|TABLE OF CONTENTS
XIX:1, February, 2004
A Journal for Linking Poets
WRITING RENGA WRITING by
100 LINK WINTER RENGA FORM following the 1501 precepts as presented in Steven D. Carter’s The Road to Komatsubara.
LETTERS TO LYNX
WRITING RENGA WRITING
The adage has often been quoted from the Japanese that "it takes a minimum of twenty years to learn to write renga" and yet we writing in English have proved that if you discard enough of the rules, you can be writing renga with almost no instruction in the shortest possible time. And if you discard inner-stanza linking, as in rengay, the process is even more effortless. Still, with the work and skill needed for regular renga there is something fun and refreshing gained from a simpler approach that allows our penchant for stream of conscious writing in a form that lets us exercise our sociability and enormous desire to invent and innovate.
What is so great about the many Japanese rules is that as a writer’s abilities progress, there is always something new to learn, another technique to try out or idea to experience. It is beginning to seem that twenty years is no time at all and one needs a long life to try out everything.
Though I have discussed, in writing, the Japanese musical concept of "jo-ha- kyô" and how it relates to a renga, it seems the message has been falling on deaf ears. Most contemporary renga writers are so busy and delighted with bouncing ideas off of each other in a one-upmanship manner that they do not seem to be interested at all in the tempo or progression of the links that gives shape and dimension to the renga as a poem. For persons for whom the renga has gotten too "easy" or too much the same, it seems that studying this concept and attempting to use it in their renga might add another dimension to their ever flatter work.
To review, the three parts of a renga are: the quiet prelude (jo), the breakaway (ha) where much happens often in a chaotic way, and the exciting finale (kyû) which is much like a rousing climax as in film music and other intimate experiences.
I have previously equated this pacing theory with the actuality of a social evening among friends beginning with the host opening the door and inviting in the guests. The first "page" or six links of a kasen renga should flow as smoothly and politely as the remarks of the people as they get reacquainted with each other. The next twenty-four links on the inner two "pages" are like the conversation when the wine has been tasted, the first course has been enjoyed, when the group is warmed up and talk is flowing from subject to subject, almost on its own. The last page of six links the tempo is then speeded up as do the comments, reminders, and last-minute jokes as when the guests prepare to separate and leave.
I was also thinking about the similarity of this movement in the renga with the pacing of a mystery novel. Both have the very same features with about the same amount of story-time spent on the same three aspects. In the beginning the characters are introduced, the conflict is stated, the situations are carefully and slowly defined. Then in the middle of the mystery book are all the wild and disjointed happenings, surprises and horrors. Here, too this is the longest part of the book. Then comes the conclusion when events move very fast with the detective getting in a tight-spot, getting out, and in the process discovering who the perpetrator is. It was rather a surprise to find out how many mystery books are built on the very same principle of the renga, and yet how little we renga writers are able to use this tempo pattern, perhaps because we do not have the structuring of a narrative to hold our ideas in check enough to follow the master plan.
People have occasionally grumbled that I have been dismissive of rengay and some of the other shorter irregular renga forms. My main argument against them, aside from not linking, is the fact that there is not time to develop the "jo-ha- kyû" that I feel a good renga needs. Not only does it take time for a set of renga partners to work into writing together, each renga takes a certain back and forth of exchanges to define voices and attitudes or positions for the various voices. With a good renga partnership of mature writers, the reader should be able to almost tell who is writing which link without an indication of authorship. For partners to adjust to each other and maintain the "jo-ha-kyû" I am beginning to think that even the 36-link kasen renga is too short.
Remember it was Basho who shortened the 100-link (hyakuin) haikai no renga down to only thirty-six stanza, as some have said, to honor the 36 poetic sages (kasen) of Japan. Probably 99% of English renga have been done in the 36-link, or other even shorter forms. Is this why we have never gotten the "jo-ha-kyû" thing right? We simply have not worked long enough on one renga to make this aspect an active part of the poem?
In studying the various masters’ concepts of how the links should be divided into these parts, Steven Carter in his book, The Road to Komatsubara, presents the following graphic example of the differences they proposed or used in their work.
links 1 10 22 50 78 92 100
This delightful table, does not truly reflect the comments made by these three experts nor the ways they worked but it does give one an idea of the variations possible for these three pacing parts of a 100-link renga. Even though they vary widely in their divisions, the three parts are so vital to the form that they are always included.
If you would like to give the 100-link renga a try, here is a form with the topics indicated, which you can, or not, follow. However, it is important to have a picture in one’s mind of the four "sheets" of paper on which a renga was written on in ancient Japan. Each of these four sheets had two sides and the number of links per side was divided up as:
sheet 1 side one – 8 links
If two people are writing, it is common that the person who writes the last link on a side, or page, also write the first link on the next side or page. This practice avoids one person getting all the three-liners. In this form I've compiled this "doubling up" is indicated with a "+" on the link that needs a second one written to it. Not indicated, but assumed, is that the alternation between 2- and 3-line links.
The first link should have a mention of the season at the time the renga is begun and should be a compliment to the partner or express something of the reason for the work. Therefore the beginning ought to be kind, gentle and uplifting.
It is very important to understand the jo –ha – kyû process as stated above. For renga it means the verses should be in the Jo calm, as in a prelude, smooth, simple, not surprising. No mentions of love, lamentation, religion or travel. The Ha should be experimental, with vitality, using a variety of techniques and personages. The Kyû should contain outstanding verses, one piled upon another, swift, concluding, a "grand finish" as in music. Use of travel verses makes the kyû move faster.
Any use of moon implies the verse is in autumn unless the author indicates "spring moon" or "winter moon."
Most vital to renga is that one verse not be followed by a verse with repeated or associated links. A link with the word "snow" should not have "icehouse" in the following one. It is in the leaps between the verses where the beauty of the renga truly shines. The links must be close enough for the reader to follow but far away enough to avoid a repeat.
No link, except the last one, can refer to the hokku or beginning link.
Try to avoid repeating nouns and verbs on any page. Use a thesaurus if you must. Some words should only be used once in a whole renga: woman, insect, demon.
To give the renga variety, and especially if one is writing a solo renga, the use of "masks" is vital. This means writing the verse as if spoken by someone else: an old man or woman, a nun, a young girl or boy or even animals or objects. Occasionally use the links to have a dialogue with your partner, using the "you" form so the whole thing is not descriptive.
It is also possible to use quotes from signs or proverbs or songs or from literature to spice up the work and to serve as linkage. By mentioning a song or poem, the other partner is reminded of a personal memory associated with the shared literary history.
In Japan the love verses never admit to the joys of love in traditional renga, but there love is expressed as desire, longing, waiting, unfulfilled, or wasting away. Thus, physical sex never entered the picture. Thankfully we are changing this as our renga repeat our lives.
To the Japanese the concept of ji = background verses and mon = design verses is also very important. Think of the renga as a tapestry with the majority of threads of a similar hue with only spots of gold or highlights. This means that the renga should have surrounding the outstanding or design verses, calm ordinary rather blah verses so the great link becomes more miraculous. Only on the last page should each stanza be more brilliant than the previous one. If one cannot make a design verse by great wit, opulence or a surprising thought, it is possible to introduce horror, fearsome images, or shock value.
As you become more expert in renga writing consider doing what the Japanese call torinashizuke or "recasting" – this means writing the two-line by using the third line in the link above as if it is containing the information one could put in a first line. An example would be:
in the dark
(eyes wide open)
For me, the very most important part of doing a renga is to have fun and enjoy learning to know and work with someone else. Therefore it is important to understand in the beginning which of all these "rules" you want to use or not. In our democratic society, one partner should not be placed over the other by reminding him or her of rules, missed cues, mistakes. During the writing such behavior could threaten to destroy the work.
Don't get into arguments of whether a spider is an indication of spring or autumn. But if you do need a reference, my saijiki is online at as A Dictionary Of Haiku. Or get William J. Higginson’s Haiku World.
When the renga is done each partner should go over their own work making any changes or corrections. These should not interfere with the sense or link of the partner’s stanza unless it is agreed upon. After everyone has had a chance to revise, if there are places that need correction, then, and only then, should these problems be addressed in a polite and caring manner.
100 LINK WINTER RENGA FORM
LETTERS TO LYNX
Gracious good greetings and Happy New Year to you and Jane... I am very grateful ( if not a bit spoiled too!) to get your kind reminder about Lynx... and really appreciate your continued and sustaining encouragement to keep at the tanka... Please know that I will keep writing as a form of levity, perspective gaining and even as a therapy and tool of personal salvation and whether any of my poems get published is not so important... by that I increasingly worry that what I am writing is not particularly worthy of attention unless to a few tanka friends ... I like some of what I write and am delighted that of what I've sent before you've found a good bunch to publish so in that spirit I will send what is in my little pocket notebook now fully aware that there may not be anything worthy but you and Jane are best at deciding and whatever please know I am very appreciative of your generous editor friendly being just as you are! Hope your new year is starting out well... Here are those from my little book that seem sort of OK! - tom clausen
Happy New Year to all! Here is a page just put up from which you can enter a gallery of work produced by children with me: http://www.cddc.vt.edu/host/haikumania/bigartday2003cover.html
We used phrases and fragments (words) and actual physical fragments from their homes and the surroundings of their school - the garden etc - including litter. I hope that you enjoy them. Paul Conneally http://www.cddc.vt.edu/host/haikumania/ haikumania hosted by center for digital discourse and culture virginia te
I have just heard today in a letter from Suzanne Malito that Giovanni Malito died on October 19th after a long battle with lung cancer. I met him twice in Cork and corresponded with him for many years. In August he told me that he was off to Canada for a month to visit relatives there, and that was the last news I had from him. Reviews of some of his books can be seen on the web. Three poems in Italian and two in French can be found at this place. I shall miss him very much. - Gerald England
Dear Alan Spring, Yes, we will publish your tanka sequence ' Impressions' with our February issue of LYNX 2004. Well, one can combine a lot of different thoughts into a sequence titled 'Impressions'. Why not? Nothing against it. I am personally very open to shifts and leaps by building a sequence. And that is what I feel what you tried to do here. Certainly, in case one chooses a more specific title for a sequence, then some readers will be out to search for closer connections between the verses. After my understanding, the writers in the American tanka scene are often trying to link verses much too tightly, somehow being afraid to challenge the reader. The gifted poet sees the shift or leaps as a main part of his/her work. You often use the third line of a tanka as the pivot line. That's exactly right. Even tough this shouldn't mean that a longer sequence doesn't allow the writer to make an exceptions from this so called 'rule'. Sure not, in case one feels the poem needs a different construct here or there, fine, that's totally up to the intentions of the poet himself. We both, my wife and I too, like to leave such important decisions up to the writers themselves. Werner
Dear All, The Haiku Calendar 2004 is now finally available. This year's calendar contains a wide range of excellent haiku. A preview is available at the web site. So why not treat yourself to a year's steady supply of high quality haiku, or give an unexpected post-holiday gift to a friend or relative? In an attempt to encourage you to help raise much-needed funds for what I hope you see as a worthy cause, I am offering a 'buy 3 and get 1 free' offer on the calendar. So it's just US $13 for 1, or $39 for 4. If you would like a calendar or two please just respond to this address. While I'm writing, Snapshots 10 and Tangled Hair 4 are at the printers and will be distributed in January. If you are unsure about your subscription status, please do not hesitate to ask. If you do not subscribe and would like to, or if you would like to see a copy of either journal, they can be ordered online or by mail order on the Snapshot Press website. Submissions are also very welcome. Further details, together with information on other Snapshot Press publications, books and haiku and tanka contests, are available on the website. Thank you for reading this far, and for all your support. With all best wishes for the holiday season and the coming year. - John Barlow
Good afternoon and Happy Holidays from soon-to-be-snowed-under Boston! I'm sorry to announce that the email address "email@example.com", my happy home in cyberspace for the past six years, will be retired within the next few days. It is a concession to the persistence of spammers and junk mail peddlers that no amount of technology seemed capable of stopping the runaway train that had become my mailbox. I will be using the address "firstname.lastname@example.org" for the foreseeable future. I apologize for any inconvenience this might create. Low Places will still be around, but its long-term future is also short-lived. Eventually I will be migrating my haiku gallery to, and my personal website to either. All of these URLs work now, but remain in various states of incompletion. Eventually <http://www.lowplaces.net/> and the lowplaces.net domain will also be retired. I have become tired of my own "Haiku in Low Places" pun and prefer not to explain the website's relevance to Garth Brooks (none). Please feel free to drop a line. Season greetings! Paul David Mena
Links to these book reviews can be found or here. Brushwood 2, the anthology of the Nobuyuki Yuasa International English, Haibun Contest 2003. Haiku Canada Newsletter Vol. XVI #3. Janine Beichman: Embracing The Firebird, Yosano Akiko and the Birth of the Female Voice in Modern Japanese Poetry. Ernest Berry & an'ya: Haiku Wine. an'ya: Haiku For A Moonless Night. Margaret Chula: The Smell of Rust. Publishers and editors wishing to have work reviewed should read this. Gerald England
On Thursday, December 11, 7:00 PM, at Samsung Hall Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA 94102. Inspired by San Francisco: An Evening of Haiku and Shakuhachi. Haiku is rooted in the courtly poetry of seventeenth century Japan and to this day is a treasured art in that country. Japan’s greatest haiku poet, Basho (1644-1694), has been compared to Shakespeare. In the West, however, this art form is often misunderstood. Almost any clever phrase of seventeen syllables seems to be categorized as haiku. But, in truth, writing effective haiku is a rare talent that requires a Zen-like attention to the subtle ways of nature. Fortunately, a number of extraordinary poets have carried on the haiku tradition in English. They write poems that combine depth with simplicity, poems that can actually bring the listener into a moment of awakening. Join four of America’s finest haiku poets—Garry Gay, Paul O. Williams, Ebba Story, and Jerry Kilbride—as they read haiku and poetic stories inspired by the city of San Francisco and its natural surroundings. Dr. Gerard Yun—conductor, composer, and ancient music specialist—will accompany the poets on Japanese flute (shakuhachi).
haunting shakuhachi . . .
Blessings. It's good to be in touch again. Ebba Story
WANT AD: Looking for Renga partners by email or regular post. Interested in Kasen, 36-verse, form. Please contact me at email@example.com. Thanks, Jim Wilson (aka Tundra Wind to Lynx readers).
On Sunday, November 16th at the Victory Café at 581 Markham Street in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, there was a Two Chapbook Launch at 3:00 pm. One of the books was Four Seasons, by Ed Baranosky and Jen Finlayson, illustrated by Holly Briesmaster. This follows the highly successful Toronto Small Press Book Fair held on Saturday, October 18th at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre where nearly 70 small presses were represented. In the evening, in The Green Room were readings at 296 Brunswick Ave. Edward Baranosky and Jen Finlayson were an active part of both of these events.
In the IX:2 issue of Raw NerVZ is the following announcement: "Raw NerVZ Haiku X:2 (less than a year away) will celebrate haiku and related material of non-traditional form
will be accepted, none (not alone, not in haibun. not in renga. none!) submissions of more than five haiku should be mailed (two page maximum) to: RAW NerVZ HAIKU, 67 Court, Catineau (QC) Canada J9h 4M1.
. . .Furthermore, I want to tell you about a haiku gathering last autumn (of the Haiku Kring Nederland - Haiku Circle of Holland). It started with the article I wrote about A String of Flowers for Vuursteen. The editor asked me to translate the tanka from English into Dutch, and in doing so I often wondered about the exact Japanese words and their symbolical meaning. While talking about this with the Dutch chairman of Haiku Kring Nederland, I thought: it would seem to me a wonderful idea to put this "problem" before the annual gathering, And - as always - in saying such things aloud, you are immediately given the task of organizing it! I found professor Van de Walle, the Japanese expert to translate four tanka of A String of Flowers and four haiku from Hidden Pond word-by-word and the symbolic in the language for me. At the gathering, people were given a piece of paper with these translations, and were asked to write a poetical Dutch version. I hoped this would lead to discussions in small groups about the poems, but above all, about the Dutch words to be chosen, why specifically these, and about the "hidden meaning" of them. To search for what meaning there is behind the words themselves. And that is exactly what happened, Hooray! A great many "new" poems came into being and everyone one attendant had greatly enjoyed the experience. All this because you sent me kindly this wonderful book of yours. So, I though you would like to hear about this happening. Adri van den Berg.
2004 Tanka Society of America International Tanka Contest Deadline:
Postmark date of April 30, 2004
Francine Porad reminds us of the great new website started by Suhni with a host of helpers. Francine's pages are: here and here. Also on Suhni's Mother-tongue's site you will find works by Cindy Tebo, Pamela A. Babusci, Jerry Ball, Marjorie Buettner, Darrell Byrd, Yu Chang, Tom Clausen, Carlos Colon, Paul Conneally, Connie Donleycott, Carol 'Blackbird' Edson, Jeanne Emrich, Gerald England, Stanford M.Forrester, Garry Gay, Ferris Gilli, Raffael de Gruttola, Yvonne Hardenbrook, Christopher Herold, Dorothy Howard, Connie Hutchison, Winifred Jaeger, Betty Kaplan, Karen Klein, Karina Klesko, Joann Klontz, Elizabeth Searle Lamb, Peggy Willis Lyles, PJM, Mary Lee McClure, Michael McClintock, Robert Major, Paul David Mena, Paul Miller, Marlene Mountain, Marian Olson, Tom Painting, Doris Pearson, Elbert Pruitt, Joan Reeves, Bruce Ross, Carmen Sterba, John Stevenson, Alan Summers, George Swede, Hilary Tann, Cindy Tebo, Doris Thurston, Serge Tome, Max Verhart, Michael Dylan Welch. Billie Wilson, Ruth Yarrow, Cindy Zackowitz,
:XVIII:3 October, 2003
|Copyright © by Designated Authors,
Page Copyright © by Jane Reichhold 2004.
Next Lynx is scheduled for June, 2004.