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The Renku Sessions: Pilgrims' Stride 7

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.

Twenty-four poets offered us fifty-seven verses this time. It was fun to see a number of poets working with the image of a helicopter. Other verses that seemed tempting included offers by Marion Clarke (castle gates), Stella Pierides (chestnut on the stove), and Christopher Herold (patio heater). The final choice came down to a decision between the verse I have chosen and Scott Mason’s the straw cowlick. Either would serve effectively in this position, though I feel that the one I’ve chosen has the edge.

Our seventh verse comes from Alice Frampton. The only thing that gave me some second thoughts about it was its brevity. I personally enjoy brevity but not all renku practitioners agree on this point. One thing that is sometimes criticized is a tendency to make a natural two line verse into three unnatural lines (or a three line verse into two) in order to “fit” a slot. My feeling is that each of these three short lines is fully justified.

The autumn season reference is “fog.” While there can be many readings of such a verse, I am reading a sense of menace into it based upon the current use of drones in warfare. Such a tone has only now become permissible in the renku and its appearance here confirms that “we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Here is the verse you must link to:

slight hum
of a drone
in fog

    –Alice Frampton

The next verse, the eighth, is our first love verse of the renku. There are two points I would like to make about love verses. Firstly, these are verses about love between adult human beings. They are not concerned with love of country, ice cream, or a favorite pet. They can be, though they don’t have to be, erotic in nature. Secondly, as is the case with groups of seasonal verses, it is important to maintain a sense of forward movement in time. So a first love verse that deals with the death of a lover is going to be hard on the person writing the second love verse (though nothing is impossible). Here are the formal requirements for verse eight:

  • Non-seasonal (avoids any topics assigned to a specific season in our list of season words)
  • Written in two lines, without a cut
  • Linking with the seventh verse, and only the seventh verse
  • Shifting widely to a new topic and setting relating to love between adult people

Add your suggested two-line link below, in the Comments box. You have until midnight EST, Tuesday, April 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, April 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 shrines–
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

a dragonfly hovers
over the swaying reeds

    –Karen Cesar

slight hum
of a drone
in fog

    –Alice Frampton

This Post Has 120 Comments

  1. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog
    –Alice Frampton

    this paper heart-shaped
    love note on my pillow

  2. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog
    –Alice Frampton

    and now this heart-shaped
    love note on my pillow

  3. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    –Alice Frampton

    sweet words of love
    echo and echo

  4. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    – Alice Frampton

    swept off her feet
    by a wink and a smile 🙂

  5. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    – Alice Frampton

    she trembles as he slips
    the ring on her finger

  6. my ex and I
    speed dating

    (though I like the improper English of the previous version)

  7. Yo Chris,

    Love the speed dating one!
    My old age poem too close to Grandmother, now that I think about it.

    Smiles,
    Alice

  8. Just for fun –

    after seventy-five years
    they still hold hands

    (My aunt and uncle)

  9. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    –Alice Frampton

    our 20-year marriage
    is better for its battles

    – Leah Meyers

  10. slight hum
    of a drone
    In fog

    – Alice Frampton

    from dreams of Mr Darcy
    she wakes to Mr Bean

  11. slight hum
    of a drone
    In fog

    – Alice Frampton

    his blush deepens
    beneath the weight of her gaze

  12. slight hum
    of a drone
    In fog

    – Alice Frampton

    his blush deepens
    under the weight of her gaze

  13. slight hum
    of a drone
    In fog

    – Alice Frampton

    her hand trembles
    as he slips on the ring

  14. A play on words with missiles and missives.

    slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    –Alice Frampton

    counting the number
    of tear-stained missives

    –Alan Summers

  15. Alice,

    “[M]ight renku have undergone some changes, and actually be in flux even as we speak[?]”

    Absolutely. It is growing out of itself like a water lily. A tradition that is constantly evolving.

    The advent of internet communications has accelerated the process, for better and for worse.

    I’ve composed renku in a variety of settings. My first one was composed over my kitchen table, with Ion Codrescu as my guest and guide. It took us most of a morning (20 verse format). Face-to-face composition remains my favorite kind of renku experience and I seek it out wherever the opportunity exists. I have even participated in a series of live performances in collaboration with a Japanese dance company (and poets Bill Higginson, Penny Harter, and Terry Ann Carter) in which we alternated improvised dance, music, and poetry in a renku-based format.

    My favorite on-line experiences have been of two kinds. One was a long series of compositions led by Professor Fukuda, which resulted in the publication of a renku book titled “Pilgrimage.” The other is a series of experiences in which I have worked with a single poet, often a newcomer to renku. It seems to me though, that our current effort is significantly different than any on-line experience I’ve had. And a world of difference when compared to any face-to-face compositions.

    PS to Alan. The more verses the better!

  16. Thanks for all the hard work John. I feel guilty adding a few verses now, so I’ll just post one at the moment, and let the conversation continue.

    warm regards,
    Alan

  17. Dear John,

    You’re doing a great job. I’m really enjoying all the input, and I’m learning so many new things, or things I’ve forgotten. And I’m so glad Lorin helped me find the archives, so now I feel that I’ve been part of the party from the beginning.

    I’d like to know if you feel, as haiku has undergone some changes, so, too, might renku have undergone some changes, and actually be in flux even as we speak, as you’ve pointed out how different are the venue and timeline?

    I, for one, like a bit of flexibility to keep things interesting. I feel your balancing act hits the mark.

    With a bow to the pioneer,
    Alice

  18. Mary and everyone,

    No offense taken. This might be an opportunity to say something I haven’t yet said about the project we are undertaking.

    I have two main tasks here. One is obvious – serving as your guide in this renku session. The other may be less obvious. As the inaugurator of this feature, which I hope will continue with other leaders, I have to attempt to establish a model that will work now and in the future.

    There are some special challenges involved. An open public and international forum is a near antithesis to the setting in which renku was first developed and practiced. In order to fairly present some semblance of a renku session on-line and with an open and fluid group, I have to perform both the traditional role of sabaki and also the role of pioneer. To succeed as a pioneer, one must adapt to new realities. Some of the new realities of leading a renku session under the present circumstances include:

    • The fact that the group consists of an unknown number of people
    • The group consists of people with extreme differences in past experience and present motivation for participation
    • The session is designed to take thirty-six weeks (originally, a Kasen renku would be completed in a single session, in less than a day)
    • The session does not take place face-to-face, so the penchant of internet communication to foster false impressions and misunderstandings is a factor and the loss of the opportunity to evaluate the clarity of one’s instructions by reading individual faces and body language.

    This is not a comprehensive list. I am exploring the terrain as we go and will appreciate any understanding and encouragement I get in the process.

    Thank you,
    John

  19. I just found my comment about the syls. I am writing on a new smart phone because I am away from lap top and I’m a bit slow. John,sorry if my comment was a kind of smart arse one. Brevity undid me.

    bleary eyed smile
    searching for his name

  20. Lorin excuse my clumsiness. I had no intention of undermining the Sabaki. John forgive me.

  21. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    accompanied by the click and whirl of cameras
    bride and bride exchange a soft kiss

  22. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    through the soft click and whir of cameras
    groom and groom exchange a kiss

  23. Glad to see most of the questions of the day have been answered while I was away from my computer, in rehearsals. Regarding the display of comments, Dave would be the person to contact about that.

  24. Dear Lorin and others,
    Found the archives by going into “search” and typing in “Pilgrim’s Stride 1 (or whichever number). Already found “no further cuts in this renku.” A rule to be remembered . . . this will really help.
    Thanks again!
    Yours,
    Alice

  25. @ Mary White

    “I and other Sabaki did this on many occasion Renku over at the Renku Group. Keep the chosen verse and adjust.”

    If you have been involved in renku at TRG, and had a go or three at being sabaki , then you’ll have been made aware of Rule #1: One renku, one sabaki.

    Query, but do not instruct the sabaki.

    – Lorin

  26. Thanks Lorin,

    I’ll find them then. I’d like to read from the beginning.

    Happy Spring,
    Alice

  27. a dragonfly hovers
    over the swaying reeds

    –Karen Cesar

    slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    –Alice Frampton

    emerging a bit ruffled
    from her Obsession

  28. Hi Alice,
    I can answer your first question. Yes, John’s instructions for the previous verses are archived. There are two (or three) ways of accessing them.

    On the THF home page, you’ll find, at the top of the page:

    The Renku Sessions
    Join in The Renku Sessions, led by John Stevenson. Go to »

    1. Both The Renku Sessions (in blue) & Go to >> are live links to the archives . . . just click, then click the live-linked word ‘troutswirl’ and scroll down.

    2. Or, from home page, click ‘Social Media’ on the menu at the top, click ‘Blog’ and scroll down.

    In both cases, you’ll find all the other blog posts too, so scroll down until you find ‘previous entries’. ‘The Renku Sessions: Pilgrims’ Stride 6’, eg, is on the 2nd page, the others are further back.

    In my view, reading up the comments isn’t a problem, just something some may need to get used to. Each post has the date & time at the top, so it’s clear which comments were posted first.

    – Lorin

  29. John,

    I have a couple of housekeeping questions:
    I’m wondering if the previous comments from the earlier verses are archived somewhere, for learning/teaching purposes? (So that new poets can read back for rules.) I can’t seem to find them.
    Also, could there be an opposite way to record the comments, so as poets can read down through the comments instead of up through? Might be easier to keep the thread.
    Maybe Dave can help? Does he still set the website forms?
    (The above question about thread might not be possible technically. I’m just wondering.)

    Thanks again,
    Alice

  30. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog
    –Alice Frampton

    only now I find
    your love note at my door

  31. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    –Alice Frampton

    his parting words between her tears
    we’ll always have Paris

  32. Hi John

    I like the drone verse. It links well. No KB. 7 syls following an 11 slys 2 line verse and opening the second side? In my humble opinion asking for the verse to be tweaked to add syls/cadence would be a solution. I and other Sabaki did this on many occasion Renku over at the Renku Group. Keep the chosen verse and adjust

  33. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    -Alice Frampton

    thatch fire lovers
    an infinitesimal death

    -Patrick Sweeney

  34. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog
    –Alice Frampton

    through her veil.
    the bride watches the procession

  35. Thanks John!
    I’m enjoying reading all the submissions and comments, and looking forward to seeing where the renku goes next.
    Smiles,
    Alice

  36. Alice,

    Two good questions.

    1) I would like the love verses to be clearly recognizable as such. That’s about as exact as I can be about it and I’m aware that this is quite open to interpretation. In my opinion, your example would not quite register clearly as a love verse (though context might tip things in its favor).

    2) We have a lot of participants (!!!) and I want to include as many poets in the renku as we can manage. It will almost certainly be quite a while before any poet appears a second time (if at all) but I dearly hope that everyone will keep playing and offering verses. One thing to bear in mind about that, though, is that your verse may serve as the inspiration for a variation by another poet and that variation may be what is selected. If you are up for that kind of collaboration, I certainly want to see your ideas whenever you feel like sharing an offer!

    Thanks for asking.

  37. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog
    –Alice Frampton

    chanting of the monks
    at their wedding

  38. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    –Alice Frampton

    their naked bodies
    on a heart shaped chaise

  39. Dear Group,
    I know I’m ineligible, but I’d like to pose a question and an example. Can the verse allude to love, or does it have to say it straight out?

    yarn over, yarn under . . .
    her due date

    ps. How many verses until I can resubmit? Sorry if this has already been discussed.

    Alice

  40. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    as your lips touch mine
    a jolt of electricity

    – Sandra Simpson

  41. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    as our hands come together
    a jolt of electricity

    – Sandra Simpson

  42. Thank you for the clarification John.

    slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    that heady fizz
    of our first kiss

    – Sandra Simpson

  43. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    –Alice Frampton

    a church bell rings
    for a shotgun wedding

  44. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    –Alice Frampton

    at a great distance
    they dream together

  45. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    –Alice Frampton

    silent phone unanswered
    year after year

  46. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    –Alice Frampton

    tender dreams flow between us
    untouched and touching

  47. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    –Alice Frampton

    our unhurried steps
    becoming hurried steps

  48. a dragonfly hovers
    over the swaying reeds

    slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    stretched out on her velvet couch
    a fifth beer in his hand

    * getting rid of ‘ ing’ adding a body part

  49. a dragonfly hovers
    over the swaying reeds

    slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    stretched out on her velvet couch
    drinking his fifth beer

    * maybe better flipped

  50. a dragonfly hovers
    over the swaying reeds

    slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    drinking his fifth beer
    stretched out on her velvet couch

    🙂 ( know I’m intelligible to play this round but loving the game)

  51. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    before our senior prom date
    her dad checked up on me

  52. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    –Alice Frampton

    a love letter
    in invisible ink

  53. slight hum
    of a drone
    in fog

    –Alice Frampton

    two wedding bands
    on the table

  54. I want to get back to the question from Sandra.

    “We have “sonata” on a “piano” being “played” and then, in the leap-over verse, we have “hum” … is there enough shift?”

    This is well observed, Sandra, and might indeed be considered a flaw in our renku. And it is less important to me that our renku be flawless than that we learn what its flaws may be.

    I don’t consider it a serious flaw myself but it’s important to acknowledge that reasonable people could disagree on this. Certainly if we had a person “humming” in verse seven, it would be too close to the contents of verse five. My feeling is that everything in verse five tends toward “music” and that the “hum” in verse seven is clearly “mechanical” in nature and in no way suggests music. But some would consider that just the emphasis on sound is too close.

    The degree of rigor we apply to these evaluations is something that can be tacitly agreed upon in most renku situations, where we have a set number of participants and some ground rules can be either stated in advance or developed in the course of practice. The manner of composition in which we are currently engaged is very different and new to me. In consequence, I have not been very rigorous in my approach. I am committed, for instance, to accepting one verse every week. In order to do this, I will have to take what I consider the best of what is offered, even if it results in some minor flaws. Or, rather, things that would be considered flaws if all of the participants were well versed in renku and had already agreed to a high degree of rigor in their practice.

    So, I acknowledge Sandra’s point. Before we submit our love verse, we should have a look at verse six, the new leap-over verse, and be certain that there does not seem to be any linkage.

  55. Lorin (and everyone),

    I anticipate that a very short verse will not be selected any time soon. If I select another short verse, it will probably not be before verse 19. Why 19?

    In case some of you are not confused enough – in addition to the three parts of the jo-ha-kyu, there is a sense in which the renku is divided into four “pages.” This comes from the traditional way in which a renku was recorded on paper in Japan. With this in mind, the ha (or development) can be thought of as consisting of two pages. Verses 7 through 18 are the first “page” of the ha and verses 19 through 30 are the second “page.” So, if I get a really tempting short verse 19 offer, I may take it. We’re talking about sometime in July!

  56. Thank you Lorin,

    However, with all the intellectual explanations and I emphasise intellectual, one is trying too hard to make it work. For me it does not work and spoils the whole collection so far. This is my gut reaction. When one has to explain intellectually, then one has lost the game already.

  57. error:
    “Will it affect the whole of the jo section?”

    Duh. I meant the ha section: Will it affect the whole of the ha section?

    jo-ha-kyu . . . never can remember these Japanese terms accurately!

    – Lorin

  58. 3-line & 2-line verses in English-language renku are of course an adaptation of the Japanese ‘long verse’ / ‘short verse’. Having an extremely minimal ‘long’ verse, such as Alice’s, to begin the jo section does bring up issues of flow & cadence. How will this affect verse 8? Will it affect the whole of the jo section? And the final section, kyu, the movement of which is ‘quick to the finish’?

    Perhaps it’s be good to hear from John about how he views these issues, and see if he has any guidelines regarding his expectations about length and cadence for verse 8, and onward from there.

    (John is in the unenviable position, as sabaki, of being the composer of the poem, but the group needs to know about any implicit expectations that might affect his choice of v. 8, and onwards. )

    – Lorin

  59. ps, Dru, it doesn’t matter, anyway, if a link to the previous verse is a close link. What John has pointed out about ‘shift’ is that it’s the verse before the previous verse that must be shifted away from entirely.

    eg, when writing verse C in context of verses A & B, we link to B and shift completely away from A.

    – Lorin

  60. Ruth and Dru,
    For what it’s worth, the ‘drone’ link occurred to me as well. I came on and saw Alice’s, so didn’t post or try to hone my drafts any further, but for the sake of information, here they are:

    swooping low
    a pawlonia leaf
    or a drone?

    seeds of grasses
    swirl in the sky
    behind the drone

    Spy drones have been seen (and heard) at least in the more Southern regions of the USA, more and more over the past year, or so I have heard. One more indication that we are definitely in the age of Big Brother.

    Alice’s verse links to the previous by an image of something hovering, but there’s a big difference between a dragonfly and a spy drone. The shift is from something natural to something man made, contemporary and with an ominous or secret purpose. One might enjoy the serenity of watching a dragonfly hovering (as they do, as they’ve always done, from time immemorial) over reeds, but a drone, whether seen or heard, is unsettling at least and implies a whole different experience than the tranquil, timeless river scene does.

    The two scenarios are linked, as they should be, but how can they be considered too close? Just by placing a drone in a ‘tranquil rural scene’ that scene is changed utterly. Consider Wallace Steven’s jar (a man-made artifact) placed in Tennessee:
    http://writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/stevens-ancedote.html

    How much more than that does everything shift if we place a railroad there? An iPhone? How much more if we place a military drone?
    – Lorin

  61. Oh, go on then, I’ll ask a question too … be it ever so humbly of the sabaki.

    We have “sonata” on a “piano” being “played” and then, in the leap-over verse, we have “hum” … is there enough shift??? This is such a nuanced thing that I’m always happy to learn more.

  62. It seems so close to the previous verse. It is also confusing for me despite the explanations.

  63. “The ONLY thing that gave me some second thoughts about it was its brevity.” Emphasis added.

  64. No, I’m sorry you thought that I would want do it “exactly right” (that would be silly), so I must not have framed my comments well. What I had in mind was the fact that you had a number of “second thoughts” for this verse, but chose it anyway. For example, the repetition, which you explained could not really be avoided, though to my mind, dragon fly, drone, hovering, and hum are simply not repetitive, they are interchangeable — probably good as a simile or metaphor in another context — plus the “brevity” and the “two lines into three unnatural lines” thingies. In short, there were just too many exceptions you gave this offer, which makes your “practice makes progress” something of a stab in the dark.

  65. Hi again, Ruth,

    When confronted with confusion, I tend to share it. I’m not sure that I am taking in exactly what you are asking here. I’ll focus on the question marks, to begin with.

    “[H]ow does one know what is “now” permissible?”

    This was asked in regard to the change in tone. I have covered this to some degree in earlier posts but let me review for those who may just be joining us. The renku has an aesthetic structure that consists of three movements. In Romanized Japanese they are referred to as jo-ha-kyu. An English equivalent would be something like prologue–development–fast finish. The jo or prologue of a thirty-six verse Kasen renku consists of the first six verses. During these verses, we write in a sedate, polite, and mildly formal way. Professor Fukuda said that we write as if “in a suit and tie.”

    The ha or development begins with verse seven and continues through verse thirty. This part of the renku is no longer constrained by a need to maintain the tone required in the prologue. It can and should contain material that covers a wider range of thought, emotion, and subject matter. In this particular instance, I am pointing out that a verse that introduces the ideas of warfare, modern technology, current events, and an emotional tone of menace or apprehension would not have been appropriate in the prologue. But, now that we are in a new section of the renku (verses seven through thirty), it is possible to employ these elements and, in fact, their appearance here is a good marker that we are in the ha or development portion of the renku and no longer in the prologue.

    “Weren’t we to have a new image/subject?”

    This is asked after a possible link to the previous verse is identified. Since each verse is supposed to both link to and shift away from its predecessor, I’m not sure if I understand your question. While I can see the linkage you describe (as well as other potential linkages), I have just described important ways in which this verse seven shifts away from the prior verse. My list is hardly intended to be exhaustive in regard to ways in which verse seven represents a shift – just a few illustrations.

    Those were the two question marks. Here are some additional thoughts, which may be off topic but, I hope, worth sharing.

    The requirement that we not repeat things can make some renku writers edgy. And, unfortunately, this can become ever more intensely the case as we get further along and have more images and topics that have already been introduced into the mix. It seems important to maintain a relaxed grip on this concept of “new image/subject.” Since everything in existence is connected, whether closely or remotely, it can become possible to find ways of making it nearly impossible to “shift” into an area that hasn’t been explored earlier in our renku if we think too hard about it. So, you are encouraged to maintain a soft focus. If anyone needs to strain a little about this business of constant shifting, it is me.

    My sense (I may be wrong) is that you want to know EXACTLY HOW TO DO THIS RIGHT. If I thought there was a way of satisfying that desire . . . never mind. There isn’t. If, on the other hand, you can enjoy picking it up a little at a time–a piece here and another there–immense progress is possible. Practice makes progress.

  66. With all due respect, John, I have found your choice of this verse very confusing. Thing is, if we are to be learning (as well as having fun), there are too many “second thoughts” – I would have even said perhaps “three or four thoughts.” With so many, it is a bit tricky to understand exactly what you want. Your thoughts included:

    1. brevity (not all renku practitioners agree on this point).
    2. two line verse into three unnatural lines.
    3. menace . . . based on current use of drones in warfare . . . such a tone has only now become permissible (though how does one know what is “now” permissible?).
    4. And my “thought” that a drone hovers too, which, to my mind, is just a repetition of the hovering dragonfly, w, and prompts me to ask: Weren’t we to have a new image/subject?

    Just don’t get this choice.
    Ruth

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