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A Hundred Gourds 2:1 December 2012
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Tomegaki for Cold Sun

This junicho was started as a workshop exercise in an hour-long class at the Haiku Festival Aotearoa in Tauranga, New Zealand, on June 17, 2012.

I had circulated information about junicho to the participants before the workshop, hoping we might not need to start from ground zero when we had so little time. The information included translations of Japanese terms used in renku, some history of the junicho (a relatively modern form), and some guidance on fundamentals, such as the dynamic movement of jo-ha-kyu, and link and shift.

I do not consider myself to be an expert on renku and so was nervous about leading such a group. However, being involved with linked-verse groups online has given me much pleasure and I hoped to expose the participants to a new way of expressing themselves using (what is essentially) the haiku form in a group setting.

The registered participants sent their hokku candidates before the workshop so I might choose a verse and we could get straight to work. I was concerned we might not get very far but when our time was up we had the first five ku in place. Outstanding.

On the day we were joined by three other poets who made a spontaneous decision to join the workshop. Although the majority of the participants knew little about renku, two of the workshop poets have previously written linked verse of all sorts, which helped my confidence knowing I could refer and discuss anything of which I was unsure.

I was keen to find out what it would be like to write (or at least start) a renku when all the poets were in the same room, an experience I hadn’t yet had. There were lots of questions, lots of laughter and, thank you poets, lots of hard work. How marvellous it would be to write a complete junicho in the physical company of other poets.

The energy in the room was crackling – everyone was not only working hard to grasp the concepts of renku but to produce verses for each position. Cold Sun has mostly been written on a competitive basis with only two positions allocated to particular poets.

I have found the process of leading the junicho to its conclusion online to be quite different. Few questions were asked, little discussion was entered into, and, for various reasons, four poets were unable to continue. In an effort to bring the poem to a timely conclusion I found I had to remind several poets by email to look at the site and make an offering.

So, is there a difference between writing together and writing remotely? From this experience, I have to say yes, a great difference. It seemed that much of our original enthusiasm was missing from the online section; that it was somehow a cooler experience.

However, despite this being a “fractured” poem, we had all met one another, which I consider to be an advantage, and the writers who continued online were more or less all in the same time zone (New Zealand and the east coast of Australia).

From the beginning, it was not clear where the junicho might head, which is part of the fun. Margaret wrote an admirable wakiku for Kirsten’s interesting hokku thus giving us a strong roof to our house of words.

For newcomers shedding inhibitions to write for the ha section is something to be learned … and the subtletly of haiku is a hard habit to shrug off. Nola had offered a version of her “Arab Spring” verse for the hokku – where it would have been unsuitable due to its subject matter. I liked its bravado and made it a “pocket verse”, pulling it out for one of our spring verses which fell in the ha section.

The other “gear change” for newcomers to renku comes with the no-season verses, again a skill that must be learned by haiku poets.

Although Jim contributed only one verse (during the workshop), I was pleased to have a male voice in our poem – and how appropriate that it came in as one of the love verses.

For this sabaki, the goal was to finish with a cohesive poem and I tried to be careful to keep the whole in mind when choosing each new verse, which sometimes meant that a personally favoured verse wasn’t selected.

The schema for a 12-verse junicho is:
2 spring/autumn verses; 1 summer/winter verse; 1 moon verse (with a season); 1 flower verse (with a season) = 6 seasonal verses.
2 love verses (no-season); 4 no-season verses = 6 no-season verses.

There must be a balance between verses with people in them and those without and verses that occur inside and outside.

As well, there is the dynamic movement to consider – jo-ha-kyu (roughly, formal beginning; full-on party mode; mellow farewell).

The fact that we achieved all this is praiseworthy, the fact that we made poetry is a reason to skip and sing tra-la!

John Carley, my mentor in all things renku, kindly agreed to offer comments on our pre-final junicho, where he pointed up what he considered to be a hiccup – a case where the short verse (2-lines) was wordier than the long verse (3 lines) it preceded.

Issa’s Snail owner Ashley Capes asked in a comment whether writing “live” had precluded that because we had heard the verses read – and I think he’s hit the nail on the head. I wonder, in fact, whether a poem written live has more natural rhythm than one completed online for the same reason.

Writing online offers the chance for collaborations that are exciting for the poets and their readers … but does writing remotely lack something? Are “live” collaborations richer in some way? That’s a question for time to answer, perhaps.

I would like to thank all the poets who participated in the creation of this junicho – even if you didn’t have a verse selected you contributed to the energy of the room during the workshop, an energy that gave us such a great head start. I would also like to thank Ashley for giving us the space to complete Cold Sun at Issa’s Snail (my online renku home), and John. It’s always reassuring to read John’s thoughts on the many rules of renku, which I often think can be summed up as “relax”.

All my renku writing has previously been online and, apart from one disastrous group dynamic (not on Issa’s Snail) I have thoroughly enjoyed each poem and learned much. I hope the poets involved in this poem can say as much.

- Sandra Simpson (sabaki), July 28, 2012.


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