Tag Archives: renku

Poetry For Sale, Fall of 2015

Coming Soon From

 Nualláin House, Publishers

Fall of 2015

Poetry For Sale

Haikai no Renga
(Linked Poetry)

Introduction by
Pat Nolan
Haikai no Renga with
Keith Kumasen Abbott,
Sandy Berrigan, Gloria Frym,
Steven Lavoie, Joen Eshima Moore,
Maureen Owen, Michael Sowl,
and John Veglia




—An Introduction—

Haikai no Renga is collaborative poetry of Japanese origin normally written by two or more poets linking stanzas of 17 syllables and 14 syllables according to specific rules governing the relationship between stanzas.  Haikai collaboration can be as complex as chess, as multi-dimensional as go, and as fast-paced and entertaining as dominoes.  It is as much about the interaction of the poets as it is about what gets written.  The forward progress of its improvisation is akin to that of a tight jazz combo. Haikai composition has also been compared to montage in experimental film where the discontinuity of images and vectors achieves an integral non-narrative expression.

Haikai no renga is known variously as renga, haikai, renku, and linked poetry.  Generally the term renga is applied to an older, more traditional style of linking poetry practiced by the aristocracy and the upper echelon of medieval Japanese society.  Haikai no renga means “non-standard renga” though it has often been translated as “mongrel” or “dog renga” which places it in the literary hierarchy as common entertainment.

Renku is a literary game of high seriousness valuing cooperation and rewarding intelligence as well as intuition.  A poet’s erudition and sense of language are called upon to clear paths and build bridges that will meander through the landscape of a literary garden.  Its cooperative result, a balance of unpredictable language gestures as insubstantial as smoke but possessed of a palpable humanity, is what is important.  The echo of the response, its relationship to previous stanza, and how it extends its meaning, poignantly or allusively, is the esthetic ground for this kind of poetry.  The linking process, in renga, and in haikai, allows a sequence whose subtle oscillation of playfulness and gravity walk the tightrope of language’s built-in ambiguities.

renku sheet1

The eleven haikai no renga included in Poetry For Sale were written over period of nearly thirty years by Pat Nolan and his renku collaborators, Keith Kumasen Abbott, Sandy Berrigan, Gloria Frym, Steven Lavoie, Joen Eshima Moore, Maureen Owen, Michael Sowl, and John Veglia. This collection of linked poetry presents a fascinating excursion in comparative literature by a cross-section of exceptional, widely-published American poets.  What these poets bring to the collaborative linking of stanzas is a visceral sense of the poetic that transcends two disparate languages and the gap of centuries. In these pages haikai no renga is synthesized as a brief, highly suggestive, well spoken, maddeningly ambiguous, read-between-the-lines kind of poetry tuned to a common understanding.


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Limited Edition: Thin Wings

THIN WINGS  − A Tanka Sequence

By Pat Nolan

Thin Wings was published in the Fall of 2005 by Empty Head Press in a limited edition lettered A through Z, signed by the author and bearing his seal, “wandering like a cloud,” each with a unique cover, some as reproductions of Japanese prints in the author’s collection, silk screened Japanese end papers, and hand sewn in the Japanese four-hole side stitch style.  It is made available here as a pdf file.

Tanka ,meaning ‘short song,’ is an unrhymed poem with a fixed thirty-one syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7.  In Westernized stanza form, it is a five line poem.   Tanka, one of the oldest of Japanese verse forms, dates back to before the 11th Century.  Tanka gained renewed popularity in the late 19th Century among radically modern young poets who brought its diction and subject matter up to date.  Historically, tanka is a precursor to renga, haikai, and haiku.  The poems in Thin Wings do not follow precisely the fixed syllabic count nor do they conform to many of the accepted tanka conventions but seek a synthesis and accommodation brought about by translation into a radically different language and culture.

From the introduction to Pat Nolan’s Cloud Scatter (Tangram Press, Berkeley, 1994)

Cloud Notes
Tanka originated as court poetry early in Japanese history. I would hesitate to call these poems tanka because that presumes a mastery of a complicated set of rules and conditions.  The poems. . .actually owe more to the intricate prosody of haikai no renga (known as renku or linked verse), than to this ancient form, especially in the relationship between [the split] stanzas.  There is, as a matter of fact, a renku term for a poem composed of only two links and that’s ‘tanrenga.’  As accurate as that may be, I am uneasy with that label.  ‘Tanku,’ a word of my own invention, would seem to accommodate the Japanese nomenclature (haiku, renku) but it too doesn’t suit my sense of these poems.  Ultimately, I find myself preferring tanka as the logical as well as sentimental favorite for what this kind of poem might be called.  I do so well aware that the designation is a borrowed one.