The Renku Sessions: Pilgrims’ Stride 25

by John Stevenson on August 28, 2014

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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
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

the sting
of a paper cut
on her tongue

    –Terri French

{ 70 comments }

Book of the Week: The Duck’s Wake

by Jim Kacian on September 1, 2014

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witkinduck

Jeff Witkin’s first volume, self-published in 1996 and beautifully produced by Swamp Press, evinces a plangent and keening voice that no other haiku poet has quite matched in English.

You can read the entire book in the THF Digital Library.

Do you have a chapbook published 2009 or earlier you would like featured as a Book of the Week? Contact us for details.

Haiku featured in the Book of the Week Archive are selected by Jim Kacian, following a concept first explored by Tom Clausen, and are used with permission.




waving me from the formal garden that one wild aster
a hawk’s glide . . . on and on the clear mountain stream
another dream beside me in your own
ignored completely— during the dinner party a moose on the wall
daydreaming... you pass through the scent of peaches
learning  nothing at the Zendo

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Per Diem for September 2014: Gone Fishing

by Jim Kacian on September 1, 2014

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Fishing is one of our oldest pursuits, a source of sustenance and sanity. It has a significant literary history as well, as one of our first great prose stylists, Izaak Walton, in his Compleat Angler, supplied us with lure and lore for all those quiet times when the fish won’t bite. Haiku has been no slouch in addressing the topic either, of which guest editor Chad Lee Robinson takes full advantage. As he explains, his gallery “Gone Fishing” is

a collection of haiku exploring the rod and the reel, the lure and the line. British poet Ted Hughes once said, “Fishing provides that connection with the whole living world. It gives you the opportunity of being totally immersed, turning back into yourself in a good way.” Fishing is a time-tested tradition of the human race, one that allows for solitude and reflection, but it can also provide that rare opportunity for real one-on-one time with a friend or loved one. In a very real sense fishing pulls nature closer to us. Of course, we feel a kinship with the inhabitants of waters shallow and deep. And it does seem as though we can reel in the moon and the stars, or rub shoulders with those other fishermen—the birds. So grab your gear. You bring the worms and I’ll bring the beer.

Chad adds “Thank you to Charles Trumbull for sharing a catch of over 3,000 fishing haiku from his Haiku Database project, and to all the poets who allowed me to feature their haiku in this per diem.” See you on the water!

{ 1 comment }

Book of the Week: Westport Haiku

by Jim Kacian on August 25, 2014

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gibson_westporthaikucover

Robert Gibson’s moody poems (Holly House Publications, 2002) are nicely attuned to his moody subject, the fishing village of Westport on the Washington coast, threatened by gentrification and loss of its traditional way of life.

You can read the entire book in the THF Digital Library.

Do you have a chapbook published 2009 or earlier you would like featured as a Book of the Week? Contact us for details.

Haiku featured in the Book of the Week Archive are selected by Jim Kacian, following a concept first explored by Tom Clausen, and are used with permission.




nearly asleep watching firelight dance on the surf
pacific shore a flock of sandpipers rising as one
albatross on the sand becoming sand
beach road kids’ bare feet out the windows
empty lots stacked high with crab traps smell of winter
it’s gone now the freighter that followed the curve of the earth

{ 3 comments }

The Renku Sessions: Pilgrims’ Stride 24a

by John Stevenson on August 21, 2014

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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
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
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

{ 77 comments }