Hello everyone. I am John Stevenson and I will be guiding you through the composition of a twenty-verse (nijûin) renku.
Michelle Beyers is our selector this week. She has made her selection from 187 offers, by 35 poets. Here is her report:
“Our currently evolving 20 verse (nijûin) renku now, in verse 6, is shifting to the subject of love and has moved from the prologue (jo) into the ha or development portion of the poem. In keeping with the tradition of creating a successful “longish” renku, one where there are clearly delineated stages of prologue (jo), development (ha) and conclusion (kyû), I tried to choose a unique linking verse that provides a sense of progression and vigor or vitality as well as contributes to the work’s overall variety and most importantly to its “lightness” (karumi) and spirit, all of which Basho deemed of utmost importance in a masterful renku.
In addition, I tried to choose one that doesn’t hearken back to the first four verses in either imagery or diction. I looked for a standout verse that shifts to the theme of a human love relationship while simultaneously avoiding any regression especially to the image of the female figure (farm wife with braids) already depicted in the rustic autumn setting in stanza three.
I also try to avoid any stand-alone verses, bearing in mind that the hokku (1st verse) alone is meant to carry the weight of that position while the others are there to provide the “umph” or driving force of the engine, if you will, in a continually shifting and transcendent movement with each succeeding verse offering up new inflections and innuendos-subtle variations between itself and the preceding maeku-much like an improvising jazz singer might spontaneously offer a new note or tone varying the composition by subtly linking without repeating through well-established techniques such as reflection, echo, etc.
Now, to turn to the verse offerings. There are many grand offerings this week that make this job oh so extremely challenging, to say the least. Having looked over them all, I will select ten to discuss, laying out my reasons for choosing them. In choosing these, I will apply Basho’s ideas of object, meaning, scent, etc. linking discussed in Higginson, and, in particular, I will try to choose ten verses which seem to successfully “move into” the sort of zen realm of “experiencing” the preceding verse without regressing but reflecting something new off it in some way, thereby creating what John so wittingly calls a flying “spark” or some exciting element between the two verses.
I was attracted to all the kimono verses offered this week, rich in Japanese context and culture as well as to their hint of the kimono being a form of luxurious wrapping like the pear’s cellophane in verse five. I especially like the kimono of clouds image in Jonathan Alderfer’s verse which evokes a relatively “see through” image mirroring cellophane.
her kimono of clouds
conceals a dragon
that kimono of silken clouds
conceals a dragon
The oriental dragon image could be a martial arts reference or to a “tattoo” as In the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Its usage here in a love verse causes the reader to wonder about its significance. Is the image literal or symbolic? By definition, dragon is an archaic giant mythical serpent and here in a love verse, the dragon might be considered somewhat of a phallic symbol. This is an interesting verse rich in concrete imagery that would add variation and texture to the renku. The link to verse five is established in that the kimono of clouds is like the outer casing of the cellophane surrounding the pears, and the clouds themselves are somewhat transparent or at least ephemeral, so to speak. The verse also establishes a link to verse five in a play on the word “conceals” as it creates a sort of antithesis of the pears exposed in plain sight and unhidden through transparent cellophane. What I find exciting about this verse is its tone, directness and concrete imagery. The revised version of Jonathan’s verse removes the “her” making the gender nonspecific.
The only problem with all the verses that speak of ‘her’ is their appearance would create a placement, as both John and Higginson’s paper say, too close to another ‘she’ in verse three of our current renku, causing the renku to fall out of balance.
Being a painter, I am also attracted to the verses that play on the human figure as a reference to the artistic world’s centuries old tradition of using pear as a still life subject to represent the female figure.
The verse that paints a picture of beach love spilling sand in her ‘grooves’ by Shelley Baker-Gard seems to fall into this category with the link of the word ‘grooves’ mirroring the pear’s curvilinear shape in verse five. Being a big beach lover, I can’t help falling in love with the verse but the fact that it is set in summer makes it a seasonal verse.
beach love spills
sand in her grooves
Just as sensuous and contextually appealing in calling forth the artistic tradition of seeing fruit as feminine form is Maxianne Berger’s:
the lithesome curves
of his beloved
Similar to Baker-Gard’s verse, this one presents the nude as a serene sort of still life but here as seen through the male perspective with the use of the word ‘his.’ Again, the curves mirror the curvilinear shape of the female, and in the art world, pear has often been associated with the female figure.
Keeping the goal of variation in mind, I want to focus on the chosen love verse as representative of an actual human figure since every verse thus far, aside from the farmer’s wife in verse three, establishes linkage by depicting imagery of some object/animal in a physical setting, and to avoid repetition, and preferably feature a male image.
his naked buttocks
through the shower screen
Pauline O’ Carolan
The image of the male nude in Pauline O’ Carolan’s verse also seems to evoke the artistic tradition of seeing the human form as still life subject matter as it calls forth the curves of his shape to create a spark as a kind of mirror of the curves of the pear seen in verse five.
opens a window
late night serenade
under an open window
The scent of pear can be thought of as evocative of one of the more ephemeral of sensory perceptions, like hearing in the sound of music, and the sound of the serenade definitely calls forth a beginning love bloom like that of Romeo and Juliet, as opposed to a later stage romance which might be used in verse seven. Further, the “opening” of the see-through glass window seems to be a run on the image of “wrapping” of the see-through “cellophane” in verse five. The act of opening the window to hear the serenade of the beloved reflects the opening of the gift of pears in wrapped cellophane.
Wendy C. Bialek
This seems to capture in as few words as possible the highest form of love while it simultaneously plays on the transparency of both an ideal love between man and woman and the see-through cellophane in verse five, using what Basho calls a play on the “meaning” of a certain word evoked in the preceding verse’s image to create a spark between the two verses. It seems to me that a transparent love arrives at truth above all else. Merriam-Webster defines transparent as “having the property of transmitting light without appreciable scattering so that bodies lying beyond are seen clearly.” A true love between two people is both diaphanous, in transmitting all their love and light to each other, and unabashed about revealing their true and natural selves.
his prickly chin
over my smooth thighs
Wendy C. Bialek
A second verse by Wendy C. Bialek brings the male nude to the foreground and creates a link by playing on the word “prickly” as in “prickly pear” and perhaps the slang word “prick” which might allude to something more than the figure’s chin. The clever allusions, the play on word meaning as well as an introduction of Self/Other and the introduction of a concrete male figure make this an enticing verse to consider as well.
Harry and David
renew their vows
Michael Henry Lee
What I like about this verse is its deadpan straight forwardness (just a six-word declarative sentence) and simplicity with a dash of tongue-in-cheekness, though I can’t be certain if it’s a wry commentary on the luxurious style of gourmet food mail catalogue ordering or not. Just a little background for those not residing in the United States. Those residing in the United States will immediately recognize the two given names Harry and David as the renowned upscale company that goes by that name. Harry and David, a famous deliverer of delicious treats, nicely wrapped towers of Bing cherries, chocolates, baklava, fruits and the like. As it turns out, Harry and David were two brothers, however, who went to university, and upon earning degrees in Agriculture, inherited their father’s pear farm in Oregon. As they began nurturing their crops in the Rogue Valley of Oregon, they began specializing in the Comice Pear, known to be especially delectable and juicy. They promptly gave it the exotic name Riviera and began rapidly cultivating it, packing it in colorful boxes and wrapping and shipping it all over, going on to make a fortune in the process. Back to our love verse.
By referencing the Harry David company, there is an obvious link to the pear in verse five. Bringing the two male names together as a “renewal of vows” here as offering for a love verse automatically introduces a theme of same-sex love, not an unheard-of theme in Basho’s day. In Basho’s “Narrow Road,” verse 23, he speaks of same-sex love with the image of a male prostitute as an incense vendor.
I cite this example just to show the love verses of Basho were open minded and not adverse to illustrating the idea of same-sex love. As a love verse, Michael’s verse speaks of a longstanding relationship being renewed rather than a fairly new one. It may also be a sort of commentary on the fact that studies have shown same sex marriages tend to be quite well off and capable of enjoying the finer tastes of gourmet food companies. Basho, being somewhat poor, has many verses that speak of food considered to be luxuriant such as ‘broiled parsley.’
it’s just the words
you whisper in my ear
Here is another evocative verse I was drawn to. The central image of two lovers up close enough to whisper soft sounds of love to each other is a sensual one. While the image of the ear indeed has a bit of a pear shape, it may be a bit of a stretch in its link to verse five. The introduction of a Self/Other is a new one and would add an exciting new dimension to our renku. I wonder if its focus on sound appears too close to the ‘creak of the mailbox’ in verse four, however. At any rate, it’s a beautiful love verse.
impressed by the firmness
of his six-pack
A second verse offering by Carol Jones calls forth the image of an athletically fit male which would be a welcome addition to the renku as it introduces a male figure, which we haven’t seen yet.
The image of the ‘six-pack’ or set of well-defined abdominal muscles of the male figure conjures up pleasurable sensory images in the reader’s mind, and its use of slang terminology adds a lighter, less formal tone to the work, thereby adding a new textural dimension.
anniversary wine corks
fill a jar
Another verse that is ingenious in its employment of object linking, this one connects the transparency of cellophane wrapping pears to a glass jar holding anniversary corks.
It’s a simple and beautiful commemorative image that immediately brings up the memorable image of Wallace Stevens’ jar in his poem “Anecdote of the Jar.” In that poem, we see a jar being placed on a hill in the wild natural environment and it taking precedence, indeed eventually “dominion,” over the natural world.
Debbie Scheving’s verse seems to elevate the jar as an image, becoming symbolic of a unifying force of nature, human love, and the passage of time. It becomes a representation of a relation of harmony and unification rather than one of disjointed separation providing equanimity and a tranquil balance between the natural environment, man and time.
Finally, I would like to congratulate all the poets who continue writing and participating in the renku session here day to day. The final decision was challenging simply because there are so many excellent poets here! Finally, I want to thank John for all the hard work that he does day to day in providing a nurturing and creative space to learn and grow in the art of renku.
Some of the appealing verses that have the central image of a female or refer to ‘her’ have to be put aside to avoid regression in the linkage. Since we haven’t had a prominent male figure this far, for the sake of variety, I am choosing Wendy C. Bialek’s poem for verse 6.
his prickly chin
and my smooth thighs
Wendy C. Bialek
This verse captures the essence of sensuality in its clever allusions to the pears of verse five (“prickly pear” and so forth) and highlights curvilinear shapes in the image of the couple, painting them in a kind of portrait/still life with a seeming clever play upon the centuries old tradition in the art world that uses pear to symbolize the human figure. It also projects a still life or snapshot image of the couple while bringing the male more prominently to the foreground. There was a minor edit simply to avoid repetition and regression back to verse one. The original word “over” was edited to “and” so that the verse doesn’t hearken back to the word “hovering” in verse one. Congratulations, Wendy!
John speaking now:
Wendy C. Bialek will now be offered the opportunity to select our next verse. Please let me know, Wendy, if you would like to do so.
And now we move on to our seventh verse, the second and final one in our first pair of love verses. A second pair of love verses will appear later in this renku.
Love verses, in a renku, are about relations between adult human beings. They are not about “love of reading,” “love of gardening” or anything other than adult people. They can be sensual, sexy, sentimental, wry, etc. Since verse six is indefinite regarding early or late stages of a relationship, we are relatively free about this in verse seven. But we should not revert to a period that precludes earlier physical intimacy – a first meeting, for instance.
Our seventh verse should:
• consist of three natural, unforced lines
• constitute a single phrase, without a grammatical break
• avoid any seasonal topic
Think of the seventh verse as making a new poem when added to the sixth verse. Repeat nothing from the first five verses. Be especially careful not to draw our attention back to verse one or verse five.
Here is what we have, so far:
A Better Look (working title)
for a better look
the scarecrow’s hat
skims across the pond
finds the farm wife
undoing her braids
of the mailbox
of bosc pears
wrapped in cellophane
his prickly chin
and my smooth thighs
Wendy C. Bialek
Please enter your verse offers in the comments box, below. Wendy or I will be reviewing these offers until midnight on Monday, September 28 (New York time zone). On Thursday, October 1, there will be a new posting containing the selection for our seventh verse and instructions for composition of verse eight.
Looking forward to seeing your offers!
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