A Hundred Gourds 2:3 June 2013
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From There to Here: Conversations with John E. Carley

| Introduction | page 2 | page 3 | page 4 | page 5 | page 6 | page 7 |

A Formal Greeting

John has acted as a poem leader (sabaki) for more than a hundred renku sequences, many composed in more than one language. Several have been published in a host of international venues. His emphasis lies in that kind of collaborative linked verse composed after the style or in the school of Matuso Basho – Shomon haikai renga – a distinction he strives to make perfectly clear.

Attending a renku composition led by Carley can be an education in itself. Generous and encouraging to a fault, Carley is quick to share a textbook knowledge of technique and nuance garnered over years of practice and study, at once citing example and historical method obscure to many and railing, tongue firmly in cheek, against those who have pretended an expertise in haikai-no-renga which they do not possess. Eschewing narrow interpretation and insufficient education in the art, his is a vision for truth in literary artistry. John has even been overheard to say, with no lack of commitment, "I don't care about renku. I care about poetry." In the end, however, it is John’s humility that prevails. He allows that, “… if the sum of my experience amounts to anything it is for the reader to decide”.

Keen to explore the possibility of revisiting earlier academic translations, Carley has recently been working on renku translations from Basho and his immediate school, both on his own and in league with Eiko Yachimoto of the internationalist renku school based in Tokyo called AIR (Association for International Renku), a working relationship that has lasted over years. In his own words:

“These translations are informed in part by a desire to consistently emulate some features of the source text which have tended to be obscured –and not least the impact that a regular set of proportions and cadences has on the reading experience.”

Previously, Carley served as renku editor, from 2004 through 2006, for the haikai journal Simply Haiku and has appeared frequently as an essayist for the World Haiku Review, The Journal of Renga and Renku, as well as in A Hundred Gourds and other journals. His Renku Reckoner is the most viewed and dog-eared source of renku diagram and aesthetics in the English speaking world.

John Carley’s creation of the zip haiku form applies the discipline of fixed sound units of Japanese hokku to the broader utterance of English language haiku. It is “in part a genuine attempt to explore the nexus between Japanese poetics and English language prosody”.

           black            beneath this puddle
even darker down            the polar night[1]

Carley recently constructed an abbreviated format of renku based on a Chinese precursor to Japanese linked verse, the Yotsumono , loosely translated as four things. The exercise proved successful, with broad acceptance by haikai authors and the release of the Little Book of Yotsumonos: [2]

Picture Window


my hybrid primrose
struggles in the sleet—
picture window

the kestrel and I
spare a passing glance—
so to Autumn

the busker’s melody
Made in Ireland

an empty husk
its seeds flown away

pikes and pennants
waving bravely
march on down the years

sweet so sweet
the touch of smoke
the kiss of opium

each gnarl a face
in this blackthorn cane

this idle life
led solely in the mind

— John Carley, Lorin Ford

— John Carley, William Sorlien

Currently John has begun work on a treatise with the working title The Book of Renku, an expansion and further clarification of a body of work and research spanning a period of nearly two decades.

1. Haiku 21, Modern Haiku Press 2011

2. The Little Book of Yotsumonos, Darlington Richards Press, 2012