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The Renku Sessions: Pilgrims' Stride 25

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.

A heartening burst of creativity was our lot this time, with sixty-seven offers from a total of twenty-one poets. Even better, a large portion of these presented something new and savory for our renku.

It was a pleasure to see continued participation from some of the poets already included. I had wondered if their energies might flag at this point. Multiple “red” verses from Karen Cesar and Alice Frampton, along with “red” offers from Betty Shropshire and batsword, made it clear that I need have no fears on this point.

Looking for the opportunity to include a new contributor once again was made easy by a larger than usual set of “red” verses from this group of poets. Finalist verses were offered by Ellen Grace Olinger, Carmen Sterba, joel irusta, and Patrick Sweeney. Multiple finalists were offered by Terri French and Sandra Simpson.

When I say “finalist” verses, I mean those that, in their own right, exhibit strong poetic values and present images and tonal qualities that seem fresh and vivid. When all of a week’s offers have been reviewed and reduced to this “finalist” stage, I begin the process of looking at the technical issues that must play some part in selecting the single verse to be used. This can involve very slight distinctions. For instance, joel irusta’s a lightly scented letter / arrives with a postmark / from the future is just great but “lightly scented” is slightly redolent of “covering little by little” in the leap-over verse. I was very tempted by the sound / of her fingernails / tapping on glass by Terri French. But we have a really good supply of sound images already incorporated through earlier verses. The distinctions among finalist verses are rarely any greater than these I have described and all the poets I mention above are to be congratulated.

Our twenty-fifth verse comes from Terri French. Not only does it link nicely with its predecessor and turn it in a new direction, it also fulfills my request that this verse provide a “setup” for the love verses to follow it. I anticipate it being followed by some kind of “Taming of the Shrew” image, or something dealing with the painful aspects of love, or perhaps revisions of a love letter. These and many other love images might launch from the pad provided by this verse twenty-five.

Here is the verse you must link to:

the sting
of a paper cut
on her tongue

    –Terri French

The next verse, the twenty-sixth, is the first of two love verses. We will be starting over with the topic here and we will want of avoid repeating anything from our prior set of love verses (numbers eight and nine). Here are the formal requirements for verse twenty-six:

  • Non-seasonal love image (should not include words or phrases from our season word list)
  • Written in two lines, without a cut
  • Linking with the twenty-fifth verse, and only the twenty-fifth 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, September 2, 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, September 4 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

        –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

        –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


      first snowfall
      covering little by little
      all the dirt

        –Vasile Moldovan

      scraping the ice rink
      of blood, sweat and tears

        –Carole MacRury

      the sting
      of a paper cut
      on her tongue

        –Terri French

      This Post Has 77 Comments

      1. Dear John, Thank you. I understand better. I’ve been rereading what’s been written so far often, to see if I can write something that adds to the flow of the piece, while also following the rules for a verse. I love to learn.

        I’ve gotten the sense from your teaching and revisions in comments that the goal is to have variety and not repeat too much. So I guess the rereading so far is good from that viewpoint.

        I arrived later here! I went back to some of your earlier posts and believe it was there that I understood a little more that the cut is between the verses, and so the rule about writing verses without a cut does make sense to me now.

        The challenge of thinking about several factors at one time is wonderful. When I helped train teachers in special education, I’d say to understand a child’s difficulty in an area by thinking about what’s hard for them as teachers. To keep learning, to remember those feelings.

        I understand your response – “not a narrative form, not a story.”

        Thank you, Ellen

      2. ” I’m interested to learn how the renku as a whole works, or will read…”
        Ellen Grace Olinger

        This is a real challenge when we are new to renku. It is not a narrative form, not a story. Some readers will instinctively attempt to impose a story line on it. But it is not intended to be a story, any more than the daily “nextness” of life is a story, even though we instinctively attempt to impose a narrative on it, too. Since this is the case, reading a renku can be vexing for readers who don’t know what is behind it. I think I may have said in an earlier post that the main value in writing a renku is in the experience of writing it. I see the finished work as something like the box score of a baseball game. For one who knows how to read a box score and cares to use their imagination, it can somewhat recreate the game. But this is no substitute for having been there during the game, as a spectator or a player.

      3. the sting
        of a paper cut
        on her tongue

        – Terri French

        Revision note: The poem I wrote yesterday, “hearts printed on/the family tablecloth,” repeats “family,” a word batsword used in “the family’s grudge/celebrates a century.”

        Just beginning here, and was thinking of overall progression in terms of a relationship moving from a grudge to being able to share a meal, and the hearts on the cloth being a hint of forgiveness or inspiration.

        So perhaps:

        hearts printed
        on an old tablecloth

        as a love verse that has weathered a few things.

        Just an idea, a question. I’m interested to learn how the renku as a whole works, or will read, along with the requirements for each verse – something that can’t be known so far! Thanks, Ellen

      4. the sting
        of a paper cut
        on her tongue

        –Terri French

        an arrow shoots
        from Cupid’s bow

      5. the sting
        of a paper cut
        on her tongue
        -Terri French

        the last love letter
        remains unopened
        Vasile Moldovan

      6. the sting
        of a paper cut
        on her tongue

        –Terri French

        still a turn on, but that
        Mae West Lips sofa …

        – Sandra Simpson
        but he’s still a turn on

        – Sandra Simpson

      7. slightly revised:

        the sting
        of a paper cut
        on her tongue

        –Terri French

        his false lover’s words
        dripping with honey

      8. the sting
        of a paper cut
        on her tongue

        –Terri French

        a false lover’s words
        dripping with honey

      9. the sting
        of a paper cut
        on her tongue

        -Terri French

        romancing my itch
        with crimson veronicas

        -Patrick Sweeney

      10. the sting
        of a paper cut
        on her tongue

        –Terri French

        friends turn a blind eye
        to their office romance

      11. the sting
        of a paper cut
        on her tongue

        –Terri French

        his mistress snubbed
        by the country club set

      12. the sting
        of a paper cut
        on her tongue

        –Terri French

        leaving his dorms
        no longer a virgin

      13. the sting
        of a paper cut
        on her tongue

        –Terri French

        wondering how
        his kisses would feel

      14. Hi Jon…This is crazy making ☺…trying not to reflect back! covering/envelop. ..aaaaargh! Still having fun!

      15. the sting
        of a paper cut
        on her tongue

        –Terri French

        his stapler is grabbed
        by the office heartthrob

      Comments are closed.

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