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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!

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