Hello everyone. I am John Stevenson and I will be guiding you through the composition of a twenty-verse (nijûin) renku.
We are off to an energetic and creative start, with 165 verse two offerings from 46 poets. And that is with one less day than we have usually had in which to submit those offers. Great work!
Before focusing on some much-appreciated verses and my selection, there are a few things I would like to emphasize.
Renku is, above all, a collaborative art. This is unusual in our poetry world, where the emphasis is strongly on individuality and the unique voice. So, it is hardly surprising that one of the things that disqualified more offers than anything else was the evident attempt of the poets to offer a “stand alone” verse. In renku, the opening verse (hokku) is the only verse that aspires to this quality. Thereafter, each verse attempts to connect with its predecessor in such a way that the poetry sparks between the two verses rather than within each.
Many of the submitted verses clearly were not based upon the stated requirements – no indication of an autumn setting, etc. I wonder if there isn’t a tendency to begin linking to other submitted verses rather than the assigned verse that is already part of the renku. In any case, I recommend that you compare your verses to the listed requirements before submitting them.
And a few words about moon verses, since our third verse will have to feature an autumn moon image. The moon, in renku, is not the word moon, as in “moon pie” or “mooning over puppy love.” In order to satisfy the requirements of the moon verse it is best to present some aspect of sensation arising from the presence of the actual moon.
And now, to focus on a few of your wonderful offers:
this side of the moon
Wendy C. Bialek
This is a solid moon verse. It links by contrast. The dragonfly is able to use its notable agility to achieve a new perspective but, as this verse reminds us, some things can only be seen from one side.
This is the kind of linking that we will want to see more of as we go along. The darting motion of the dragonfly relates to shivers.
a fairy ring of mushrooms
amid the fallen leaves
I imagine, fancifully, that the dragonfly may be startled by the sudden appearance of the fairy ring. I haven’t specified a list of season words/phrases for our use in this renku but I note that some such lists show “fallen leaves” as a winter image. The conventions of renku relating to season words are not always intuitive, especially for a world-wide group of writers.
one more walk
down the gleaned row
The first two verses of a renku often reflect, in some way, the experience of writing renku. This is especially the case in a live writing session, in which the second verse is traditionally written by the host. This verse can be read in that way. And, in the process, it recasts the opening verse as a reference to the experience of writing together.
so many nuts
on the hazel trees
Dragonflies have two large compound eyes, each with thousands of lenses, and three with simple lenses. Plenty for taking in the fruitfulness of large hazels
trace of a twinkle
in the waxwing’s eye
This verse has a bit of mischief in it. The waxwing may be contemplating eating the dragonfly. We will want this kind of fun later in the renku but, in the opening, we are going to maintain a more serene and a somewhat formal tone. Still, this is fun, isn’t it!
of the corn maze
This one set off all sorts of thoughts for me. I wondered how the achievement of human flight may have altered the human penchant for mapmaking. I wondered about how the dragonfly’s change of perspective through movement may relate to our changes of perspective through imagination. This is also a kind of linking that we will welcome later.
the scarecrow also
Some scarecrows have eyes. This one does. The immobility of this scarecrow contrasts with the constant “resetting” of the dragonfly.
Our second verse (wakiku) will be:
the scarecrow’s hat
skims across the pond
This offer satisfies all of the stated requirements for our second verse. Scarecrow is a widely recognized seasonal reference (kigo) for autumn. The verse is written in two natural lines, as a single phrase, without a grammatical break. It links closely to the first verse, adding something to the scene. And it transforms the scene, at least for me. My opening verse came from a kayaking trip last week. With the addition of the second verse, the body of water has become a farm pond – perhaps an old one, with one end having become marshy. It also suggests something that might have caused the dragonfly to back up and look again, namely the apparition of flying hat! I also like the scent of nostalgia from the wordplay involved in “skims.” A skimmer was a straw hat, often associated with boating, and popular in the early twentieth century. Just the sort of unused article that might be worn by a scarecrow.
Pauline will now be offered the opportunity to select our next verse. Please let me know, Pauline, if you would like to do so.
And now we move on to our third verse, the daisan. About this verse, Shinku Fukuda has written, “The renku really starts with the third verse. It should be different from the starting verses in scenes and places. If the [first two verses] are written about outdoors, the third had better be written about indoors, with persons.”
Our third verse (daisan) should:
- consist of three natural, unforced lines
- constitute a single phrase, without a grammatical break
- feature the moon (no need to include any other indicator of autumn because the moon in renku is always an autumn moon unless specifically indicated otherwise)
- be set indoors, with a human presence
- involve pleasant and peaceful themes
Think of the third verse as making a new poem when added to the second verse. Repeat nothing from the first verse.
Here is our renku, so far:
A Better Look (working title – we will make a final choice at the end)
for a better look
the scarecrow’s hat
skims across the pond
Please enter your third verse offers in the comments box, below. Pauline or I will be reviewing these offers until midnight on Monday, August 31 (New York time zone). On Thursday, September 3, there will be a new posting containing the selection for our third verse and instructions for composition of verse four.
Looking forward to seeing your offers. Keep up the good work!
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