itself. The idea that there are two parts to the “ha” is a result of the traditional way in which renku were recorded in Japanese. My sense about English-language practice is that there might be a tacit recognition that we have reached and passed the renku’s “equator” as we move from verse eighteen to nineteen. But this is in no way a requirement. When I get a chance to consult Professor Fukuda’s text, I’ll be sure to pass along anything different, other, or in addition that he may have to say on the subject.

  11. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe

    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    sitting on
    a hard back chair
    watching soft porn

  12. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe
    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    the missing
    boa constrictor
    on my pillow

    – Lorin Ford

  13. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe

    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe
    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    his missing
    boa constrictor
    on my pillow

    – Lorin

  14. awakened
    in the wee hours
    by my muse

    I’m curious what if any differences there are between the first ‘ha’ section and the second.

  15. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe

    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    tabby cats
    on the window seat
    taking it all in

  16. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe

    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    as flags across the city
    are lowered
    to half mast

  17. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe

    -Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    without an ounce
    of royal blood
    I exhale

    -Patrick Sweeney

  18. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe

    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    stretching one limb
    then another, and another
    and another, the cat’s yawn

    – Sandra Simpson

  19. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe

    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    stretching one limb
    then another, and another
    the cat yawns a grin

    – Sandra Simpson

  20. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe
    Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    Aroma
    of roasted fish
    in the whole house

  21. our yoga instructor
    tells us to breathe

    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

    Senior Center
    billiards players chalking
    up their cues

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