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LIVE RENGA - A Report
Christopher Herold


We come to play, to work, to learn. Sometimes we bump up against each other for more than twelve hours before going home, each of us having written only two or three verses. Sometimes it' s difficult to focus, and we bicker about what works and what does not, defending our links against overly tenacious clingings to tradition. Sometimes we laugh a lot, and are willing to waive all limitations (even the reasonable ones) for the sake of experimentation.

Who are we? A group of haiku poets who live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most of us first learned of haiku, and linked verse, by attending classes taught by Carolyn Talmadge, a long-time teacher of haiku. The charter members of the group -- John Leonard, Lynne Leach, and Charlotte Lucey -- are poets who decided to get together more often, in order to revel in their mutual, and growing love of haikai in general, but more particularly to learn and practice the art of haikai-no-renga. Of these poets, John and Lynne are still current members.

The meetings have been going on for more than four years now, taking place at one, then another of the poets' homes. Other early regulars are Emile and Eugenie Waldteufel, Evelyn Hermann, Laura Bell and Marion Chroniak. A few poets have come to the group more recently, by other avenues than Carolyn Talmadge' s classes. I joined about three years ago, and Ebba Story began coming to meetings early in 1995. Most recent participants are Alex and Alice Benedict for whom this party was their first.

On June 28, we met at my home in Redwood City. As usual, those who could make it arrived at about 1:00 pm, bringing snacks, salads, wine, and desserts. It was a hot day, so, after catching up on each others' recent life adventures, we sat in my living room, where it was a little cooler, and began to weave our passion. I provided a large version of a summer renga blueprint, setting it up in a place that could be easily seen by all. To this we added key words and images as they were written, thus avoiding common pitfalls such as similarities of syntax, or repetitions of subject matter.

There was a marked difference between this meeting, and most of the others I've attended. We worked with uncommon ease and fluidity, adhering closely to our blueprint of season and non-seasonal verses, and shifting into broadly diverse topics with very few hitches. Part of this ease, I attribute to the large chart, but most of our success I attribute to some excellent advice given to me recently by Jane Reichhold.

During the writing of the renga we did together by email, she insisted that the linking and shifting flow of communication not be hampered or broken by questions, criticism, or even suggestions. She recommended that we wait until the final verse has been written before poets review their own stanzas to make changes or to fine-tune. I introduced this advice to the group, who adopted it wholeheartedly (for this session at least).

By midnight we were all weary but happy. We crafted a linked verse that, though nowhere near perfect, was one that we were all pleased with, and most importantly, the process itself was thoroughly enjoyable.

We send our deep gratitude to Jane for her advice. It seems likely that this session will prove a significant bench mark by which our future travels on this wonderful path of renga will be enhanced. We offer Sunlit Edges, hoping our pleasure is contagious

Copyright © Christopher Herold 1998.

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