Simply Haiku: A Quarterly Journal of Japanese Short Form Poetry
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Summer 2005, vol 3 no 2
  Grace Notes: Tomegaki, Eiko Yachimoto  

I must observe
the sun and storms at sea
all life's shapes
and colors - for I
may be called home soon
                    —Kirsty Karkow

About this time five years ago I was busy translating tutorial texts and what-not to and from English for the first Global Renku Symposium, scheduled to be held in Tokyo. ‘Collaboration’ was the word most frequently used when English-language contributors introduced the genre of renku, and, in the October symposium, I decided to ask my audience to accept the unfamiliar word as is.

Some of you might wonder how this concept could be strange or unfamiliar to a Japanese audience interested in renku. And some might question why I did not translate ‘collaboration’ into a Japanese equivalent. What is most ironical is that during the past five years this English word in katakana has earned citizenship, so to speak, amongst young Japanese people who know nothing of the long tradition of Japanese collaborative poetry. The new usage is found frequently, not only in commercials but also in music/art/fashion columns. I slowly realize, however, that the life and quality of collaboration renku calls for has slipped further to the margins of present-day Japanese values in spite of the reverse-import of the concept ‘collaboration’ from the Occident....

Collaboration in renku requires a strong willingness to confront and deal with another soul. It should never mean to submit to others or to bury oneself in some social game. If I had had used ‘kyodo seisaku’, most Japanese people must have associated the word with cut and dry team-work of the business/industrial world where you are supposed to be quiet and obedient (‘kyodo seisaku’ being the term coined after the Meiji Restoration or, as I would rather call this milestone change, the Meiji Modernization).

In the Edo period preceding Meiji, when the renku population was large, to be collaborative in renku writing was so obvious that no one needed the word. The term used was ‘haikai’ which meant ‘renku writing’. Those who were good at haikai were respected not only as poets but also as learned and virtuous persons with a good all-round knowledge.

To lead and to be led in a renku session are both rigorous processes, the impetus for our ancestors to come up with many rules and formats for the collab-session, the magnetic field of Japanese philosophy, psychology, and aesthetics as it were. Yes it is rigorous, but what joy it brings forth! ‘Collaboration’ in katakana still has a long way to go.

Yoyoshi, meaning both ‘44’ and ‘May Peace Prevail’, is an old form longer than the Kasen by 8 verses in total, 2 verses in each folio. Thus it has got two blossom verses and three moon positions just like in the Kasen. This form was one of the shorter variations of 100-in (Hyakuin), in this instance derived by omitting four middle parts, each consisting of 14 verses. 44 is thus broken down to 8 + 14 + 14 + 8.

The naming of Yoyoshi itself is haikai spirited. 44 had been a number usually avoided because of the double death image from the sound (4 is read ‘shi’, which means ‘death’). Another way of pronouncing 4 is ‘yon’, which sounds very similar to ‘yo’, meaning ‘this world’. And by giving the second four a Chinese character meaning luck, Yoyoshi was born. May the peace really prevail.

The longer form, for that matter, the Hyakuin renga is also under the spotlight recently. I guess many renkujin desire to understand why Basho wanted to abridge them by experiencing these older forms for themselves. They also seem to feel the need to confirm the linking aspect of the much preached ‘link and shift’ of renku once again.

Thank you, Kirsty and Hortensia, for letting me explore into the past!. This is the longest renku I have ever led and the rich, sonorous, music intrigued me so much that I still feel lost in my search for why Basho wanted shorter renku. But then, we have composed this longer poem by exchanging e-mails, which Basho did not have. Basho's sessions were always live - sharing time, space, meals and drinks! The Kasen may have been the product of balance between aesthetics and practical need to complete the poetry within practical timeframe.

A tomegaki is a short essay written by the sabaki (lead poet) dealing with some aspect of a recently completed poem. A similar piece by a participant is called a kanso.    

Related items in this issue of Simply Haiku:
~ Grace Notes: Yoyoshi, a womanly renga – Hortensia Anderson, Kirsty Karkow, Eiko Yachimoto

Copyright 2005: Simply Haiku