Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Spring 2007, vol 5 no 1

RENKU

Daisy State: Tomegaki, or sabaki’s monologue


“X is great, not just television great, but great in the way of a poem or painting, great in the way of art with a single obsessive creator who doesn’t have to consult with a committee and has months or years to go back and agonize over line breaks and the color red; it could belong in a league with art that doesn’t have to pause for commercials, or casually recap the post-commercial action, or sell viewers on the plot and characters in the first five minutes, or hew to a line-item budget, or answer to unions and studios, or avoid four-letter words and nudity.” (from New York Times TV column , 1 Oct 06)

Is our kasen as great as X? This leads me to the following straightforward questions:

‘Is our kasen written in the way of art?’
‘Aren’t kasen rules like those restrictions today’s TV dramas have to go through?’

Many in today’s English haiku community seem to think that renku is not so much literature worthy of publishing as a fun activity to be enjoyed by participating collaborators themselves. In all types of collaboration, including movie making or building construction, having scenarios or design drawings is not enough. Not only wise leadership but seasoned coordination or soft negotiation is always required for success. In other words concession or compromise is inevitable in collaborative production. Renku is no exception.

A sabaki makes sure that the joy of contributing one’s link to the total renku is bigger than the frustration one goes through. I am so happy nobody dropped out from our kasen journey of ‘Daisy State’. But this happiness is elementary. I only wish each poet found a deeper voice of HERSELF by being a part of flowing images and fresh words embraced and breathed communally.

Before bringing the renku to the eyes of a publisher, a sabaki strives to edit the completed poem. It is her responsiblily to make a bridge between the general readership and the participants. In so doing she cannot sacrifice the precious feature of a good renku, a living momentum, or the grace, the renku waves, which carried the poets all through. And yet a sabaki has to turn in renku as a work of ART worthy of publication.…

Having said the above, renku is rather outrageous as literature, because we are NOT supposed to focus on deepening some theme in our composition. Dramatic suspension towards some insightful literary answer is not pursued either. Renku is supposed to create a unique little cosmos, in other words, a poetic mirror of the world we live and dream in. The lifeline of this art, as the blood is to our body, is the poetry in between linking verses, which alone can give life to the crafted cosmos. Renkujin are serious in believing in the power of poetry, humanity and in communion.

To read a renku takes enormous energy for this reason. In this post-modern world people are more and more incapable of responding to others, their subtle, ambiguous and oftentimes vulnerable fading voices. Why? Because each person tends to settle in his own small niche and does not try to reach out. People go to their type of artists who offer their type of art. Reading and reexperiencing what the renku poets breathed inbetween linking verses takes not only a lot of time but even a kind of breakthrough in one's reading attitude. The attitude with which one has been enjoying a tiny poem called haiku must be revised. Renku is an enormous poem.

A sabaki must have the courage to be “a single obsessive creator” to avoid falling into the pitfall called harmony. Renku being the continuous flow via linking and shifting, it is a challenge to edit what has been already completed in the live session. A product of pre-arranged pseudo-harmony guaranteed with traditional rules was surely disdained by Basho who once wrote on ‘a haikai even dogs won’t eat’. A sabaki must not depend on those rules even though he musters up all of them to serve him. You would love the challenge of being a sabaki! This novice tells you a few secrets she has learned.

The importance of a hokku, the starting verse, can never be exaggerated. With the support of a waki-ku, the second verse, renku is supposed to establish itself as a pure poem right here.

Secondly renku has to have one or two poetic peaks where readers find themselves to stop awhile, totally forgetting links and shifts. Thirdly a renku is genuine when it brings to you subtle sighs and tiny smiles we experience in this world.

Thus many in Edo period found in renku collaboration, or haikai, a great way to learn how to live a decent life; I am walking after them.


eiko yachimoto
October 15, 2006

 

Related articles in this issue of Simply Haiku:
Kasen : Daisy State

 

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