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Spring 2006, vol 4 no 1

RENKU

Renku Editor's Notes

Hello, welcome to the Renku Column of Simply Haiku. It is once more my pleasure to present another mixture of materials intended to further the appreciation of haikai-no-renga, and to encourage wider participation.

Perhaps because the idea of collaborative poetry is still so novel to occidental readers it is not unreasonable that there is a great deal of focus on the social interaction that characterizes renku composition. But there are unfortunate consequences to this perception, not least that renku may come to be regarded as a mere pastime, a pleasant literary diversion. Of course badly composed renku, like any other poor poetry, may fail to express anything other than the most anodyne of sentiments. But good renku does more than this. Very good renku is sublime.

Here then are three poems and a piece of in depth critical analysis. The reader is invited to consider them as more than caprice.

In The Narrow Lane British Haiku Society luminaries Doreen King and Frank Williams take a relatively free approach to the 20 stanza format popularized by the late Meiga Higashi. The poets choose to present the piece as a single folio though the jo-ha-kyu movement, of which more below, is clearly in evidence. The poem is a remote composition yet a sense of togetherness is tangible. Japanese renku theory places a great emphasis on the importance of this za-no-bungei (literature of shared space), a quality which can be difficult to maintain during the remote composition of longer pieces, and among more numerous participants.

A Long Way Home adopts the three face Triparshva format proposed in 2005 by Ireland's Norman Darlington. English poet Rachel Joyne and Barbadian Jon-Ray Leech test the boundaries of convention in respect of the tone and content of the different sections. Your editor harbours a great deal of fondness for the Triparshva, not least because it allows for a fuller exploration of both jo and kyu than do other short forms of renku. A descriptive article and typical schema for the Triparshva will be found in the Summer 2005 edition of Simply Haiku; go to 'archives' or 'search' on the toolbar above.

Cheryl Crowley then presents us with an English text of the kasen Seeing Miscanthus, a fine example from the Yahantei school led by Buson. This piece is a jewel in itself but incalculable value is added by Prof. Crowley's expert critical analysis: Collaboration in the "Back to Basho" Movement: The Susuki Mitsu Sequence of Buson's Yahantei School. Simply Haiku is indebted to Prof. Phil Brown of Ohio State University for permission to reproduce these materials which first appeared in the autumn 2003 edition of the journal Early Modern Japan. Archives of this journal and other excellent resources are freely available through the Ohio State University KnowledgeBank Program [https://kb.osu.edu/dspace/handle/1811/583]. . Seeing is believing!

Elsewhere in this edition we carry Depopularizing the Popular: Tentori haikai and the Bashô Revival also by Prof. Crowley. The article provides further context to Buson's endeavours and shows, amongst other things, that the tensions between social interaction and artistic excellence mentioned at the head of this column were a live issue then as now.

Lastly then a note on the jo-ha-kyu movement of a renku sequence: what is it; and why might it matter? Arising originally from Noh drama the elements of the phrase are in many ways analogous to musical annotations such as mosso, andante etc. Therefore although jo is frequently given as 'preface', ha as 'development' and kyu as 'finale', jo-ha-kyu does not just describe that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end, but rather that a piece of renku has dynamic range and movement.

In his Introduction to World-Linking Renku the late renku master Shinku Fukuda describes jo thus: 'pleasant or peaceful themes should be used in this part. We can say, "we write in a suit and tie". This is why too strong impressions or controversial themes such as God, Buddhism, love, uncertainty, recollection, poor health, place names and people's names are not included'.

Master Fukuda then moves on to ha: 'There subject matters to be avoided (in the preface) are no longer applied. We now can link boldly with free ideas. Different contents and tastes (...) should be linked. We can say, "we write at ease without a suit and necktie'". Interestingly, as he is discussing the kasen which has two sections of ha, Fukuda-sensei suggests that the second of these is yet more animated: 'This part is written more freely, boldly, full of sparkling wit and a variety of bold accents'.

Of kyu Master Fukuda remarks: 'This part should be written calmly and pleasantly. Here again we can say, "we write in a suit and tie'".

Whilst there are doubtless arguments to be made about the culturally specific nature of some of the exclusions detailed for the opening section there can be little doubt that the crucial message here is that a piece of renku should not be planar, or otherwise uniform in tone, register and texture. Good renku is more symphony than syllogism. Not an easy task!

John Carley. Rossendale. February 2006

 


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