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Winter 2008, vol 6 no 4
 

RENKU
 

Kasen : Bamboo Greeting - annotated
In memory of Earl Miner

Side 1  
Alone with my thoughts
when the wind came to call
bamboo bowed in greeting
“Alone with my thoughts” Hokku
In Saigyo’s poem, the wind is the only visitor to his thatched hut. In my case, I was locked up in my head with worldly concerns and the bamboo had to act as my surrogate in greeting my visitor. PN
 
Alone with my thoughts
when the wind came to call
bamboo bowed in greeting
this snow isn’t just falling
it’s shorling out of the ground
“this snow”
I have a patch of Minnesota “bamboo” in the back yard. In the fall it dries out and gets knocked down by the wind. An early snowfall nearly covered it – blond stalks sticking out like bones. The “shorling snow” was ripped off from Dylan Thomas’ “Child Christmas in Wales.” MS
 
this snow isn’t just falling
it’s shorling out of the ground
magical lake trout
crystal clear at 30 feet
tail slap your bait
“magical lake trout”
I was thinking of Michael up in Duluth and remembering Minnesota ice fishing where you can look down into the circle cut in the ice into water brilliantly clear and the fish like in an aquarium lit tank – so gorgeous and precise – and watch them give your bait a whack with their tail. MO
 
magical lake trout
crystal clear at 30 feet
tail slap your bait
“son, don’t fight over women –
let women fight over you”
“Son, don’t fight over women—“
Maureen’s clear water I imagined was Lake Tahoe. Alpine lake trout seldom go for any lures, flies or bait but do whack any strangers to show who is boss. But despite my experience with Tahoe, alpine lakes and fishing nothing much sprang forth. Then this advice came out of nowhere. I don’t remember if anyone ever gave me this advice. Sounds like two lines from the blues. KA
 
“son, don’t fight over women –
let women fight over you”
“There’s a moon out tonight”
head warped in old doo-wop hit
stumbling up the stairs
“There’s a moon. . .” First moon.
Had to get a “moon” in there. And Keith’s lines sounded like street-corner advice to me. Standing around the streetlight – harmonizing and philosophizing. Going home, half lit, alone. MS
 
“There’s a moon out tonight”
head warped in old doo-wop hit
stumbling up the stairs
flock of dots on far wires
I wish I could read music
“flock of dots on far wires”
This stanza links to the musical theme of Michael’s stanza, and is also a graphic representation of something rather ordinary. Birds seem to gather at certain times of the day as if in some kind of roll call, usually along phone lines and the edges of roofs. From a distance, they could be part of a musical score writ by chance. PN
 
Side 2
flock of dots on far wires
I wish I could read music
going deaf she glances down
her gate swings a friend leaves
tired of knocking
“going deaf she glances down”
Before I got my hearing aids, I had invited a friend over one day. Music was playing and apparently she knocked on the door and I couldn’t hear it. Because of the telephone lines in the preceding link, this scene came to mind while also recalling looking out Michael Sowl’s second story windows at Duluth. But he’s not that old woman or that deaf. But there are telephone lines outside his house. KA
 
going deaf she glances down
her gate swings a friend leaves
tired of knocking
mocked noise a feather landing
match strikes a different chord
“mocked noise a feather landing”
Meditating on Keith’s friend and her hearing loss I thought about sounds, subtle and not really perceptible to most human ears as the feather, then small sounds that our ears catch and we recognize immediately like the match striking. And resting for a spell in the magic of simple sounds and thinking how tragic to not be able to hear them. MO
 
mocked noise a feather landing
match strikes a different chord
St Paddy's day dawns
isles of mist cling festively
to the bright green trees
“St Paddy's day dawns”
It was just as it says. The pun is on misty isles, and of course there has to be green. Maureen’s image laden lines contrasted with something matter of fact. PN
 
St Paddy's day dawns
isles of mist cling festively
to the bright green trees
senior citizen discount
getting carded makes my day
“senior citizen discount”
Feeling of happy celebration like Pat’s St Pat’s day. The high school girl at the register “cards” me for the senior discount at the Old Country Buffet. MADE MY DAY! MS
 
senior citizen discount
getting carded makes my day
earphones on joggers
can’t hear the spring birds singing
redemption songs
“earphones on joggers”
Turning back to Pat’s St Pat’s Day and Spring in the air. People out running and jogging in the musical day full of bird sounds and magic Spring sounds but not hearing any of it. Just listening to some tape instead of the real redemption songs in the day. I think Bob Marley would have liked to be singing with the sounds, not be used to shut the world out. MO
 
earphones on joggers
can’t hear the spring birds singing
redemption songs
so one foot in front of one foot
in front of one front foot
“so one foot in front of one foot”
Kinhin is the walking meditation between zazen sitting meditation. One is supposed to concentrate on walking very slowly with full attention on each step. During kinhin I sometimes slip into The Four Treasures meditation practice from Tai Chi training, where the weight shifts between feet occur instantly, through the waist, never affecting your upper body that remains very still, relaxed and calm. This thought—one foot at a time--is how you think, but jogging can induce that state too, that fine high of peaceful solitary exercise. KA
 
so one foot in front of one foot
in front of one front foot
I hear it a lot
”money isn’t everything”
—mostly, them that’s got
“I hear it a lot”
Riffing off of Keith’s “one foot” – kinda a “one-day-at-a-time” feeling. “Yeah, thanks for your input. . .but I still gotta get some scratch for the damn bills!” “Them’s that got.” Ripped off from the Ray Charles tune. MS
 
I hear it a lot
”money isn’t everything”
—mostly, them that’s got
moon through clouds sheer hosiery
blazing moon too bright to pine
“moon through clouds sheer hosiery” Second moon.
I am mesmerized by the many guises of the moon. Every time it appears it appears so changed. My lines here are just pure description of how the moon seems to me, looked to me, and juxtaposing that amazing mythology with the money and materialism issue raised in Michael’s stanza. MO
 
moon through clouds sheer hosiery
blazing moon too bright to pine
so the plain truth comes easy—
that I have no love to hide—
you have mine
“so the plain truth comes easy—“
Maureen’s link got me thinking of silken legs in moonlight. And then, once being a country boy, up came C&W style lines for a song: a little maudlin, a little desperate; depending on who sings them. I returned the lines to their first draft state: unedited jottings, barely clinging together, and then selected three. Pat got the message and tore the lines up just as if he’d been there himself. KA
 
so the plain truth comes easy—
that I have no love to hide—
you have mine
left behind on garbage day
shreds of his letter to her
“left behind on garbage day”
Keith and I have a long history of undermining each other’s links. I was awakened that morning by the loud rumble of the garbage pick-up on my block, and with my morning coffee, looking out the window at the bits of paper debris blowing around, I was able to link with Keith’s stanza. I like to think of it as offering him a hand out of the mire of sentimentality. PN
 
left behind on garbage day
shreds of his letter to her
O wisteria
wild iris in the rocks
look I’ve dressed up too!
“O wisteria” First flower.
Keith and Pat drift into the melancholy attributes of love. Pat’s letter shreds especially made my heart weep at the miscommunication between lovers. Perhaps someone wrote a letter he couldn’t send or maybe a woman received a letter so full of break-up or unrequited love or worse that she shredded it. Either way the strips of the letter have blown out of the garbage truck and are still in the possession of the bereaved. SO sad. I had to turn to beauty wild and free to shake myself forward. MO
 
O wisteria
wild iris in the rocks
look I’ve dressed up too!
suddenly even the
ugly people are beautiful
“suddenly even. . .”
Dressed up people in Maureen’s stanza. On a city bus full of the mentally/physically “challenged”, I’m lifted from whatever funk I was in. “Hey! Mary’s Going To A Party!” Why are all these folks so happy? Get caught up in it. MS
 
Side 3
suddenly even the
ugly people are beautiful
ducks in flight auger
through the heavy morning gray
spelling certain gloom
“ducks in flight auger”
I actually saw ducks fly past in V-formation from my window. The way they flap their wings on those stubby little bodies reminded me of the way an auger goes through wood only they were boring through the rather heavy morning fog. There is a play on words here too, as auger can also mean to predict, and fowl flying in this formation were believed to have inspired the alphabet so that their “spelling” actually has a double meaning. There is also a rather tenuous connection between Michael’s use of the word “ugly” and my use of the word “ducks”. PN
 
ducks in flight auger
through the heavy morning gray
spelling certain gloom
I LIKE BO POTOTOS she wrote
backwards on the wet bus windows
“I LIKE BO POTOTOS she wrote”
That day Pat’s mood-heavy redwood shadow mysticism followed me onto my bus to work. As chance would have it, it was raining. A love-struck Chicana was writing this on the misty glass over and over and over. Through her clear strokes I watched the scenery go by. KA
 
I LIKE BO POTOTOS she wrote
backwards on the wet bus windows
summer winding down
gray scud swift from the Nor’east
birds getting nervous
“summer winding down”
Geez. Pat’s gray morning really hung around. With Keith’s steamy windows and low fog of late fall here. We have a raptor funnel here in Duluth. Thousands of hawks and eagles don’t want to fly over Lake Superior. They like clear days to move. One day in a friend’s back yard a river of Broadwings streamed over us at about twenty feet due to the low fog blowing in off the Lake. MS
 
summer winding down
gray scud swift from the Nor’east
birds getting nervous
restless night tired as I am
still I chase a deeper sleep
“restless night tired as I am”
Wiped out after many extra hours and days on the job, sleep doesn’t come easy because the mind is trying to make sense of the chaos of all the intense activity. The deep sleep is either REM sleep or that of eternal rest. I linked to the nervousness of Michael’s birds. PN
 
restless night tired as I am
still I chase a deeper sleep
“a thing of no learning”
one or two pine cones
brighten perfume the fire
“a thing of no learning”
In Japanese Zen Buddhism, when someone paints without leaving a trace of their education, their productions earn the honorific title mu-gaku no koto: a thing of no learning. Pat’s notion of a deeper sleep seemed to me a yearning for that state, but the world burns on in the fireplace. KA
 
“a thing of no learning”
one or two pine cones
brighten perfume the fire
autumn’s urban cicadas rasp
summer’s over on city streets
“autumn’s urban cicadas rasp”
Like Pat, I linked to Michael’s nervous birds, and then Keith’s fire, both seeming to harbinger autumn and the end of summer. In the city the fall foliage is not so pronounced so the more subtle changes in the insect songs are the key to seasonal change. MO
 
autumn’s urban cicadas rasp
summer’s over on city streets
bumper to bumper
living west of the commute
steer by visor’s edge
“bumper to bumper”
Taking a cue from Maureen’s urban streets, I linked with my own version (vision) of the grind. An old boss of mine once said, “Never live west of your commute.” The reasons are obvious enough. Driving to and from work, especially at certain times of the year, the sun is always in your eyes. PN
 
bumper to bumper
living west of the commute
steer by visor’s edge
George Morrison’s holy horizon
—the brightest of lines
“George Morrison. . .”
Pat’s “visor’s edge” brought to mind a big series of small abstracts by George Morrison. The paintings are all abstracts of Lake Superior – just water and sky – in all moods. The “edge” is George’s bright red horizon line. When I told him horizons were strange because you could see ‘em. . .but you could never get there, he chuckled. After his passing, George Morrison was one of the two artists honored with an exhibit at the initial opening of the Smithsonian’s “Museum of the American Indian” in D.C. MS
 
George Morrison’s holy horizon
—the brightest of lines
U.S. president fails
at every appointed task
—gets re-elected
“U.S. president fails”
I know from Michael that George Morrison was a local where Michael lives and an incredible sculptor and painter. Such a positive force gave me the power and grace for a moment of political satire. MO
 
U.S. president fails
at every appointed task
—gets re-elected
it’s only for a big laugh
donkey room human room
“it’s only for a big laugh”
Maureen’s link about our President stumped me for weeks. Then I remembered the Ming prince Bada Shanren, my favorite Chinese painter, who hid out in a monastery for many years, pretending to be mad to avoid the Manchu ax. He did go crazy with heartache, some say. Two of his seals I had carved, copies for use on my art, each line a separate seal. P.S. Bada saved his neck, survived his grief and that particular tyranny. KA
 
it’s only for a big laugh
donkey room human room
“next full moon – if you like
bring your zither and come
drink with me again”
“next full moon” Third moon.
Had to get a “moon” and Keith’s stanza brought to mind old Chinese poets and their “wok-hay” take on things. How easy it seemed to be, in them old days, to just get together – or more like – “fall” together. Translation from Wang Wei’s poem lifted from a beautiful out-of-print book of woodcuts by Wang Hui Ming. MS
 
“next full moon – if you like
bring your zither and come
drink with me again”
at the Palace Bar and Grill
you me and Joan Baez too
“at the Palace Bar and Grill”
I met and had my first drink with Michael at the Palace Bar & Grill on Cannery Row in Monterey in the early ‘60’s so his invitation to “drink with me again” recalled those days. The Palace was also frequented by a young Joan Baez and friends (including a certain Bob Dylan on occasion) from Camel Valley. Her songs were on the jukebox and she would play them and then sing along in a proto-karaoke fashion. PN
 
Side 4
at the Palace Bar and Grill
you me and Joan Baez too
ghosted up & down
the town alone thinking how
we were together
“ghosted up & down”
Again stumped for a link out of our shared nostalgia (Pat and Michael and I were all in Monterey together once), I was looking at notebook poetry lines and found this quote from Philip Whalen. So I put his line to work. I don’t remember where it is found in Whalen’s poetry or if his lines are arranged this way, so these line-breaks may be my sole creative input. KA
 
ghosted up & down
the town alone thinking how
we were together
thumbing through the early zines
gala’s past can break your heart
“thumbing through the early zines”
Following Keith’s nostalgia link on Pat’s nostalgia link, putting my archives in boxes and rereading magazines from the 70’s remembering all the great collating parties at The Poetry Project in NYC and poets’ apartments and excitement over publishing our own zines. Ah nostalgia. MO
 
thumbing through the early zines
gala’s past can break your heart
Johnny V. was right—
“when you’re old, seasons mean more”
—mid-winter’s melt down
“Johnny V. was right”
John Veglia, old Monterey days friend and collaborator on renkus, had a theory about linking stanzas. He called the “bow wave.” Write your stanza before you get the previous link. This is one of those. I had it ready for Maureen’s “gala’s past.” The quoted line is an approximation of a poem John wrote. Closing your eyes – tilting your head back – bearing your chest to the sun on the first warm spring day. The poem was on the front of a program for his memorial celebration that Keith sent me. MA
 
Johnny V. was right—
“when you’re old, seasons mean more”
—mid-winter’s melt down
Baubles, Bangles and Doodles
leave it to diva Oh My!
“Baubles, Bangles and Doodles”
Diva, the ageless, timeless spirit of sassy energy. She just sprang to mind when I read Michael’s “when you’re old, seasons mean more” – I wanted to compliment Michael’s spunkiness in the face of aging. MO
 
Baubles, Bangles and Doodles
leave it to diva Oh My!
she’s tucked into a leaf
next to an apricot bud—
a ladybug
“she’s tucked into a leaf” Second flower.
A big surprise one spring day in my backyard in Albany, California: shady lady, the first one of that spring. Some have eccentric markings. So when Maureen wrote Baubles Bangles and Doodles about her diva this particular image returned: genetically chaotic ladybug. KA
 
she’s tucked into a leaf
next to an apricot bud—
a ladybug
sweeping at shadows my hair
getting whiter and whiter
“sweeping at shadows my hair” Ageku.
Keith has the trappings of spring’s certainty and renewal in his stanza. Spring is a time of sweeping out the cobwebs and accumulated dust of winter. I linked to that aspect of his stanza but emphasize the opposite as well, that of aging (whitening hair) and illusion (the shadows). Also, as a renga convention, the ageku should in some way link with the hokku. “Sweeping at shadows” could be considered a euphemism for being lost in thought. PN
  

Composed by The Miner School of Haikai Poets:
KA : Keith Kumasen Abbott
MO : Maureen Owen
PN : Pat Nolan
MS : Michael Sowl

6 January 2004 – 3 March 2005


Related articles in this issue of Simply Haiku:
Bamboo Greeting (unannotated, unpaired)
The Miner School of Haikai Poets – History and Biographies

 

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