The generative dynamics that drive renku are not complex. But they are
manifold, overlapping, historically rooted, and subtle. As a consequence
quick-fix solutions to a better understanding are at best extremely partial,
and at worst wholly illusory.
It would be fascinating to trace the genesis of the term 'back-link',
and map the meanings variously attributed to it. As mentioned during the
course of our poem 'back-link' is a very blunt approximation of an array
of considerations intended to generate a progressive and creative dynamic.
That this should be represented as a paranoid compulsion to forensically
comb a text for 'repetitions' is a travesty.
The impulse for 'ready reckoner' solutions is no more clearly seen than
in the seasonal passages of renku and their associated kigo. The required
seasonal aspect, and the season word/expression employed, are the starting
point not the end point of verse creation. A verse which merely ticks
the boxes will not be a good verse. A sequence which is governed by this
approach will not be poetry.
Personally I cannot recommend the use of a Japanese saijiki unless one
is of, or very familiar with, Japanese culture. The danger of parody,
tokenism or superficiality is too great. But whatever approach one adopts
it is salutary to reflect on the genesis of any given season word. A kiyose
is a simple list of accepted season words, it is an aide memoire. A saijiki
is lexicon wherein the presence of a word is explained by exemplars, and
often accompanied by etymology. A term only exists in a saijiki because
it is a shared cultural emblem with a complex of associations, replete
with literary precedent and folk memories. These resonances are the poet's
Bizarrely an overly simplistic and literal tendency also extends to questions
of linkage. Basho was generally reluctant to voice any opinion which might
be construed as a 'rule', but in the matter of linking styles he was uncharacteristically
direct, identifying three levels of refinement: word level, mentation,
and empathy. He regarded this latter approach, that of 'nioi', as being
his greatest contribution to the development of haikai aesthetics. But
what would he know!
Nonetheless, as has been observed during the course of our poem, a sequence
which relies purely on the most abstracted of these approaches to linkage
can be wholly unrewarding.
And there's the nub, or perhaps the rub. Renku is above all about unity
in diversity. We must balance the tangential with the direct, the traditional
with the experimental. This is the dichotomy at the heart all Shomon haikai.
An individual haiku, like glass, is translucent or transparent and shows
more clearly than its own outline what lies behind or beyond the glass
itself. Roland Barthes, in Empire of Signs, insists upon that protean
potential wherein an “exemption from meaning” allows haiku
to signify, paradoxically, nothing and everything at one stroke. Memory
betrays me . . . . Who wrote that haiku is perpetually in search of a
Renku equals a path upon which meaning or its absence can be traced.
This way, being rustic but long traveled, is made of sand. Context, from
link to link, is therefore ever shifting.
One might modify my forgotten commentator’s claim for haiku in
search of a context by adding that the individual link in renku is perpetually
in search of an author. It cannot exist without its own composer and yet
it exists, also, only by virtue of the author of the link that it follows
and the author of the link that it precedes, each of whom shapes considerably
Furthermore, one has the excellent reader who, in haikai in general
and in renku specifically, joins the many authors proper --- this, through
the creative act of interpretation.
The communal nature of the renku project, in every respect, overturns
conventional preoccupations with authorial autonomy and ownership, each
link being a product not only of the ongoing contextual changes but, in
the constant give-and-take of the collaborators, a product of not one
but of many hands.
From yet another point-of-view, this communal activity lends to renku
its temporal but salient status as a temenos, a sacred precinct of protection,
if only for the duration of the building of the temple. Even so, in the
end, one must part with this sanctuary and rejoin the bustling world:
towards the open ocean
to swim with sharks
John Carley guided us through these uncharted and sometimes choppy waters
by constantly reminding us of our destination. There were days that I
felt we were lost at sea, only to find out that John had yet again moved
us towards dry land. My ship mates Cristian, Vaughn, Jeffrey and Basho
all scudded these waters. Vaughn, the man with the
questions and the quest. Jeffrey, the lyre in sound and syllable ....
John E Carley, our captain, never failed to invent ways and means for
this journey to move forwards. John manned the sails of each verse and,
in my case, wedded two of my lines with a part of another verse of mine,
thereby creating a wonderful gestalt of sight and scent. This was ingenious.
I wish to thank John for his time, patience and knowledge.
from far away places
in this issue of Simply Haiku:
Triparshva : Plum Tree