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A Hundred Gourds 2:4 September 2013
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page 7  

The Kite Contest

frogs, toads —
the unsuspected beauty
of their voices


a lotus-stem lengthens
in the mirror lake


between the rows
a flash of knives and hoes,
women weeding


the kite contest begins
to shouts of glee




crunching, crunching
we share pieces
of peanut toffee


her hair all in a flutter
on a cobble bench


snowbound silence,
just the warmth of
breathing from their bed


bereft of stars
the winter moon, alone


not a hope
but the fight with cancer
goes on anyway


tea spurts from the child’s mouth
down his shirt


with the squash blossoms
art students
drift into the Rialto


hovering over the menu
a late sun




digging for diamonds,
is the mud colour
this deep from blood?


by tooth and talon
they harrow all hell


a stubborn battle,
both cocks end up
diced in the blanquette


fumbling at the keys
my piano frowns back


the stave
betrayed by moonlight and smoke
his life as a fox


hairs rise on young necks
the touch of frail grass


a burnt clearing,
hunters and beaters
ready for the shoot


caught in the long jump
athletes pedal air





tracing down
the faded spines of books
a narrowed eye


the Master checks the metre
of my verse


our dusty street
filled with plum blossoms
and swallows


a cool touch upon the pond,
a rippled breeze





A Tankako renku composed at Issa’s Snail
between April 5 and May 14, 2013.

Verse Allocations:

Ashley Capes, Australia – 5, 12, 16, 23
Bill Dennis, United States – 1, 11, 17, 21
Kala Ramesh, India – 4, 8, 13, 20
John Carley, (sabaki), England – 3, 7, 14, 22
Steven Yaschuk, Canada – 6, 10, 18, 24
Vasile Moldovan, Romania – 2, 9, 15, 19


The Kite Contest – tomegaki

“Is there such a thing as post-renku triste?” Bill asks. Yes, there most certainly is. I’ve been trying to put a name to the most saddened person – don’t think it was Basho himself, but one of his inner circle – who was once so gutted that he opined words to the effect of: “The text that remains as a record of the session is just rubbish and might as well be discarded.” Needless to say, suitably decontextualised, this has been used down the years by proponents of the supremacy of solo verse to show that Basho was in agreement with them.

I’m still a bit battered, and Google won’t play, but I know I’m not misleading you with the essentials. One thing of which I’m 100% certain is that in semi-formal Japanese contemporary practice it’s a commonplace for participants in a session to achieve ‘closure’ by writing a ‘kanso’ (literally something like ‘appreciation’) and the poem leader, sabaki, to do a ditto called ‘tomegaki’ (more or less: ‘debrief’). It is therefore a great pleasure to read the spontaneous comments online. And this is my tomegaki.

I’ve encountered three patterns for renku, all of them proposed since the eighties, which attempt to offer a vehicle for writing poetry very closely modelled on Basho’s 36 verse kasen. There is anyway a vector for shorter sequences in the contemporary renku revival, but it’s also true that a kasen is hard to do well face to face with a really good sabaki. Doing it online with people who aren’t particularly au fait can be a nightmare. I’ve seen lots of poems fail under the weight of indecision and lack of direction. So shorter is worthwhile for all sorts of reasons.

The ones which get close are the nijuin (20 = 4/6/6/4), the triparshva (22 = 6/10/6) and the tankako (24 = 4/8/8/4). All of these permit typical Edo period things like more than a pair of verses for any given season, ditto for ‘love’, familiar or ‘rational’ placements for blossom and moon verses, and a pretty large overall spread of tones and topics throughout the poem. Crucially all claim to be able to accommodate Basho’s significant emphasis on the jo-ha-kyu pacing paradigm as applied to the kasen (36 = 6/12/12/6).

It is my belief that the radical three folio (or rather three ‘side’) structure of the triparshva remains the most effective.

Less effective is the nijuin. There are difficulties in accommodating the classic ‘jo’ in only four verses of the opening – despite the fact that the newfangled yotsumono will teach people how to achieve a complete four verse poem. The two six verse centre sections in the nijuin might appear to parallel the binary centre sections of the kasen, but they are a very tight space in which to develop extended cohesive passages of verse. And the ending, ‘kyu’ is again overly restricted by having only four verses available. This is not to argue that the nijuin is a rubbish proposal, only that it lends itself to the production of a different type of poem that the kasen.

The tankako retains the squeeze on the first four verses. But the last four verses can be extended, or anticipated, by moving the first intimations of the ‘rapid close’ into the close of the second part of ‘ha’. And this in turn is possible because the twin eight verse centre sections (ha), as our poem demonstrates, can indeed accommodate a fairly comprehensive movement from one set of emotional colour to another, and back.

This last point is significant in that we do well to retain a residual awareness that a principle aesthetic driver of the fundamentally anti-thematic nature of Basho-style renku is that it comes from Shingon ideas of ‘mandala’ and Zen ideas of ‘10,000 things’. Or as Falstaff might have said: “The more the merrier!”



– John E. Carley   




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