It is a pleasure to know that AlR (Association for International Renku) has begun to compile a record of its linked verse sessions. This has been an important period, a period when Japanese and foreign poets have worked together frequently to make linked verse poems, each reaching out from his own culture to the other. The resulting poems have been an inspiration to both groups. This and future collections will provide an interesting record for aspiring linked verse poets and will help them to better understand this enjoyable social and literary 'game' of renku.
I remember how I felt when I wrote linked verse with Japanese poets for the first time. I enjoyed learning the structure and rules of renku, and learning more about the Japanese way of seeing things. Interestingly, several Japanese poets said that they gained new perspective and insight into their own culture through explaining linked verse to us and trying to translate the verses.
Creating a renku linked poem is a social as well as creative event. When poets gather together to write a linked verse sequence, they also gain insight into each other's minds and hearts through the links of the poem. A sense of fellowship can grow between them over time.
Here in America, linked verse is becoming more and more popular. Many top American haiku poets also enjoy composing renku when they get together informally or at meetings, so I predict that renku has a bright future among poets around the world.
I remember very fondly the annual 'First Renku Party of the Year' celebrations held at my home over the years. The last one, January 4, 1997, was held on a bright, clear day. The poets were in high spirits as they wandered around the house and garden. The reflecting pool and garden could be seen from the large picture windows, so the changing beauty of the day was on display for us, an inspiration as we composed poetry over the course of the hours.
Even today when I read the verses we composed that day, the personalities of the poets come back to my mind:
Tadashi 'Shokan' Kondo and Kris Kondo, our renku session leaders; Kayoko Hashimoto, Patricia Donegan, Neil Robbie and his wife, Yoshiko, Karin Noborizaka, Shinku Fukuda, Tateshi Tsukamoto, Toshiyo Asaka, Mami Orihara, Kikuyo Sugiura, Yoshiko Uchiyama, Eiko Yachimoto and her daughter Ruriko who helped us make tea and amused herself punching out braille writing while we composed poetry.
One group was led by Shinku Fukuda in the Japanese tatami room on the second floor overlooking the garden; the other group was led by Kris Kondo downstairs. Halfway through the poem, we stopped and gathered in the dining room for an obento lunch together. Fukuda Sensei gave a fine toast about his hopes for international renku, and Shokan Kondo thanked me for my support. Then we shared our latest poetry experiences, discoveries, season words, and other matters while we ate. Pat Donegan had spent New Year's eve on a mountain top with a beautiful view of the half-moon and told us about her experience.
Throughout the afternoon we kept up our energy with Japanese sweets, tea, coffee, and sake. A few faces became pinker and more cheerful as time went on! Although we were serious about what we were doing, there was a lot of warm-hearted laugher too.
When the sessions were completed in the early evening, we gathered again to read the completed renku. Everyone was pleased that we had started the new year with a celebration of poetry.
Before they left, I asked everyone to write a haiku in our embassy guest book. The guest book, a record of everyone invited to the home of the deputy chief of mission, is now much more interesting with poems scattered like gems among the signatures of official visitors.
Kris Kondo was feeling tearful because it was the last new year's party we would hold together at my residence. I felt sad too, knowing that my husband and I would be leaving Japan that year. However, we would carry with us many warm memories of poetry friends in Japan.
The above is from pages 36 and 38 of the renku anthology 'Wind Arrow'
published by Association for International Renku (AIR), 20 November, 1999
edited by Eiko Yachimoto,
Reproduced with Eiko Yachimoto's permission and the following note:
"I can give you permission because she [Kristen Deming] told me in those days that 'Wind Arrow' can map AIR in the world of poetry and moi, you are helping towards that goal by publishing her letter in simplyhaiku.
Related item in this issue of Simply Haiku: 'Into The Infinite Sky: half-kasen' ~ Shinku Fukuda, Shokan Kondo, Karin Noborizaka, Kikuyo Sugiura, Ryo Uchiyama, Mami Orihara, Tateshi Tsukamoto, Yoshiko Robbie.