The Many Faces of Renku - Eiko Yachimoto
Through the composition of this kasen I have learned, as if for the first
time, that renku has many faces. Consider these examples.
1. Renku, as an art of grasping time:
of social turmoil
the UN approves peace keepers
shrouded in snow
at the edge of the forest
a herd of deer
The past, the present and the eternity of four seasons are presented
in one renku flow of three images; one from the Russian Revolution, another
from a heated African scene, and the last from a quiet winter forest.
A rather unpopular requirement of renku is awareness of the seasons,
including the distribution of season words. This, in fact, signifies that
renku is a unique art letting one relive the flow of one’s lifetime.
The jo-ha-kyu of renku coincides with the difference in how we grasp time
depending on our age. Don’t we all agree that time never flew when
we were a young child? In other words, renku is an art to educate us how
to live and die and how to live again.
We are like salmon. The first six verses of a kasen are supposed to
be clear, pure and mild, like the origin of a meandering river. When we
approach the last stage, we acutely sense the fast flow of time and become
conscious of our origin. Is our kasen successful is this regard?
“A pearl in the shell” certainly encourages us to rise
up and live another life once again.
2. Renku, as an art of anarchistic imagination
thud, on the thatched roof
a penny for the guy (that will be thrown into fire. We hear the thud.)
inside the horse (this hero is in a huge horse made of wood, to be probably
crossing state lines
the gun moll
blows a bubble (Don’t hold your breath so long, why don’t
Nothing can restrict the wings of your imagination triggered by language.
One’s word, once uttered, draws dynamic lines totally unexpected
by the utterer. And how much joy does this chaotic exuberance bring to
everyone. A good conversationalist is familiar with such dynamism, but
when you link to the previous verse, the depth and the width of your reaction
surprises even yourself, because a hidden corner of your soul is so distinctly
illuminated by the previous verse that the muse in you awakens in spite
of you. I would presuppose that we are humans because we write renku.
3. Renku as grand showcase of a tiny haiku
“Tiny and powerful, a haiku is an independent poem.” I do
not object, even though the starting verse of renku , i.e., a hokku was
renamed as haiku by Shiki. What will happen when you place a haiku in
a renku flow?
finger prints and wrinkles
stiff but earnest
in the lee
of the cherry
a pink whirlwind
froggy went a-courting’
and he did ride, um-hmm
Our blossom verse above is such a jewel. Placed in this renku flow
the charm of this simple haiku gains momentum. One can breathe in and
breathe out a pink whirlwind.
4. Renku as sanctuary where Grace works
new mother checks
twin name tags again
Mount St. Helens,
I bow as we fly past you
reflecting a buttermilk sky
and a wishing star
tanabata streamers with
gold and silver grains of sand
through the bamboo gate
evening glories offered
on a fan
“all mimsy were the borogroves”
love, we collapse giggling
Twin babies of the first verse give birth to twin Helens, one a lofty
mountain, the other, a beautiful goddess. And they see their own reflection
in each other’s eyes, just as one sees the reflection of the sky
in the puddle. It takes only minimal brain energy to read through the
verses here. Such must be the time when we are endowed with grace.
Let me be precise. Charged with the poetic energy amassed through the
first three verses, a star festival night arrives which, in turn, brings
forward one courting scene from the Tales of Genji. Then comes a high
light verse with quotation from Alice in Wonderland. Those intellectual
court ladies of the Heian period, such as Seishonagon (author of the Pillow
Book) or Murasaki Shikibu (author of the Tales of Genji) loved all kinds
of word-play. The quotation from Alice charmingly animates them in those
twelve layered courtly kimonos across the millenium time frame and vast
Renku is an art deep-rooted in the essence of language, i.e., the capacity
to nourish the human soul regardless of nationality.
From my international renju, I have learned the secrets of culture,
which can hardly be learned otherwise. This time I learned the legend
behind the dogwood, and this will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I had read some impressive haiku on dogwood, but I now realize that my
understanding was limited because I did not know that the cross Jesus
Christ had to carry and had to die on, was believed to be made of dogwood.
I want to emphasize the great renku power with which one can learn the
unsaid parts of a different culture in the most natural situation as a
partner of communal poetry.
Dear readers, please read our kasen and enjoy as many faces.
With best wishes, Eiko Yachimoto
4 October 2007
in this issue of Simply Haiku:
Kasen : Laughter Rising