The act of writing renku is a lesson in humility. Poets
must compete. Each seeks to provide the ideal linking verse, plumbing
the depths of their experience and ability in the almost certain
knowledge that their efforts will be found wanting, and that another’s
verse will be chosen. But this competition must itself be an expression
of friendship and trust, for renku is a collaborative art, and
any collaboration rooted in antipathy must surely fail.
What chance then that a diverse assortment of poets from Japan,
Europe and America – persons who have for the most part
never met and who might not understand each other’s language
– what chance that such a heterodox group could produce
a true collaboration, a piece of poetry? Because if poetry is
the most pure expression of the language and culture from which
it springs, how can a poem be written in two languages simultaneously?
Our experience indicates that there is a curious synergy between
the act of writing renku and the type of effort necessary to foster
any kind of international or intercultural understanding. At the
very core of renku composition lies the dynamic of continuous
reappraisal. Seemingly disparate elements are brought together,
contrasted, compared and integrated into the flow of the work.
This is not a didactic exercise; the connections between elements
are not specified. Instead the reader is free to interpret the
precise nature of the proposed interrelations. If the haikai-no-renga
of the Tokugawa period could draw its life from the separate worlds
of the commons and nobility, might it be possible that contemporary
renku could unite the separate houses of the global village?
There were difficulties. Phrases that are very succinct in one
language may require a more lengthy expression in another. Perceptions
of season change from climate to climate. But when these dilemmas
were addressed without fear it was found that the fundamentals
of human experience which underpin a given expression, or give
rise to a particular perception, were in every case the same irrespective
of language group or region. The challenge therefore of voicing
a verse in both English and Japanese was simply one of expressive
and artistic ability, not of irreconcilable societal difference.
It is my sincere hope that the reader finds Springtime in
Edo both stimulating and enjoyable. I never cease to be amazed
at how much material, how many moods, topics and tones are required
to complete the 36 verses of a Kasen renku. Indeed it is possible
to argue that in attempting a Kasen renku having one’s poets
strung out around the planet is a positive boon! Surely no other
literary genre demonstrates with more clarity that, amongst people
of good will, there is unity and strength in our personal diversity.