Monday, April 19, 2010

Earl Miner -- An Appreciation

Renga is my favorite form of poetry. I’ve been interested in it since I first heard about it in High School. For a long time those of us interested in Renga lacked resources for even basic information about Renga, how it is written, the layout, and the basic rules governing this most formal of formal verse.

Then in 1979 Earl Miner published “Japanese Linked Poetry”. I didn’t get the book until the mid 80’s. For me, as for many others, the book was a gate into the world of Renga. Last Saturday, April 17, was the anniversary of Earl Miner’s death. He died in 2004, so Saturday was the sixth anniversary. I was too busy this weekend to post something on Saturday, so I’m going to take the time today, a few days late.

Miner was a great scholar of Japanese Poetry but his interests were grounded in a deep understanding of the English poetic tradition. Miner was working on a critical edition of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” when he died; it was subsequently published. He was President of the Milton Society of America.

I think this interest in English poetry enhanced Miner’s ability to act as a conduit for the Japanese poetic tradition in a way that made Japanese poetry accessible to western poets. Miner understood the basic premises of English poetry, how English poetry is constructed, and was thus able to present Japanese poetry, both its similarities and its differences, to an English audience in an informed way. That is why Renga poets still find “Japanese Linked Poetry” so useful; because it speaks to an English audience so clearly.

“Japanese Linked Poetry” acted as a catalyst for the serious composition of Renga in English. Now those of us who were interested could refer to a book that lucidly presented the history of the form, the basic regulations governing the major types of Renga, and translations of famous Renga that Renga poets could use as a model. For me, personally, the publication of “Japanese Linked Poetry” was a catalyst in my decision to start a magazine devoted to that form.

“Japanese Linked Poetry” also introduced me to the Renga poet, Sogi. Two of the translations include 100 Verse Renga the involve Sogi. The first, called “Three Poets at Minase” is a collaborative Renga, the usual approach. It is a lyrical example of the 100 verse Renga form. The second is a called “Sogi Alone”; it is a solo Renga written by Sogi near the end of his life. More than any other translation, this particular solo Renga has had, and continues to have, a profound influence on me. If I were to pick a single poem as having the most influence on me, it would be “Sogi Alone”. Contemplative, introspective to an unusual degree, yet at the same time filled with imagery that resonates across time and culture, “Sogi Alone” is, for me, the great masterpiece of Renga.

Many Renga poets were directly influenced by Miner’s work. One group of Renga poets I know of considers Miner’s work so important that they refer to themselves as the “Miner School of Renga”. This is because they consider “Japanese Linked Poetry” as their definitive guide. This group is still active.

For anyone interested in Renga, or in Japanese poetry in general, Miner’s work is essential. Once you have it you will read it over and over and refer to it frequently. It will be one of those books that always close at hand. Unfortunately, it is not currently in print. But there are used copies available. (As an aside, one aspect of University publishing that I find troublesome is that tendency of University publishers to let their volumes go out of print, but at the same time to tenaciously retain the copyright. The effect of this is to make it impossible for interested publishers to reprint valuable books until the book enters into public domain. In the case of Miner, the earliest that would be is 2061, and it could be much later. There are many examples like this and it is my hope that Universities will rethink this policy.)

Earl Miner received many honors during his life for his work including the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon from the Japanese government for his contributions to Japanese poetry in 1994. In 1993 he received the Behrman Distinguished Achievement Award from Princeton University.

It is with heartfelt appreciation that I remember this great scholar and translator.


Dan Gurney said...

Thank you for this tribute. You've served as the person who introduced me to Renga, and while I still know not too much about it, I really enjoy and admire the Renga you've written and want to learn more about it. I think a copy of Miner's book will find its way into my collection....

Alan Summers said...

You can also buy Alec Finlay's books, plus John Carley has his renku reckoner website.

Bill Higginson has superb information and renku on his website. Sadly Bill passed on a while ago, but his legacy lives on.

Plus John Carley is doing a renku column on haijinx magazine. Fortunately more and more is being made available to us about renga and renku.

all my best,

Alan’s Area 17 blog

Jim714 said...

Thanks, Dan. I still refer to Miner's work.

Hi Alan. A lot has changed since the 80's. At that time there was nothing on the web; a lot of us didn't have computers then. Now there are websites devoted to Renga/Renku and places one can go to practice Renga with other Renga poets. A new site located here:

Allows people to contact other renga poets and engage in Renga composition. It is hosted by Norman Darlington, a fine Renga poet.



Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Alan, thank you for the additional information.