Hello everyone. I am John Stevenson and I will be guiding you through the composition of a twenty-verse (nijûin) renku.
Kiti Saarinen is our selector this week. We received 167 verses, from 29 poets. Here is her report:
“It was a great honor to read everyone’s splendid offerings. Many thanks to all of you. The selecting wasn’t easy at all. I had several questions – thanks to John for his guidance during the process. I learnt that it’s good not to have too many indoor or outdoor verses in a row, not too many daylight/night time verses in a row either. There is a need for variety among first, second, third and no person verses. For this verse, though, the main thing was to make certain it registers clearly as either a winter or summer image.
“Repeat nothing from the first seven verses” – so birds, cats, animals, proper nouns, quoting and agriculture were already sufficiently covered. Also, the verse shouldn’t contain a pause in the three lines.
Here are the offerings that most held the attention, some of them commented upon.
on the mind
but this fly
Wendy C. Bialek
an army of ants
swiss cheese holes
Wendy C. Bialek
fills with gratitude
in the latter days
Under the tree
in a vase
breezes rocking mom’s
front porch chair
red blotches on snow
are the sad remains
of a ragged flag
has become part
of an old pine
an evening downpour
our car eating up the miles
footprints through snow
out of snow
snow on snow and
the round vowels
of summer roll
from the temple bell
of warm cognac
on that express train
easier to survive
on a beach
For the following poems, I offer a “dialog” of John’s comments and mine:
white in tooth
Kiti: A brilliant reference to Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw.”
John: Yes, a good verse. We can name a season to satisfy the seasonal requirement but I would prefer to hold that card for use later, if at all. And I’m a little concerned about something so nearly a quote from literature when we have a quote by a painter in the leap-over-verse (verse 7, in this case).
with a smile
the watermelon seller
cuts it in two
Kiti: Nice links to verse eight! The seller has a got a catch too, the client. I like the imagery and the atmosphere very much.
John: We have a fruit named in verse five. Probably won’t want to name another fruit in such a short renku, especially since we will have a blossom verse and this is, most traditionally, cherry blossoms or other blossoming fruit trees.
the hill in spite
of the heat
Kiti: To win oneself. Continuing the theme of conquering, but not being too close. I really like this one, its energy and compactness, but wonder about rhythm and matching to verse eight. They both have –ings, what do you think about that?
John: Clearly a summer image. Better not to match “devouring” with “conquering” but easy to fix if we selected this verse.
after the picnic
John: If our verse eight tells us something a little unpleasant about the cat, this answers by suggesting we are not in a position to pass judgement. There might be some question about whether picnic and (implied) outdoor cooking amount to summer kigo.
Kiti: Yes, it shows that we are not that far away from cats… Cat sometimes washes himself after the meal. Washing the skewers, a little bit different from everyday work, feels fresh in this verse.
Kiti: A strong visual image, which includes the human presence and the active verb. Red tides are toxic or harmful algal blooms, which may look like blood (link to the cat’s catch). In Laurie’s verse there can be seen a struggle too, a slow one, where the environment is disadvantaged.
John: A vivid image. Again, it’s not forbidden to name the season, but not preferable. And we can easily fix “wading” if we select this verse.
of being first
at the ice cream truck
John: This summer verse (ice cream) contrasts the “innocent” feeding of children, though they also are likely to “devour” their treats. And there is, already, the instinct to compete with their fellows for the best meal.
Kiti: The importance of being first is so true and funny.
is not in the snowman
John: This is a little less a winter verse than an imaginary winter verse. But it is playful and there is the common idea that those who live in the frozen regions have many more words for snow than the rest of us. It relates to your verse mainly by the contrast of fantasy with reality.
Kiti: Yes, in Finland we have over 20 words for snow in common use… Nothing lasts forever – there is a great balance between sad and playful in Dan’s verse.
in the summer
Kiti: A great, summery image that squirms. I liked it immediately. Linking is clear, the remains of the bird and earthworms, but should it be a little bit further? The word “rise” has been mentioned earlier in the renku.
John: Yes. If we selected it, we would have to change “rise.”
My choice for verse 9 is:
fills the tracks
of a thief
The cat in verse eight can be thought as a thief in several ways. Cats are stealthy. In general, when eating birds, or, if stealing a budgie and eating it outside… A meal fills your stomach, snowfall fills the tracks. A compact, clear winter verse, which invites us to write the next verse.
I’d like to thank John for his most kind guidance during the process. I noticed the same as Pauline earlier wrote: that made me conscious of the time and effort that a sabaki brings to the creation of a renku.
John speaking again:
Carol Jones will now be offered the opportunity to select our next verse. Please let me know, Carol, if you would like to do so.
And now we move on to our tenth, which will be the second in a pair of winter verses.
Our tenth verse should:
• consist of two natural, unforced lines
• constitute a single phrase, without a grammatical break
• contain a winter reference
Think of the tenth verse as making a new poem when added to the ninth verse. Repeat nothing from the first eight verses. Be especially careful not to draw our attention back to verse one or verse eight.
Here is what we have, so far:
A Better Look
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 chiseled chin
and my smooth thighs
Wendy C. Bialek
said Dora Maar
fills the tracks
of a thief
Please enter your verse offers in the comments box, below. Carol or I will be reviewing these offers until midnight on Monday, October 19 (New York time zone). On Thursday, October 22, there will be a new posting containing the selection for our tenth verse and instructions for composition of verse eleven.
Looking forward to seeing your offers!
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