Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Summer 2005, vol 3 no 2
  Feathered Frost: an interview with the authors  
SH Feathered Frost is an unusual and challenging piece in more ways than one. Each stanza, for instance, is written as a single unbroken line. Where did you learn this style of prosody? And what do you see as the advantages?  
ron One line haiku in the tradition of MM [Marlene Mountain.ed] and Janice Bostok always attracted me. Sheila and I starting writing in this way, without spacing on the line, for its aesthetic appeal and the flow of imagery it creates, but it must always maintain the haiku breaks if written and then read properly. Of course we even challenged ourselves on that too, by using very short lines where they could work.  
sheila I don't know Janice's work (something I aim to remedy very soon) but I'm a great fan of Marlene's and writing with her and others was what got me hooked on one-line haiku without spaces or punctuation. I agree with Ron that, generally, each line needs to be read as a distinct haiku . . . but on occasion like to depart from that and slip in a deliberate 'run on'. One-line haiku are great fun and habit forming. Sometimes allowing the reader several different interpretations, depending on where s/he decides to place the punctuation/emphasis.
SH It's interesting that you both refer to the component stanzas of the piece as 'haiku'. Is there any material difference in the way you construct a stanza for these collaborative pieces as opposed to the methods you would employ for a single stand-alone verse?
sheila The way I write tends to be intuitive/from the inside out, and it's not often that I'm consciously aware of the mechanics of it. But having thought, yes, I suppose I do approach the different forms differently. With a solo haiku I focus on the event/moment/what I want to convey and that's all. In the case of collaborative writing, I try to 'tune in' to my partner/s, get onto a shared 'wavelength' and allow the work to flow and grow from there. Always with collaborative work I have the intention, somewhere at the back of my mind, to make the overall piece the best it can be . . . it is, perhaps, a more open and embracing practice than single haikai writing. And that's a big part of the enjoyment of it, for me.
ron Yes, I couldn't agree more. The piece will often get a good a vibe if it's working and equally, one of us might suggest it has lost momentum at a certain point and we find a place to start again and not get hung up on the whys and why nots but continue the creative flow.  
SH Overall you use 36 verses for the piece - the length of the Kasen pattern immortalised by Matsuo Basho. What influenced you to choose this number of verses? And/Or did you draw directly on other features of the Kasen when composing the piece?
sheila Yes, I first met this particular form through ai li (editor of 'still' and 'dew-on-line'). She called it 'one line renku' and the name has stuck with me. It seemed to me at the time to be the contemporary western alternative to the more 'traditional' Japanese renku forms, with their many rules and conventions. Having thirty-six 'verses' is pretty much where the similarity with kasen renku ends . . . that and the one requirement: that there should be no back-linking (not just to the last but one verse but throughout). The idea is to make the whole exciting, a journey through many places and experiences. It is up to the writers to decide what constitutes a back-link.  
ron For me having a degree of form can give you great freedom to explore the creativity of where a piece can go, knowing that we will be working towards the traditional thirty-six verse length, it gives you the space to allow the images to come, but have a structure to work towards to
bring it to completion.

Yes, it's clear that Feathered Frost doesn't just end at random, and though it hits high gear more rapidly than would a Kasen, I am nevertheless reminded of the jo-ha-kyu dynamic pattern.

You alternate throughout. Is there a collaborative aspect to the drafting of any given verse or is each the sole work of the named poet? By the same token - were multiple candidates proposed for each verse position. And, if so, how was the selection process arrived at?

ron We write alternate lines separately and then with a mutual respect for each other's individuality and 'poetic voice' we might suggest an edit - if something is really not working, we will be honest with each other, as the finished piece is what is important. To find someone you can work well with is rare; collaborative writing is certainly a challenge but the results are worth it.  
sheila I'm in agreement with ron on this.

Like ice .... .... : sheila windsor

SH Did you reach this level of understanding immediately? If I am not mistaken Feathered Frost is not your first collaboration . . .
sheila Not by any means our first collaboration, John. We're the Derby & Joan of haikai collaboration and have become more comfortable (read more outspoken) with each other as we've progressed! We each know that the other's input will be completely sincere and constructive and on that basis, feel free to say what we need to say without fear that the other will take offence.  
SH The piece clearly demonstrates the most fundamental generative technique of renku - that of 'link and shift'. Did you use any other formal approach so as to guarantee variety and progression in the piece?  
sheila No, 'link and shift' is our only stated 'rule.' Other than that it's a matter of writing intuitively with the end of progression/variety taken as read.
ron Yes, as Sheila has mentioned we feel that in order for it to take off into interesting directions we link in someway to the verse before and stay aware of back-linking to images and even specific well used words like 'moon' for example - we often discuss certain back-links and this seems to be the best way to work.  
SH In the Japanese renku tradition the use of seasons and season words is extremely important, not least as a way of making extra-textual reference. What was your approach to the general question of 'season'? And, other than the primary content of the stanzas, did you adopt
any method of broadening the resonance of the poem?
ron We certainly use both the season and seasonal words, but more in a free-form way when they occur naturally rather than writing to a template. We also concentrate on not having repetition and work towards a natural progression of seasons rather than jumping back and forwards. Resonance is the hidden quality we all strive for and working on the craft and lots of experimentation and writing is an excellent start.  
sheila 'Yes' to that!  
SH The relatively unorthodox stanza structure aside, is this free-form approach to renku one you would recommend to persons new to linked verse. Or is it the case that the adoption of more formalised structures might, at least in the first instance, actually aid the process of composition?

I think it entirely depends on the 'persons,' John. I would guess that perhaps the majority might be more comfortable starting off with a more formalised structure. Personally, I find the challenge of freedom exhilarating. But I also need variety, in my literary and visual practices, so I sometimes like to work within the 'traditional' forms too. To make it work with free-form collaboration requires a high degree of trust and an intuitive connection between partners.

April 2005


Related items in this issue of Simply Haiku:
~ Feathered Frost: one-line-renku – Ron Moss & Sheila Windsor

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