Limited Edition: Poetry For Sale

Poetry For Sale

Haikai No Renga

By Keith Kumasen Abbott and Pat Nolan

Poetry For Sale is a limited edition haikai no renga (linked verse) published by Mountain Forest River Editions in 2008.  The size of the edition was linked to the number of stanzas in a kasen, a standard renga length employed by Basho and his disciples, and in the memorializing of the 36 immortal poets of Japanese literature; Poetry For Sale is also a kasen.   A variety of covers were printed (of which the accompanying image is only one of a half dozen) on 100% recycled Bogus Art paper and bound in the Yamato style using handmade ribbons of Japanese silkscreened paper.
Dimensions, w7 x h8 inches (18 x21.3 cm).

Keith Kumasen Abbott and Pat Nolan have engaged in the practice of haikai no renga over a period of thirty years.  They are founding members, along with Michael Sowl and Maureen Owen, of The Miner School of Haikai Poets. The Miner School’s haikai have been published in numerous magazine including Hanging Loose, Exquisite Corpse, Jack’s Magazine, Big Bridge, and Simply Haiku as well as limited edition chapbooks and broadsides from Empty Head Press, Bamboo Leaf Studio, and Tangram Press.  Their kasen, All Ears, was included in Saints Of Hysteria, an anthology celebrating collaboration, from Soft Skull Press (2007).  

One of the unique features of Miner School haikai is that it includes a running commentary by the authors on each of their own stanzas as well as a stab at their collaborators’ links.  It functions in a way similar to commentary provided as a special features audio track on a DVD.  In his introductory comment, Pat Nolan explains how the idea to write Poetry For Sale came about and how it would proceed:

I had been reading Earl Miner’s The Monkey’s Straw Raincoat for some clarification on an aspect of haikai and by chance reread his translation of the delightfully quirky haikai, Poetry Is What I Sell, written by Basho and Kikaku.  Miner speculated that the haikai might have even been used as a prospectus to garner new students.  I streamlined Miner’s version of the hokku and sent it off to my long time haikai partner Keith Kumasen Abbott with the idea of replicating the spirit of this haikai; he would be Basho and I would be Kikaku.  After some initial confusion, we followed the sequence that Miner set out in his introduction to this oddly hilarious renga

Haikai no renga is a form of renga (Japanese linked verse) practiced by Basho (1644-1694) and his disciples, one of whom was the above mentioned Kikaku (1661–1707).  It consists of a 17 syllable verse and a 14 syllable verse provided in turn by the poets engaged in the collaboration.  In linking verses, a 31 syllable poem is produced, the latter verse of which (the 17 or the 14 syllable) will go on to join the next in the sequence to form its own unique poem, and so on until the requisite number of stanzas has been achieved.  Renga sequences can number into the hundreds.  Basho favored the economy of 36 stanzas.  Renku is diminutive for haikai no renga also known as haikai.  The more renowned Japanese verse form, haiku, is derived from the practice of amassing numerous hokku to vie for the privilege of opening a moon-viewing- sake-sipping evening of friendly literary collaboration.   Renga itself is derived from the courtly form of poetry exchanged by the aristocracy as exemplified in Murasaki’s  11th Century The Tale Of Genji.  The rules of the composition for renga and haikai no renga are complicated and arcane, but like those of chess or go can be captivating and stimulating.

For more on the intriguing subject of Japanese Linked Verse, see Earl Miner’s Japanese Linked Poetry (Princeton, 1979) and Hiroaki Sato’s One Hundred Frogs (Weatherhill, 1983).  Also, the introductory essay to the kasen Bamboo Greeting, published in Simply Haiku (2008), further details some of the unconventional methods practiced by The Miner School of Haikai Poets. 

A pdf facsimile of Poetry For Sale can be found here.