Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Winter 2006, vol 4 no 4


Comparison, Contrast and Integration:
A reflection on the composition of Springtime in Edo

The act of writing renku is a lesson in humility. Poets must compete. Each seeks to provide the ideal linking verse, plumbing the depths of their experience and ability in the almost certain knowledge that their efforts will be found wanting, and that another’s verse will be chosen. But this competition must itself be an expression of friendship and trust, for renku is a collaborative art, and any collaboration rooted in antipathy must surely fail.

What chance then that a diverse assortment of poets from Japan, Europe and America – persons who have for the most part never met and who might not understand each other’s language – what chance that such a heterodox group could produce a true collaboration, a piece of poetry? Because if poetry is the most pure expression of the language and culture from which it springs, how can a poem be written in two languages simultaneously?

Our experience indicates that there is a curious synergy between the act of writing renku and the type of effort necessary to foster any kind of international or intercultural understanding. At the very core of renku composition lies the dynamic of continuous reappraisal. Seemingly disparate elements are brought together, contrasted, compared and integrated into the flow of the work. This is not a didactic exercise; the connections between elements are not specified. Instead the reader is free to interpret the precise nature of the proposed interrelations. If the haikai-no-renga of the Tokugawa period could draw its life from the separate worlds of the commons and nobility, might it be possible that contemporary renku could unite the separate houses of the global village?

There were difficulties. Phrases that are very succinct in one language may require a more lengthy expression in another. Perceptions of season change from climate to climate. But when these dilemmas were addressed without fear it was found that the fundamentals of human experience which underpin a given expression, or give rise to a particular perception, were in every case the same irrespective of language group or region. The challenge therefore of voicing a verse in both English and Japanese was simply one of expressive and artistic ability, not of irreconcilable societal difference.

It is my sincere hope that the reader finds Springtime in Edo both stimulating and enjoyable. I never cease to be amazed at how much material, how many moods, topics and tones are required to complete the 36 verses of a Kasen renku. Indeed it is possible to argue that in attempting a Kasen renku having one’s poets strung out around the planet is a positive boon! Surely no other literary genre demonstrates with more clarity that, amongst people of good will, there is unity and strength in our personal diversity.

John Carley

Relevant elsewhere in Simply Haiku:
Springtime in Edo (English version)
Springtime in Edo (Japanese version)
Audio file of the poem's English text, read by your editor


Copyright 2006: Simply Haiku