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The Renku Sessions: Pilgrims' Stride 23

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.

Eighteen poets offered a combined roster of forty-five verses this time. While I have selected a verse from a new contributor, as I have so far in every instance, it may soon become time to consider using verses from prior contributors if there is nothing suitable offered by others. Perhaps it would be useful at this point to specify some of the broader issues that are causing me to pass over certain verses. My concerns are technical in nature and in no way reflect upon the creativity of our participating poets, which is impressive.

One concern is the presentation of material that belongs in another place in the renku. When we are not working on a love verse, a blossom verse, or a moon verse anything containing or strongly alluding to these subjects will create a disqualification for the verse in question.

Very close or literal linking to the prior verse will create issues. The only really close linking in the renku should be between the first and second verses.

Failure to adhere to the guidelines listed as “the formal requirements” for the verse will create a disqualification. One of the formal requirements mentioned every time is that the verse should be written “without a cut.” Since these cutting mechanisms are a deeply engrained practice in English-language haiku, it may be that some contributing poets are unsure about what is meant by a “cut.” Here is an example of a verse without a cut:

the branches break
from the burden of ice

And here is the same verse, written with a cut:

from the burden of ice
the branches break

In general, presenting a qualifying clause before the image it modifies will create a “cut.”

Our twenty-third verse comes from Vasile Moldovan. This is a lovely and, at the same time, a homely image that delivers an appealing contrast to the “grudge” contained in its predecessor. And its humor in this context is most welcome. I have taken the liberty of deleting the initial article in order to avoid its repetition from the previous verse. “First snow” is designated as “mid-winter” on our season word list. Our next verse can, therefore, feature anything from the season word list except those things marked “early winter.”

A note to those who are experienced with renku writing: I am aware of the flaw in the selection of this verse, which can be viewed as relating to its leap-over verse (dirt / blackened pit). All other offers from new contributors also presented serious issues and I did not want to begin using material from prior contributors without providing some notice, as I have above. The flaw in my selection could be easily fixed with some rewriting. “Dirt” could be changed to something else – “debris,” “storage shed,” “tow truck” – but I will not be doing any significant rewriting and have chosen to accept the verse as offered with only the deletion of the article. The choice and, therefore, the flaw is my responsibility.

Here is the verse you must link to:

first snowfall
covering little by little
all the dirt

    –Vasile Moldovan

The next verse, the twenty-fourth, is the second of two consecutive winter verses. Here are the formal requirements for verse twenty-four:

  • Winter seasonal image (should include a winter word or phrase from our season word list but not “early” winter [also not a blossom, love, or moon image])
  • Written in two lines, without a cut
  • Linking with the twenty-third verse, and only the twenty-third verse
  • Shifting widely to a new topic and setting

Add your suggested two-line link below, in the Comments box. You have until midnight EST, Tuesday, August 12, 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, August 14 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

      smoldering dung cakes
      burning in the blackened pit
      flavors the curry

        –Betty Shropshire

      the family’s grudge
      celebrates a century

        –batsword

      first snowfall
      covering little by little
      all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

      This Post Has 104 Comments

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      2. Thank you, Ellen. I really hope I can minimize any tensions that people may feel in the process of learning renku. My understanding is that it was created in the first place as a way of releasing court poets from some of the tensions and demands of their profession. And my renku mentor, Shinku Fukuda, told me that, “First, it has to be fun.”

      3. “My concerns are technical in nature and in no way reflect upon the creativity of our participating poets, which is impressive.”

        John Stevenson

        * * *

        John, I’ve thought of this many times this week – thank you. Yesterday I spent time trying to learn about renku here. Some things you’ve said are making sense. I am slow in technical areas, with poetry. (Tend to get overwhelmed.) Today I thought that the rule about writing without a cut – from what I know so far – is like the blessings I’ve been writing in my gratitude journal after reading the book, one thousand gifts, by Ann Voskamp.

        Learning: from the known to the unknown. Small steps, once in awhile a creative leap. But those times are the gifts.

        Thanks for such careful and patient teaching. Ellen

      4. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        rattlers in the snake den
        curled in for a long nap

      5. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        her mascara runs
        while chopping onions

      6. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        the gossip wears
        a narcissus boutonnière

        – Lorin Ford

        variation:

        a narcissus
        for the gossip’s boutonnière

        – Lorin Ford

      7. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        Japanese radishes
        point toward Parliament

        – Lorin Ford

        * Parliament or Washington

      8. fewer cold places
        to hold the Games

        where on earth
        to hold the winter Games

        (Hard to avoid naming the season in this case, but the first one does)

      9. Or without using “ski” :

        first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        a block of wax held against
        the tip of a heated iron

      10. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        ski wax held against
        the tip of a heated iron

      11. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        an Amish quilt
        wanton with color

      12. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        a farmer points the radish
        at Parliament

        – Lorin Ford

        OR

        a farmer points the radish
        at the Pentagon

        – Lorin

      13. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        a cold radish points
        at Parliament

        – Lorin Ford (Where’s LeRoy Gorman when he’s needed? 😉 )

        Or, a variation for those in the USA & others who don’t have Parliament:

        first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        a cold radish points
        at Washington

        – Lorin Ford

      14. Hi Christopher,

        We are using Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words.

        I am also more familiar with, and generally use, Higginson but we are not using his listings this time.

        John

      15. should the rugby team
        go coed?

        (Higginson lists rugby as a winter sport. But it may be too close to ‘grudge’)

      16. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        ravens circle
        overhead

      17. Max
        You misread my intent. My ‘ Happy Trails’ was given in the context of this renku: Pilgrims’ Stride…is this not a journey? I am an old and ornery Texan. I would hate to quash a voice as I know that silenced feeling all too well…but grammar and syntax…those rules stifle way too many. The Muse comes out swinging. I can diagram sentences in my sleep…blech! Rules of speech are fair game when it comes to picking apart poetry. It gets the dander up and I start drooling. Apologies for scaring you off…Pilgrim. (channeling my best John Wayne accent)
        Betty

      18. “Betty, you and Lorin took a modest discussion about what I believe are some grammatical errors (among other already mentioned flaws) in this haiku and turned it into an indictment.

        Lorin, re (1): “It’s true that ‘little by little’ is an adjectival phrase” – no, an it’s adverb; re (2): “Covering, as you point out yourself, is the verb participle in this case” – no, a verbal that is used as an adjective; re (3): all your shifting examples do not change the original syntactical order, which to me, is still wrong.

        I can’t do sincere critiques this way. I’m outta here.

        MM”

        Max, I apologise if what I’ve written seems like some sort of indictment. That was certainly not my intention.

        You are right in that, through fuzzy-mndednes, I erroneously followed your original designation of ‘little by little ‘ as an adjective’ into using the term ‘adjectival phrase’, which of course is the wrong term.

        “1): “It’s true that ‘little by little’ is an adjectival phrase” – no, an it’s adverb;” – Max

        ‘Little’ itself is an adverb, yes. Without being certain of the designated grammatical term for the phrase ‘little by little’ in this sentence and whatever the correct term for the phrase actually turns out to be, one thing is sure: ‘little by little’ modifies ‘(is ) covering)’. It tells us something about the manner in which the snowfall is covering the dirt. Therefore my best guess is that the term is ‘adverbial phrase’ or the like (and not my erroneous ‘adjectival phrase’ of my first post)

        “(2): “Covering, as you point out yourself, is the verb participle in this case” – no, a verbal that is used as an adjective.”

        If ‘covering’ is “a verbal that is used as an adjective” here, please show which noun is being qualified in Vasile’s verse. It can’t be ‘snowfall’, since we’d need to place it before the noun to have ‘covering’ perform as an adjective, eg

        performing as adjective:

        ‘Roof tiles weren’t visible due to the covering snow.’

        “I can’t do sincere critiques this way. I’m outta here.” . M

        Well, it’s a shame that you’re so like sensitive about the terminology of grammar, Max. 😉 I have not doubted your sincerity. Why not stick around?

        – Lorin

      19. Betty, you and Lorin took a modest discussion about what I believe are some grammatical errors (among other already mentioned flaws) in this haiku and turned it into an indictment.

        Lorin, re (1): “It’s true that ‘little by little’ is an adjectival phrase” – no, an it’s adverb; re (2): “Covering, as you point out yourself, is the verb participle in this case” – no, a verbal that is used as an adjective; re (3): all your shifting examples do not change the original syntactical order, which to me, is still wrong.

        I can’t do sincere critiques this way. I’m outta here.

        MM

      20. Does the use of “soil” in the daisan present a problem with use of “dirt” in the maeku?

        dampened soil
        of seed trays
        in the glasshouse

        –Margaret Beverland

        first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        An interesting one, Karen. I’d say that it might, depending on whether or not the reader equated ‘soil and ‘dirt’… regarded then as synonyms.

        A laundry worker probably would consider them synonyms. A professional gardener probably wouldn’t. Personally, I distinguish good, rich soil from dirt. Over time, by adding compost, one can make a patch of unproductive dirt into nutrient -rich soil. Virgin soil (is there any left in the world?) is thought of as different to dirt anyway, as farmers in the USA found out in the ’30s

        But soil/dirt might count as ‘distant reincarnation’ ( I think the Japanese is something like ‘rinne’, but I forget) Since this is side 3 and there are quite a number of verses between the occurrences ‘soil/dirt’, it wouldn’t bother me too much… it’d probably depend on opinion, each individual sabaki’s notion of what’s permissible or ideal.

        …soil, dirt, sand, gravel, rock, mud, clay, silt, the ground … all earth

        – Lorin

      21. ahem … amendment:

        “Your parsing of the sentence is wrong, Max. It’s true that ‘little by little’ is an adjectival phrase (from memory …I don’t have a grammar book open beside me)” – L

        More likely, since it’s modifying a verb, to be an adverbial phrase.

        Which doesn’t alter my point.

        – Lorin

        It’s not an adjective per se (the only adjective in this sentence is ‘first’ and it qualifies ‘snow’) nor is ‘little by little’ modifying an adjective. ‘Covering’, as you point out yourself, is the verb participle in this case . The adjectival phrase that modifies the verb (‘is covering’= verb plus participle) here is ‘little by little’.

      22. “No tweaking (implied/understood words and creative punctuation) can make L2 of the original verse grammatically correct. Except in very rare cases, and this is not one of them, the adjective (“little”) cannot modify another adjective (“covering” – present participle).” Max

        It’s true that I had commas all over the shop. Could be a touch of dementia induced by anaesthesia? Or it could be just plain sloppiness. 😉

        But don’t confuse my attempt at explanation & demonstration with ‘tweaking’.

        Your parsing of the sentence is wrong, Max. It’s true that ‘little by little’ is an adjectival phrase (from memory …I don’t have a grammar book open beside me) It’s not an adjective per se (the only adjective in this sentence is ‘first’ and it qualifies ‘snow’) nor is ‘little by little’ modifying an adjective. ‘Covering’, as you point out yourself, is the verb participle in this case . The adjectival phrase that modifies the verb (‘is covering’= verb plus participle) here is ‘little by little’.

        (The) first snowfall (is) covering all (of)the dirt.

        Variations with modifying phrase:

        a. (The) first snowfall (is) covering, little by little, all (of) the dirt.

        b. Little by little, (the) first snowfall is covering all (of) the dirt,

        c. (The) first snowfall (is) covering all (of) the dirt, little by little.

        You can place a modifying phrase just about anywhere in a sentence as long as it remains clear which verb in a sentence it’s modifying. In poetry, you can go further than that for effect (poetic licence!) Someone like E.E. Cummings might have written (on a bad day)

        the first

        little
        by
        little

        snow
        fall

        is

        covering the dirt

        all !

        😉 but there is no such transgression of English grammar happening in Vasile’s verse. In fact, to my ear his placement of the adjectival phrase ‘little by little’ is more normative as well as more effective than is your placing of it at the end, where it can seem to be an afterthought.

        – Lorin

      23. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        our angel imprints
        undisturbed at dawn

      24. Does the use of “soil” in the daisan present a problem with use of “dirt” in the maeku?

        dampened soil
        of seed trays
        in the glasshouse

        –Margaret Beverland

        first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

      25. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        a circle stomped out
        to play fox and geese

      26. Well, Max

        I personally enjoy being off balanced by unexpected usage…especially the subversive kind. And more often than not, when it comes to bandying about rules, I’d rather shoot myself in the foot than to follow them.
        Happy trails!
        Betty

      27. Hey, Betty,

        Yes, “little by little” is an adverb, but it should be modifying **how** the dirt is covered, not the **act** of covering it. That’s why my suggestion seemed about right.

        Put another way, for a three-line haiku, the order of the words (syntax) is wrong, which affects not only the grammar, but interrupts the rhythm of the verse so that I kept stumbling over it no matter how many times I read it.

        –MM

      28. Hi MM

        Um, ain’t ‘little by little’ an adverb? You left out a little.

        Respectfully inquiring from the sidelines…
        Yours truly
        BS

      29. LF –

        Yes, “covering” (in my version) works; the rest, gobbly gook,* but what’s one more flaw in this verse? There are three so far: John’s acceptance of “dirt,” mine (bad grammar), and your good catch of another “snow.”

        – MM
        *No tweaking (implied/understood words and creative punctuation) can make L2 of the original verse grammatically correct. Except in very rare cases, and this is not one of them, the adjective (“little”) cannot modify another adjective (“covering” – present participle).

      30. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        – Vasile Moldovan

        a family of icicles
        measuring their lives in tears

        – David J Kelly

      31. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        hounds sniff at fox spoor
        in the withered field

        – Lorin Ford

      32. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        withered chrysanthemums
        continue to wither

        – Lorin Ford

        * I use the full term chrysanthemums assuming that the initially startling ‘withered mums’ in the ‘Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words’ list we’re using does actually refer to chrysanthemums rather to mothers (‘mums’ in English, ‘moms’ in US English) in older years.

      33. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        this short day
        full of gumboot tracks

        – Lorin
        through the short day

      34. Regarding ‘return’, ‘ukikoshi’, ‘distant reincarnation’ & the like in relation to Vasile’s verse, I’d be more concerned about the return of ‘snow’, as it recalls the wakiku (2nd verse, side one)

        a sun-warmed stone bridge
        over snowmelt

        –Billie Wilson

        . . .

        first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        – Lorin

      35. ahem …correcting a couple of my oversights or omissions:

        All you need to do to test for grammatical correctness in haiku or renku verse is to put it in sentence form, including ‘understood’ words (words that would be there in a formal EL sentence but are often omitted in haiku & renku) and also including standard punctuation:

        and

        ‘ Little by little, ‘(the) first snowfall (is) covering all the dirt. ‘ – also correct

        no comma after ‘covering’. (I was copying & pasting..forgot to delete it 😉

        – Lorin

      36. “The choice and, therefore, the flaw is my responsibility,” including the fact that it is like so grammatically incorrect?

        Incorrect:

        first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        Correct:

        first snowfall
        covers all the dirt
        little by little

        – Max Mayberry

        Ah, Max. Your idea that Vasile’s verse is grammatically incorrect and your version is grammatically correct is, like (shall we say?) so uninformed? 😉

        I’m recovering from surgery on my feet so I’ve got nothing better to do. 😉

        There are conventions regarding grammar in EL haiku that aren’t always immediately apparent to beginners. All you need to do to test for grammatical correctness in haiku or renku verse is to put it in sentence form, including ‘understood’ words (words that would be there in a formal EL sentence but are often omitted in haiku & renku) and standard punctuation:

        ‘(The) first snowfall (is) covering, little by little, all the dirt. ‘ – correct

        ”(The) first snowfall, little by little, (is) covering, all the dirt. ‘ – also correct

        ‘ Little by little, ‘(the) first snowfall (is) covering, all the dirt. ‘ – also correct

        Your version:

        ‘ (The) first snowfall covers all the dirt, little by little’

        – is grammatically correct, too, but I think that the continuous form of the verb works better in context, here. For one thing, the continuous verb makes the verse’s statement distinguishable from a universal statement, ie ‘ (The) first snowfall (always) covers all the dirt, little by little’

        yours truly,

        Ye Olde Schoolmistress,

        Lorin

      37. “The choice and, therefore, the flaw is my responsibility,” including the fact that it is like so grammatically incorrect?

        Incorrect:

        first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        Correct:

        first snowfall
        covers all the dirt
        little by little

        Max Mayberry

      38. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        twenty seven fabric squares
        for a patchwork quilt

      39. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        hiding my tears
        by chopping onions

      40. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        the stare of a cold crow
        early in the morning

      41. Hi John (et al),
        My 2 cents worth re yr comment, John:

        “A note to those who are experienced with renku writing: I am aware of the flaw in the selection of this verse, which can be viewed as relating to its leap-over verse (dirt / blackened pit)”

        smoldering dung cakes
        burning in the blackened pit
        flavors the curry

        –Betty Shropshire

        the family’s grudge
        celebrates a century

        –batsword

        first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

        I don’t see this ‘flaw’. Sure, I can see that snow is white and we have ‘blackened’ in the ‘leap-over verse’, and some might say that mirroring returns attention to the last -but-one, but

        1. charred fuel or the coating caused by the smoke from it (in this case, from smouldering ‘dung cakes’) is not dirt in the literal sense & it’s only according to opinion that it might even be described as ‘dirty’ (which is different again)

        2. Vasile’s use of ‘dirt’ is literal/ realistic … dirt/ uncultivated,bare ground/earth/soil … as well as being so fittingly and humorously metaphorical.

        I see no flaw whatsoever in this choice. , no connection between dirt and blackened. 🙂

        …and thanks for spelling out your understanding of what constitutes a ‘cut’ in haiku. I’d guessed this was your position some time earlier in the course of the renku.

        I don’t agree that variations in syntax … the inversion of normative syntax alone (a modifying or qualifying phrase preceding the simple, active sentence/statement as in your example) can create a cut. To my understanding, both

        the branches break
        from the burden of ice

        and

        from the burden of ice
        the branches break

        … are uncut, but that’s a discussion for another time & place. 😉

        I think it’ll be clear to everyone now that at least for the purposes of this renku such inversions of the more normative form in spoken English will count as a cut.

        – Lorin

      42. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        is that a pearl
        inside the oyster shell?

      43. first snowfall
        covering little by little
        all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldova

        chubby fingers gingerly
        poke the holly sprigged paper

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