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Autumn 2008, vol 6 no 3


October Rain, the first English-language Rokku Renku
Tomegaki, by Eiko Yachimoto



There are quite a few forms used in renku composition and each form has reasons for its existence. Haku Asanuma wanted to invent a form that would combine the merits of several forms, new and old, with maximum flexibility in its total length.

As we all know we rarely have the luxury of composing a renku of a hundred verses, as the aristocrats of ancient Japan used to. In the Rokku you can decide how long to continue, depending on the time available to the renju. For that purpose each and every folio consists of six verses (or rokku, thus 'rock') and once you decide to conclude your renku at the folio you are working on, you must write a blossom verse to usher in the ageku, or very last verse.

You might wonder why Haku should make such a big deal about grouping six verses. My first question was how can one structure and design an entire poem without deciding the number of verses at the start. I now understand that he wanted to breathe fresh life into the ad lib spirit which has run right through the long tradition of renga and renku. In fact he borrows this emphasis from a new renku form called shishinoko.

The Rokku’s stanza-like structure is drawn from another form: the sonnet. No doubt this form was made by a Japanese who adores the tradition of English poetry.

So that Rokku can qualify as a renku form, Haku tells us to avoid uchikoshi at all costs throughout the poem. He even bans writing three spring or autumn verses in succession, because the third verse in the same season can only hinder the forward progression of the renku movement.

The life of renku, he firmly believes, breathes both in link and shift and in jo-ha-kyu. In the first folio of the Rokku —in jo (introduction)— the poets should write in a mild and formal manner, in the same way that many taboos must be observed in writing the first folio of a kasen. The first folio of the Rokku is dedicated to the tradition of kasen, hence the moon appears in the fifth verse. The subsequent folios represent ha, or dramatic tempo, with the final folio representing kyu, or fast tempo. This strong emphasis on jo-ha-kyu is derived from the form called hi-kaishi, invented by Hashi Kaiseki.

There are two charming points in the Rokku:
1. In addition to the designated blossom and moon positions, there is a mandatory ‘stone’ position, which may appear anywhere in the poem. (Rokku -> Rock -> Stone)
2. One folio can be written ignoring the well-known traditional meter of five-seven-five and seven-seven onji. When you write in Japanese this both confuses and liberates poets!

Now let me begin to talk about our Rokku, by quoting a verse from Narrow Road
To the Deep North

Samidare no
Furi-nokoshi-te ya

The rains of early summer,
Have they left untouched
The bright Golden Hall?

(translated by Toshiharu Oseko)

Our hokku and waki pair reminded me of the Basho verse above. We could even say:

October rain—
sheltered by an oak
we do renku

Thinking back, there is a clear distinction between my days while we were composing and these days since it ended. We were magpies and I neither got wet nor felt frozen. Ron and Sheila housed us in the bright Golden Hall.

Would you call our first folio mild? The Old Mother Goose world of the daisan keeps us safely within tradition and the humorous link to it observes the level of lightness required for this first folio. Links and shifts to the slender moon and a smile are mild enough to keep readers’ brain responses smooth.

In the second and third folios we venture into the complications of human life, guided by a frog and sprouts! When John wrote our stone position beautifully right in the center of this Rock, I remembered our walk along the hedge of a Yorkshire village. With the help of music, dream and fragrance, we were able to create a renku wave (most important in my opinion) and touched the theme of death, making the most of the moon position.

How do you like our one-liner folio? There must be many other solutions for writing this free verse section in the English language. I hoped that writing in one line would give poets fresh air and would entertain readers by its stark visual difference. I know why Haku included this special folio. He knows renku poets well. We get so used to so-called “planned harmony” that we become too comfortable with it. We must prevent this from happening.

Unless renku is poetry, it cannot have power over the thing we call reality, and we are merely wasting our precious time linking one verse to another. Although we collaborate, this must not mean that we cede our direct poetic voice. Having this special free-verse folio helps us stop and think about these important issues.

Our final folio is mild again, as it is supposed to be. The links and shifts here are just as smooth and kind as they are in our first folio. And yet we hear a deeper resonance between verses, and I see Hortensia’s blooming peonies casting their dainty light back across the entire length of our Rock.

I sincerely invite our renju to read our Rokku once again. It is poetry and here our collaboration was based on our pride as poets. My heart is filled with gratitude that John, Sheila, Ron and Hortensia so graciously trusted me as sabaki to complete the poem.

Readers, please enjoy the first English language Rokku Renku.

Eiko Yachimoto
April 24, 2008

Related articles in this issue of Simply Haiku:
October Rain, the first English-language Rokku Renku


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