A form and style of renku that concentrates more on linking ideas with the unique feeling associated with blues music and song. The shifting concept used in standard renku development is less of a concern and is only used as needed to enhance the overall blues mood. Traditional blues is usually associated with feelings of depression and melancholy associated with a person’s place in life. It developed from southern American Negro secular songs as a reaction to the acceptance of institutionalized slavery. The blues feeling, however, has many different strands since its inception as secular music and today crosses many different racial-ethnic lines with divergent musical styles.
The bluenotes form developed when Raffael de Gruttola,
a haiku and renku poet,
The new form uses a concept of bluenotes to replace the moon, love, blossom symbols that are mainstays of traditional renku; however, the poets may use both season words and the above three symbols as needed as the associative linking progresses. Non season links, which predominate, are used to provide a thematic cohesion similar to traditional renku.
A saijiki is not needed as a guide for acceptance or rejection of a link because customary seasonal signs or kigo are not a condition for progression. Often the sound of a particular improvised blues refrain or jazz riff is used to emphasize the particular style of blues being considered.
On one occasion the poets used a comparative moment idea with the “duende” of the Spanish flamenco feeling to provide a different orientation to the bluenotes. Other alternate styles with blues influence have been zydeco, hip-hop, country and walking blues, as well as jazz.
All three poets have had musical training and have played musical instruments. They are familiar with the various styles of music influenced by the blues. This is an important dimension to the form since it adds an element of improvisation as the links are given during the four or five hour session.
An atmosphere is created during each session. This is accomplished with the playing in the background of different styles of blues music under consideration for the evening’s composition. The poets relax to the music while sipping on homemade brew and hors d’oeuvres. A break is undertaken at the midway point of the evening, usually after the twelfth link as dinner is served at the host poet’s house. The poets return after dinner to complete the renku and have dessert. In this relaxed atmosphere, with poets who know each other’s style, the imagination is heightened and unusual links occur without inhibition. Discussion happens when a link needs some revision or an alternative category is under consideration.
Bluenotes are always considered at important junctures during the session of twenty-four links. These types of links are consistent with the musical pattern of a twenty-four bar blues chorus where certain notes in the scale are altered or flatted, which is the musical term. These lowered half-tone flatted notes in the scale are signals that identify the blues feeling in a musical song or composition. The poets use this technique to emphasize or tag a verbal idea consistent with the evening’s theme.
Some examples of bluenotes verses are:
those country blues / movin’ through the door (Raffael)
Lightnin’ Hopkins / illuminates the room (Paul)
field hollers of the ancestors (Brett)
Other characteristics of bluenotes’ verses and the idiom are: the dropping of the final “g” in gerunds as in two of the above examples; naming the type of “blues,” e.g. Jailhouse Blues, Gin House Blues, the Backlash Blues; naming the players, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Leadbelly, Howling Wolf; and using phrases characteristic of the idiom, field hollers, talkin’ ‘bout boll weevils, funk pumping. These are just a few of the different nuances possible in this style.
A typical linear representation of a bluenotes renku for an evening might be:
In the above there are six bluenotes that would correspond to the two moon, two love, and two blossom verses of the traditional nijuin renku form. The bluenotes links should express themes indigenous to our North American culture. Though this schema relates to a typical blues musical chorus where the altered blue notes come at the 3rd, 5th, and 7th, notes in the musical chord, the bluenotes may come at any place in the design. The idea of the bluenotes is to suggest themes that relate to the musical and social cultures in which we’ve been nurtured. The technique of improvisation that is important to the blues progressions is also realized in this form, since it allows the individual poets to use bluenotes’ ideas where and whenever they choose to in order to express the different emotions associated with the blues.
An extension of this form can be realized in renku of 12-24-36-48-60-72-84 and 96 links.
Raffael de Gruttola
Natick, MA. USA
August 17, 2004