Monday, January 16, 2012

Renga Ramblings 1

Renga Ramblings 1

Renga is my favorite form of poetry. And over the years people have, now and then, asked me if I would teach a class in renga. Recently, several people have made this request.

I have often thought about this. There are several reasons why I hesitate to teach renga. First, to be honest, I don’t know how to do it. Renga is a complicated form and writing renga means keeping a lot of different formal requirements in mind. Consider that traditional manuals of renga are quite lengthy. I think that is why traditionally renga composition was led by a renga master. A renga master is someone who has composed renga over many years and internalized the many rules so that they can guide the renga composition in accordance with the handed down tradition. In other words, it takes time to learn renga; it is a lengthy process. The best way to learn renga is to hang around others who are composing renga.

Another reason I have backed away from requests to teach is that I am aware that my approach to renga differs significantly from what people will find among most renga poets in the west today. For example, I take a syllabic approach to renga verse construction while most renga poets take a free verse approach to lineation. I tend to treat traditional Saijiki lightly, in contrast I have found that many who are interested in renga have a fairly strong commitment to traditional Saijiki. I have separated and sifted out words that designate time from words that designate season, which is an approach that, as far as I know, is unique with me.

Finally, my source of inspiration for renga is the renga master Sogi, as opposed to Basho. How much of a difference does that make? Well, the biggest difference for me is that I find Sogi to be more tolerant of links based on sensation whereas Basho is much more interested in links based on ‘scent’. To my mind, Sogi’s linkage is tighter, clearer, and more considerate of the reader than Basho’s style of scent-based linkage. Don’t take this too strongly; I love Basho’s renga and I encourage people to study them. It’s just that the influence of Sogi on my own writing leads me to accept more explicit linkage than, I suspect, Basho would favor.

And perhaps most significantly, my focus with renga is on solo renga rather than group composition. Again, this is the influence of Sogi upon my own renga composition. For me the renga ‘Sogi Alone’ is the pinnacle, the uber-renga if you will. ‘Sogi Alone’ is a solo hyakuin (100 verse) renga that Sogi wrote towards the end of his life. It is the renga that I value most highly. It is a steady source of inspiration for me; not only in renga but in poetry in general. Because of this the vast majority of my efforts have been in the solo renga form.

The thing is, if I taught renga it would be based on my own procedures as developed over decades of interest. However, if someone listened to me regarding renga composition, and then sought to join with others based on what I do, they would find themselves out of sync with what the others are doing and how they approach renga composition. I don’t want to place people in that kind of awkward situation.

On the other hand, people have asked. As a kind of compromise, I thought about posting some personal observations on renga, how I go about it, suggestions I may have, little things I have learned over time, and procedures I use. These would be informal notes, what I call renga ramblings, in no particular order. Perhaps this may prove useful to those who are interested. Having thought about this for some time, I plan on posting an occasional ‘Renga Rambling’. In that way when people ask me about how to compose a renga, I can point them to these loose thoughts.

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