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The Renku Sessions: Pilgrims' Stride 24a

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.

My error in the previous selection for this verse has required us to “hit the reset button” for verse twenty-four. In case anyone missed this last week, I made an error by selecting a verse containing a spring season word from our list when a winter season word was required. While imperfections are to be expected in the composition of a renku, my error in this case was so immense that it required immediate reconsideration and a new selection. I hope all of you will join me in thanking Polona Oblak for catching this before we got any further down the road. And thanks, also, to jerry julius for a great verse that, regrettably, we will have to forgo after all.

Aside from the overt error in my last selection, concerns have been raised that I am being inconsistent in my choices. While Lorin Ford is the poet who presented this idea, I imagine she is not alone in thinking so. It might be good if I explained my thinking in more detail than I have until now. So, I will take this opportunity to be clearer about what may seem like contradictions between what I am saying and what I am doing with my selections.

Question: In what way have I been absolutely consistent in my selections for every verse, so far?

Answer: I have included a new participant in the renku with each new verse.

These sessions were not originally my idea and I did not have a clear vision of them before we began our work together. Although I’ve written many renku, I find that attempting one under these circumstances is significantly different from anything I’ve done before. My sense of our current process and how it relates to renku as I have experienced it in other settings is changing as I learn from this new experience. Similarly, my sense of goals and what may be reasonably achieved here is changing.

What has emerged as most important to me is inclusiveness. If we could complete a kasen renku with thirty-six authors that would be great, especially if a large portion of them were new or relatively new to renku. But this may not be possible. We may not have new poets to consider all the way through verse thirty-six. And a second but still important consideration/goal for the sessions is presenting a fair (but not excruciatingly finite) representation of the rules of the game of renku.

In the Pilgrims’ Stride 23 post I indicated that I may soon have to use a verse from someone already included in the renku. If it wasn’t clear then, let me make it clear now that I am reluctant to do that. I have, on several occasions, reiterated various aspects of the “rules of the game” and then selected something that in some ways did not adhere to all of my instructions. These reiterations of the instructions are not for the benefit of those participants who are already experienced in renku, who I expect will follow the rules without my coaching. They are repeated in the hope that new and relatively new participants will pick them up, however imperfectly, little by little, so that I can continue to make progress toward my priority of inclusiveness.

What then is to encourage continued participation by poets who have already been included? This is a fair question. I would hope that some will say that it is simply fun to keep playing. And there is the chance that it will become necessary at some point to select a second verse from someone, despite my desire to continue welcoming new participants. Since I am making the rules a second priority, I can see how a few experienced participants may feel that they are not being served by these sessions and may feel disinclined to participate further. I hope there will be no hard feelings about this. It is just that my sense of what we can accomplish has evolved through the first two thirds of this experiment. Renku could be much more widely practiced among English-language poets. One of the things that I see as a turnoff for newcomers is a burdensome overemphasis on the rules in the first encounters, as if the rules were the most important thing when it is actually the creative and collaborative interplay of poets that matters first and most. This is not a masters class. If it were, an ever finer focus on the rules and other subtleties of the genre might be in order. I plan to continue to state and restate various aspects of the rules of the game but I plan to continue to apply them with soft hands, in the hope of encouraging new renku poets. I can’t expect everyone to like that but I hope it is at least clearer now what I am trying to do. And I do hope that most of you who have no guarantee of placing a second verse will simply enjoy the game and continue to “play along.” Your creative presence here is a real asset.

My new selection for verse twenty-four comes from Carole MacRury. In view of the need to start over on this verse, the image of resurfacing an ice rink, by clearing away the debris of the earlier portion of a game, seems irresistible. “Ice” is listed as “late winter” in our season word list. I checked this time.

Here is the verse you must link to:

scraping the ice rink
of blood, sweat and tears

    –Carole MacRury

The next verse, the twenty-fifth, is non-seasonal and will be followed by our final set of love verses. The challenge here is to “set up” the love verses without actually writing a love verse. Here are the formal requirements for verse twenty-five:

  • Non-seasonal image (should not include words or phrases from our season word list)
  • Written in three lines, without a cut
  • Linking with the twenty-fourth verse, and only the twenty-fourth 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, August 26, 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 28 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
      dur
      ing 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

      scraping the ice rink
      of blood, sweat and tears

        –Carole MacRury

      This Post Has 77 Comments

      1. scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        –Carole MacRury

        released from
        witness protection
        with new identities

      2. scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        champagne flute
        on the tallboy , I peruse
        his etchings

        hehehe sorry Sandra, I couldn’t resist :)

      3. scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        –Carole MacRury

        she steps out
        with her heart
        on her sleeve

      4. *revision*
        scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        his attempt to sell
        my parents’ bedroom suite
        doomed to failure

        – Sandra Simpson

      5. scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        –Carole MacRury

        she steps out
        wearing her heart
        on her sleeve

      6. Suddenly realised that my verse is only the 10th verse after the song lyrics – working out at the gym today and “Walk on the Wild Side” on the speakers (who says exercise is bad for you). So in case the ku is too close

        scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        his attempt to sell
        my parents’ bedroom suite
        doomed to failed

        – Sandra Simpson

      7. scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        –Carole MacRury

        several months
        of the prodigy’s vitae
        edited out

      8. scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        beer bottle
        on the windowsill, I flip
        through the LPs

        – Sandra Simpson

      9. scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        wine glass
        on the windowsill, I flip
        through the LPs

        – Sandra Simpson

      10. scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        – Carole MacRury

        back the next day
        to help clean her room
        for the next person

      11. Hi Lorin!

        For me, the learning curve would be much steeper without your wonderful and bold input.
        As I am a glutton for language that has aroma and scent…please stay. Truly. I want to continue to sop up the gravy…wish all the other great dishes would replenish this buffet. The banquet hall needs more saki to ya’s!

      12. scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        –Carole MacRury

        at the premier
        cameras flash
        as the stars arrive

      13. scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        in the back of the drawer
        a velvet-covered book
        full of underlining

        – Sandra Simpson

      14. Sorry, my long break is showing … a revision to create better sense

        scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        in the back of the drawer
        a velvet-covered book
        with its title in gold
        – Sandra Simpson

      15. ” In case anyone missed this last week, I made an error by selecting a verse containing a spring season word from our list when a winter season word was required. While imperfections are to be expected in the composition of a renku, my error in this case was so immense that it required immediate reconsideration and a new selection. I hope all of you will join me in thanking Polona Oblak for catching this before we got any further down the road. And thanks, also, to jerry julius for a great verse that, regrettably, we will have to forgo after all.

        Aside from the overt error in my last selection, concerns have been raised that I am being inconsistent in my choices. While Lorin Ford is the poet who presented this idea, I imagine she is not alone in thinking so. – John

        John, I’m responding here as I feel I’m in danger of being characterized as a pedantic, rule-bound and very experienced when in fact I’ve been involved in a relatively small number of renku, and none of them with an American sabaki before.

        My concern was not at all as general as you would have it, that you were being “inconsistent with (your) choices”. In regard to Jerry’s verse, it was specifically that ‘avalanche’ is not a winter season word on the list of kigo you’ve set, whilst you had specifically asked for a winter season word from that list.

        I’m personally very thankful to Polona for considering my concern instead of ignoring it and for taking the logical next step of checking for the word under the ‘spring’ kigo.

        I believe it’s that combination, John, which has made it possible for you to correct what you consider to be an error “so immense that it required immediate reconsideration and a new selection”.

        I certainly can agree with this:

        “Renku could be much more widely practiced among English-language poets. . . . it is actually the creative and collaborative interplay of poets that matters first and most.” – John

        I’m all for the promotion of more interest in renku and I take the opportunity to remind everyone that AHG’s renku editor, William Sorlien, welcomes submissions of renku up until the deadline of September 15th (for publication in the December issue)

        http://www.ahundredgourds.com/ahg33/index_submissions33.html

        – Lorin

      16. scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        a velvet-covered book
        in the back of the drawer
        with one corner folded down

        – Sandra Simpson

      17. scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        –Carole MacRury

        sandpaper
        and tung oil will restore
        your garage sale find

      18. scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        –Carole MacRury

        last minute offer
        for a trip
        to Transylvania

      19. scraping the ice rink
        of blood, sweat and tears

        –Carole MacRury

        our machines
        at the laundromat
        enter their spin cycles

      20. Well done, John! There were many excellent verses submitted, totally signaling that all poets, even newcomers to renku, are learning and enjoying this game/collaboration.
        I, for one, loved the avalanche verse, so much so that I failed to check the sajiki, too. Good catch, Polona! Wonderful verse, Jerry! I know Jerry will submit many other wonderful verses. I’ve been enjoying reading all the verses, even if they are not chosen . . . almost like a poetry book, and I’m getting to know everyone’s voice by their writing. That’s the part I love so much . . . poetic voices and fun.
        Congratulations Carole! Happy to see your voice appear. Your Canadian heritage is shining through. Love the tears . . . Of joy and defeat, setting us up nicely for the love verses . . . Love of the game.
        Thanks everyone! Time to get busy again creating!

      Comments are closed.

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