I am John Stevenson and I will be your guide for a twenty-stanza, nijûin, renku.
This might be a good time to provide relative newcomers (and remind the more experienced) about some things that must be considered when composing renku verses.
One reminder would deal with the nature of kigo. These seasonal references are not always intuitive. Some things that might seem natural aspects of a season do not appear on the list of kigo we are using for this renku. Sunbathing, tanning and sunscreen, for instance, are intuitively summer topics but they are not listed. So, we have to pass on otherwise tempting offers:
how their torrid affair
started with sunscreen
A second, and very important consideration, when composing renku verses, is the matter of avoiding any kind of linking to what has already been presented. Generally, this is what I mean when I say we should be linking to the immediately previous verse and in no obvious way to other previous verses. But there is another layer of concern about this in regard to any possible linking to the hokku (first verse) and the verse occurring right before the verse to which we are currently linking (e.g. verse 4 when we are linking to verse 5). In these instances, we need to be especially careful.
So, although “fragrant breeze” is a perfectly acceptable kigo, it can be a problem when the hokku (and possibly the title) features “way of the wind.” As a result, we have to pass on some really lovely offers.
the way she sways
in the fragrant breeze
a fragrant breeze
perfumes their yearning
Carol J Judkins
And when the verse before the verse to which we are currently linking features an article of clothing (“cap”) we cannot use the otherwise available late summer kigo of “thin clothing.”
her thin dresses
hanging out in his mind
That verse also suggests music, so we have to avoid, for now, any images of dancing:
the smouldering heat
in your midnight tango
their sweet nothings
silenced by cicada song
Wendy C. Bialek
We can become too extreme in finding these “back links.” In the course of my renku practice. I have come to feel that all entities are connected, either directly or through common connection to some third entity. Taken to an extreme, this would soon prevent any possibility of avoiding a “back link.” So, a reasonable level of alertness to this issue must be employed.
Any sense of linkage to prior verses other than the hokku or the “one before the last” verse can be approached with more tolerance. Because, for instance, the second verse implies but does not specify the presence of a creek or river, I might or might not give some thought about whether it is too soon to select a verse that features or implies other bodies of water:
young lovers swimming out
to the third sandbank
they lie entwined
behind the waterfall
talked into a swim
down to our last layers
swimming with the girl
who moves like Marilyn
Similarly, since the second verse invokes but does not directly depict a plum tree, I might wonder if it is too soon for:
I ask the phoenix tree
am I too old to love
Having expressed concerns about all of the above offers, I want to make the point that I had each of them on my short list and was tempted by all of them.
One way of thinking of a renku is that it is a sampler of the range and variety of things that make up our world, the heavens, and our outer and inner lives as human beings. In that sense, it cannot be comprehensive and any one image can represent many aspects of the whole.
Here is what I have selected as our sixth verse:
mosquitoes know that my wife
has sweeter blood
It’s actually fairly rare that a renku reaches the sixth verse before including any non-human creature. We now have included the topic of “insect” and will probably not want another until near the end of this renku, if at all. At some later point, we may want a bird, fish, reptile or mammal but not in the next couple of verses.
As a love verse, this one deals with an established relationship. It therefore precludes us from courtship and “love at first sight” in the following love verse. The character of the love in this verse is open to interpretation. Perhaps it implies that the poet has a wife who is sweet in other ways, too. Perhaps it implies a selfishness – take her, not me, mosquitoes.
Here is what we have, so far:
Way of the Wind
we follow the way
of the wind
kids playing pooh sticks
with plum blossoms
the long day opens
with a chime of pots
on the kitchen island
a coin in the cap
of a street busker
low on the hips
of the horizon
mosquitoes know that my wife
has sweeter blood
We are now completing our first pair of love verses. The love verses in a renku are about love between adult human beings. So, love of pets, ice cream, etc. will not satisfy the requirements.
The requirements for verse seven will be as follows:
- A three-line verse of seventeen syllables or less
- With no seasonal image (no kigo)
- With a focus on love between adult human beings in an established relationship
- Without a grammatical break
- Linking in some way to verse six (and in no obvious way to previous verses)
For this renku, we will be using this site (http://www.2hweb.net/haikai/renku/500ESWd.html) as the source for our season words and images. We should also check it when writing non-seasonal verses in order to be sure we have not used a kigo without intending to.
I will be reviewing your offers until midnight on Monday, June 14 (New York time). On Thursday, June 17 there will be a new post in which I will announce my selection of the seventh verse, comment on some of the other offers, and issue instructions for writing verse eight offers.
Thank you, everyone,
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