of renku & sabaki arrangement:
I was the convenor and
general factotum. Once we had assembled, I suggested a 24-verse
renku, as giving a few more non-seasonal verses vis-à-vis
the seasonal & love ones - more space to do odd things. In the
rotating sabaki system each person whose verse is chosen chooses
the next. Thus there were normally three bidders for each verse
(usually offering three verses each), and one player sitting out
& acting as sabaki (with full powers). There were a couple of
solo efforts. There are disadvantages to this system, but it worked
fairly well for us, all being experienced players.
Within Touching Distance - convenor's comments
I hope Diana Webb, Francis Attard & Frank Williams, much
valued colleagues in this renku, will agree, that however good
or bad it is on the whole, it comes fairly close to what we set
out to do in kinds of verse and linking. The verses of a renku
should go into new territory: things which have not been noticed
before, and have new slants on them. No haiku clichés,
please. The verses are what the reader will remember and treasure.
Yet these scenes are given their point and prominence by the links,
even though the two are not separable.
Links can be divided into two kinds: those which move easily
from one verse to the next, so the renga moves to the new situation
painlessly, without thought having to be given to unravel it (examples
are the first eight verses of 'Summer Moon' and of 'Three Poets
at Minase'); and those where the two scenes may at first seem
to have little in common, but the pleasure is in working out the
correspondences. The first make a fast and smooth sequence, the
latter more thoughtful and 'poetic' halts. Management by the sabaki
and players can make changes in the length and type of run.
These two have much in common with 'close' and 'distant' links,
though they're not the same. Earl Miner in 'Japanese Linked Verses'
uses a Japanese commentary in which there are four grades of link:
Close, Fairly Close, Fairly Distant and Distant. But, as his translations
show, while there are clearly close and distant links, the gradations
between them can't be so easily differentiated: for example verses
may be closely linked on a minor detail, while far apart on the
important, heart-link, connection.
This brings another consideration: word-links and heart-links,
that is linking on a maybe minor detail, and linking on the whole
emotional import of the two verses. The second may be more 'significant'
- but is in danger of being heavy; while the first can be swift
and light - but possibly trivial. Again, the grouping of these
give the renku its movement.
Real Renga: The disease of renga is not degenerate instances
of the above, but whimsical, indirect, contrived or otherwise
invisible links. The inspired player, wafted on the Wings of Poesy,
chases a strand of feeling over the hills and out of sight. The
self-possessed one makes a Knight's move, landing on a related
idea before moving onto another to which there is no through connection.
The intellectual contrives a cryptic crossword clue which baffles
everyone. The linking player should not take a "now you see
it, now you don't" attitude, but should be able, if challenged,
to say "The connection is this." It's surprising how
often, where the link is conscious and clear, there will turn
out to be other interesting sidelights; whereas indeterminate
linking leaves one in doubt about where to look for whatever connection
there may be. There's a further reason for this injunction: I'm
sure everyone has had the experience of approving a verse which
seems to follow very well, only to go back to it later and be
unable to see the connection. So, try as we might, there will
be, under the exigences of group composition, a few duff links
- as there are in the thirteen Bashô renga available in
This is the place to mention the Bashô scent links, and
with them the places in the canonised renga where links seem obscure.
Also an anonymous 17th century renga master, who is known to have
said that links should not be obvious, and even be hard to see.
As for the last, the Japanese had been writing renga for 400 years
or so - it's not surprising someone should want to do something
new. Very few in UK have been playing for even 20 years, and they
and more recent comers have learnt to write Real Renga only sporadically.
The Bashô scent links were new only in their codification
- they can be seen in medieval renga, often in conjunction with
word links. In Bashô many scent links can be glossed, as
does Makoto Ueda, as narrative continuations. Where there seems
no link, it should be remembered we are reading translations,
which may well miss something in the idiom; or there is some topical
reference in the verses which is lost: "allusions which now
only darken the pages they once illumined" (Dr. Johnson on
Ergo: we should aim for clearly linked verses. Those who set
out to write poetic sequences are venturing on a demanding and
interesting art form; but "if it don't link, it ain't renga".
All this said, we should try to keep the renga light, move freely
from thoughtful to humorous verses, use the different kinds of
narrative, different persons, speech tones, comments, and so on.
There can be interplay between the persons as well as between
their verses: the implied 'How charming', 'Well, he would say
that', 'Rubbish' and so on. All the tones are possible, from ecstatic,
pious, & enthusiastic, to doubtful, sceptical, & satirical.
A last point is what I think must be true, though it doesn't
appear in the literature. There is an unspoken dialogue throughout
a renga, shown partly by positive, negative and neutral verses,
and repartee, but also by the speed: one section may go smooth
and fast, another be broken up and hesitant. It would be impossible
to sketch this diagrammatically - it's more like a stream with
eddies, which changes in its force: that is, there will be diversions.
Movements may cease at key points, and it baffles continuous interpretation.
Nevertheless, something is going on, in counterpoint to the surface
This brings us back to the player's verses: the links are the
oil, but everything depends on the depth of experience & feeling,
and the skill, that the comrades put in to the ku (or ga). There's
also the za, or group feeling. 'Except the Lord build the house,
they labour in vain that build it.'