Beneath Thin Snow: Notes
| Side 1
| beneath thin snow
how brightly coloured the leaves
on this mountain path
|Shohaku (tr. Darlington): Shohaku (1443-1527) was one of the
leading renga poets of the Muromachi period, and a disciple of Sogi.
He wrote this hokku as the opening verse of the hyakuin (100-verse
renga) Three Poets at Yuyama in early winter 1491.
usuyuki ni konoha irokoki yamaji kana
Proposal of this hokku at the beginning of December engendered some
discussion over its seasonality, and whether there wasn't in fact some
contradiction in a verse containing both snow and fallen leaves.
However, though it has associations with autumn in the west, the
latter is a winter kigo in the Japanese tradition, perhaps partly
explained by the inclusion of November in Japanese poetic winter, in
contradistinction to much of the northern anglosphere.
| a halo of morning frost
on the old bull
Shohaku’s ‘brightly colored leaves”, reminded me of
something I’d photographed on my morning walk past the bull’s
pasture. The rising sun struck his frost-covered
just such a way he was outlined in a halo of light.
| a pair of thrushes
ruffling their feathers
while I shave
| "I want some water"
his wife calls from upstairs
|pale and feeble
in the heat haze
|AW: This verse called for a moon and thinking
about this I noticed the moon in the sky in the morning, looking very
pale. I do like to draw from real life, or sometimes strong memories,
for renku links when I can, as I find it tends to produce better
results than pure imagination. The link with the previous verse was
the suggestion of weakness, perhaps illness. Because of the seasonal
requirement there is the heat haze which, as this was written in
England in December, was entirely imaginary!
| a mound of pearly silks
tumbles from the basket
|SS: It is summer, everything seems hazy and
colourless. In my mind the roundness of the moon suddenly solidified
into the rim of a basket from which poured a rainbow of embroidery
silks. We had to adjust the language to avoid clashing with the hokku,
so they became pearly, like the moon. It was sad to lose the pouring
rainbow but that often happens in renku.
| Side 2
it's Saké then Heart of Fire
closely followed by Irish Cream...
|KE: I tried for an unusual grammatical structure;
(sort of dialed it in,) and flew back in time to New Zealand where a
man's voice called the races over our radio. He always began with
'This time...” to show that the gate was about to fall. Sue's verse
above was at that time full of colour; I saw jockeys in their silks,
wind ruffled, all action and noise. I invented racehorse names, which
were also somewhat colourful.
My verse was chosen, but Moi thought they were drinks. Apparently one
of my fanciful names was also alcoholic. I told her no, they were
racehorses chosen because of the colours. Thus a discussion was
sparked re Susan's verse which rivalled the hokku and so had to be
I researched some cocktails and decided to incorporate a little humour,
nodding to Japan, passion and Ireland, the home of our principal (but absent) sabaki. At least two of the three drinks are pearly, which
matched the changed pile of silks.
| along the quay, vendors
hawking their wares
My links are for the most part, intuitive and I haven’t a
whole lot to say about how they come about. But this one I remember,
because I read Kathy’s verse as a sampling of alcoholic drinks, even
though I didn’t recognize “Hearts of Fire”.
I simply considered that unlike Sake and Bristol Cream,
I’d as yet not discovered this exotic drink! But after my verse was
chosen, I found out it was about horses. At any rate, the unique brand
names (horse names) led me to ‘wares’ being sold quayside.
of her nipples in the cool
KE: For one reason and another
it was decided to replace verse nine, so we were all asked to try. It
was difficult. As I said at the time:
"...it is quite a
prescription: link both ways, write of
both Spring and love, and
not repeat anything from the uchikoshi verse forwards or backwards
I wrote three fairly
over-the-top verses, not as contenders
for the place, but to amuse
and hopefully stimulate ( ie
encourage) the others. The
original verse had been both
clever and sassy with a
twist, so we were sorry to see it
go; it seemed unlikely that
we'd find another to fit as well
as it had, and I think we
all felt the pressure of trying to
In fact, only three of us
submitted verses. After due
discussion and with my
protests that five verses from me
were at least one too many,
we took a break of a week or
two. In the end I was
delighted to see it slotted into the
place you see it today.
So. For me the support of
others is intrinsic to
composition, (and isn't all writing
risky?) So thank you to all
| at the Valentine's dance
wheelchairs roll to the beat
the station where we parted
so many years ago
|AW: Shake, rattle and roll? The Valentine's dance
made me think back, and this verse is a composite of many partings,
which so often seem to happen at railway stations. Is this why Brief
Encounter is so enduringly popular?
| all our tomorrows blighted
by peak everything
|KE: We were halfway through. Sabaki, (now Norman
again) had brought us up to date re requirements for this verse,
suggesting current affairs or politics for the topic. We did have fun
with it. There were dazzling poems that were bang on the mark,
satyrical, ironic and amusing. I wrote more than my 'quota' but no-one
seemed to mind. We were getting to know each other at this stage. I
showed a little of my real-life concerns, (well we all did,) but this
one ended up in the slot.
We were all affected by the sadness in Alison's poem; many responses
reflected that, including mine.
| workhouse walls
still hold the crumbling echo
of mothers' cries
|ND: After Alison's end-of-love parting, then
Kathy's blighted tomorrows, there was a temptation to ease back the
pressure and respond with a lighter verse, and I toyed with this
approach, but nothing I made was very satisfying. Perhaps I should
take courage and instead of looking for an escape from the growing
lamentation, build the wave still higher? And so this verse was born.
Sue commented at the time that it sounded rather dickensian, but the
workhouse has specific and powerful connotations in Ireland, where it
is associated with the Great Famine of the 1840's, whose folk memory
remains alive and well even in these post-Celtic Tiger days.
| katydids' songs of praise
at Amma's pink ashram
|KE: In the days immediately preceding Christmas we
struggled, searching for an Autumn poem that did not link beyond
Norman's ie introduced new material, and which lifted the mood of of
our renku. There were long spaces during Christmas and many poems
submitted afterward, but one by one they were found unsuitable. I
began to think we wouldn't find anything before the New Year and
sensed that we all wanted to move on.
The katydid verse had a difficult beginning, with cold research for
kigo. Then I got some pictures via Facebook from my son in India which
showed me the Ashram where they were staying. It's pink. I checked to
see what insects were in Kerala at that time.... bingo!
| a rose window
in the vast indigo sky
|SS: The "songs of praise" lifted the spirit of the
poem at this point. We needed drama for the autumn moon verse. My
thought process went through church windows into a kind of van Gogh
painting which seemed to express the feeling of exultation of praise;
the moon becomes a window of light through the blackness of the sky.
| one scarecrow working
a field of broken pumpkins
Without reading Susan’s explanation, I felt that glimmer
of hope (the moon) in the dark night sky. I wanted to echo this
loneliness in my own verse, yet at the same time show the constancy of
the moon and the scarecrow unfailingly present in their respective
| Side 3
hardly a murmur
from the crowd
| vanilla and mint ice-creams
"that's mine! that's mine!"
|SS: It is summer, "hardly a murmur" turns into
shouts; and quiet expectation turns into excited possessiveness. I see
me arriving on the beach with loaded ice-cream cones and the children
claiming their own.
| how would it be
if every country's flag
|ND: Frivolous speculation combines with naive
yearning. Contrasting with the grasping possessiveness of Sue's verse,
I mined my imagination for a concrete image encapsulating a utopian
selflessness. That row of flags outside the UN fades to the colour of
purity, of surrender to oneness. Hey, we can dream.
| threaded with ribbons
of sound this catcall night
|KE: Again, there were many delightful verses. I
loved being in the fray there with them; we chatted back and forth,
discussing what we needed next, aspects of each other's and our own
poems, links, grammar and form etc.
So my cats' ribbons came to be. I remembered nights when these amazing
sounds seemed to undulate like gaudy streamers that wove into my
|on bare boughs
tiny starlet blossom
MW: On sleepless nights I
often looked out at a grand old copper beech which has since been
chopped down. Now I have a unimpeded view of Venus and recently
My reference to the bare
beech boughs come from that memory and incidently I prefer the bare
'on bare boughs'. The 'starlet' blossom reminds me of the showy
quality of Jupiter and the beauty of Venus. I was looking for a kigo
moon/sky line to complete the verse. Gazing heavenwards is hopeful
which is a spring quality. However this was all interlaced with
sadness over my daughter Lola who has been very ill. She is a young
aspiring actress and needs to get better so she can get to Drama
college and follow her dream. So the feeling behind this verse is very
personal and I am so happy its tucked in between ' threaded with
ribbons of sound' and the beautiful 'meltwater'.
| meltwater - he speaks
of harnessing the sun
|AW: The suggestion of our sabaki, of including a
reference to the inauguration of President Obama, seemed perfect for
the upbeat, forward looking mood required of an ageku. However, doing
this while also writing something meaningful to those reading outside
of that context, and also including a seasonal reference to spring,
while giving a nod to the starting verse and both linking to and
shifting from the lovely, delicate images of the previous one, was
rather a tall order! Luckily I happened across the word 'meltwater'
which seemed to sum up the emotional release so many people felt at
the inauguration, while also providing a spring kigo. I combined this
with a reference to a phrase from the new president's inauguration
speech which struck me as both prosaic - referring to solar energy -
and poetic - a metaphor for so much. I was delighted that it resonated
for people, so much of renku is about a collaborative effort to find
what's best for the poem as a whole, and when you can contribute
something that works it's a very good feeling!
Carole MacRury (USA):
This was a 'different' renku for me with a new interface.
It wasn't as structured, we were never sure of how many
players we had, and we had poems chosen by two sabaki's which
I found a bit unsettling, knowing that each sabaki would have
different tastes. I wondered how this would affect the
I found myself feeling oddly disconnected at times and
couldn't keep up with the commentary. I worried about those
who hadn’t written a verse, wondering at times if we weren’t
going too fast. Things like that.
I saw this as more of a teaching renku, but have to add I
contributed little in that regard. I tend to scent link or
respond intuitively to verses and don’t really like explaining
them afterward. But I’ve gone back now, at Moi’s request and
attempted to offer hints as to my thinking in the hopes it
might be of interest to those new to renku.
Colin Stewart Jones (Scotland):
Gerald England (England):
Carole sums up my feelings regarding the structure and
expresses it well.
The method of construction of this renga differs somewhat from
previous ones I've been involved with.
I understand Moira
thinks we could offer the bewildered outsider some insights by
discussing how the renga was formulated, but I feel that could
do more harm than good if so doing created a precedence about
how things should be done when the reality is that there are
many different approaches to renku. As with haiku itself there
Alison Williams (England): I felt like I faded in
and out of this renku like the Cheshire Cat! I was following
every move at the start, then I got the flu over Christmas and
it all went hazy. As I re-emerged in the New Year I found it
still going strong and joined in again. That's the wonderful
thing about collaborating online - no one can tell if you're
writing renku in your pyjamas!
Susan Shand (England):
It is really interesting reading the process notes. Reading
renga/renku isn't quite like reading other kinds of poetry.
The links between verses in renga are as vital as the verses
themselves. Seeing other contributors' process like this
really helps to reveal the different ways of linking in an
observable practical way and also the different ways in which
people create their verses.
I learned a great
deal from this collaboration, especially in the discussion and
interaction about and around the relative merits of verses.
There was time to discuss and to come to agreement as a group.
I enjoyed the challenge and the chat, the creativity, and the
connections of friendship I made. It was so enjoyable that I
stuck with it through 'Flu and a high fever.
Kathy Earsman (Australia): Our finished renku looks
great. Reading through it I flash back to what was happening
in the world and to me, between the lines and tides of emotion
that flood and wane there in various colours.
The others' disclosures re how their verses were written have
been very helpful for me. There is something affirming in
writing collaborative poetry. Bonds form between the
participants as well as between the verses. I was engaged with
this one from beginning to end. I miss being part of it now.
Norman Darlington (Ireland):
Writing Beneath Thin Snow was a new experience for me
in a number of ways. Like most renku writers, I am accustomed
to participating in collaborations where the number and
identity of the poets are agreed in advance. In the Facebook
Renku Group, with some 100 members, we followed a looser
regime, with every verse open to offers from all. While this
made for a less controlled environment, it appeared to suit
some of the participating poets, who would produce more
spontaneously creative verses feeling under no pressure to
produce for any specific position, as and when inspiration
For two extended
periods during composition, I found myself disconnected from
the internet, and so ended up running a kind of time-share
sabakiship with Moi. While some of the poets may have found
this a little disconcerting, I thought it sat comfortably
enough with the unpredictability of who would offer for which
verse when. All of the above might have combined to produce a
poem both fragmentary and uneven, yet when I read the finished
work I find it imbued with an easy elegance and surefootedness
that seem to belie the circumstances of its composition.
What to take away
from this experience? I certainly feel less dogmatic in
drawing any direct correlation between environmental stability
and control by the sabaki, and the necessary quality
of the resulting work. What began with the primary aim of
engendering enthusiasm in a process and art-form has
-apparently against the odds- produced a piece of art of which
I feel we can all be justly proud.
Mary White (Ireland):
I also wore pyjamas and sat at the kitchen table while my
family had a late snooze. I loved checking in everyday and was
happy to observe until I began
to feel sad that it
was ending and that pushed me into getting the lead out and
writing something. It was my first Renku and I have learnt
much from participating in it. Because it is written slowly
there is time to absorb the process.
Composed in the Facebook Renku Group during
December 2008 and January 2009
in this issue of Simply Haiku: "Beneath
Thin Snow" a Triparshva by
MacRury, Colin Stewart Jones, Gerald England, Alison Williams,
Susan Shand, Kathy Earsman, Norman Darlington, Mary White.