LINK AND SHIFT – THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF HAIBUN RENGA as applied in Elemental Moods (Lynx – Feb 2013)
In 2011, Beverley George gave a workshop to the Bottlebrush tanka group in Sydney, Australia. For the full background behind Beverley’s workshop, you will find her position paper on haibun renga, posted in March 2012.
Following that workshop, excited by what we had learned, I invited Marilyn Humbert, Keitha Keyes, and Anne Benjamin to join me in writing our own haibun renga, employing the kasen references to blossom/moon/season Beverley had taught us. This first one we titled The Talk of Women, and enjoyed ourselves so much, we decided to write another.
This time, inviting Amelia Fielden to join us in the journey, we chose to set aside the kasen prompts of blossom etc and instead set ourselves to explore the elemental moods of our island continent home of Australia. We are a land of earth, fire, water and air, with our north in the tropics and our south bordering on the ocean we share with Antarctica. Our country is an island of bushfire and flood, of desert and rainforest, of multiculturalism, the original inhabitants claiming an occupancy that dates back at least 50,000 years. The opening and closing verse lines of Elemental Moods expresses the ANZAC tradition, where each November we celebrate the memory of our soldiers fallen in combat.
Rebels all, given our nation’s roots as a colony of exiled convicts, we decided to set our own rules, and here is what we have come to thus far in our exploration of the boundaries of responsive haibun renga as expressed in Elemental Moods.
The basic principle is a simple one - a responsive sequence of haibun by a team (in this case, of five), the haiku in each piece linking and shifting to form a tan renga, each (with the exception of the opening and closing verse lines) containing its own prose. The closing verse lines then link back to the opening haiku at journey’s end. The schema, or order in which each poet writes, has been devised so that each poet responds once only, and sends once only, to each other member of the team. When we added a fifth member for our second HR, we changed the schema to fit the extra person. The overall purpose of Elemental Moods was to encapsulate the vast differences in life in Australia, the essence of the title.
For our purposes, the prose component is written in the first person, present tense, even when describing past events. These are described as happening currently. It is brief, giving background for the poetry lines which follow. There is to be no reference back beyond the immediately previous piece. Each new piece must brush lightly against the one before, to something in either the prose or verse, and move off in a new direction, as with responsive tanka sequences.
The poetry component is to employ the ‘link and shift’ movement, as in tan renga, with each following pair/triplet linking to the one before to form a complete tanka, but always moving off in another direction.
Beverley’s workshop was like discovering a fairy child nestled under a gum leaf, but as we have journeyed through The Talk of Women, then branching out in exploration to Elemental Moods with a new team member, we talked of climbing a mountain peak, only to discover another even taller one
beckoning in the distance. And so we are now in the process of writing a third HR, as yet untitled, and with a different mix of poets, Carmel Summers being invited to join us for this trek. When we tackle another beyond this current one, perhaps it will be with a different mix, or an extra team member. Who knows? This, after all, is the essence of exploration.
The guidelines for our continuing HRs will be ever-changing, adjusted to fit whatever new principles we have discovered along the way, or to simply try something new. This is, after all, a journey, not a destination.
When I read Werner Reichhold's words, as quoted by David Rice in Wind Five-Folded, lesson nine, that 'There seems to be a lot of territory open to writers willing to explore a narrative interwoven with tanka', I suggested to the team that we try submitting this work of ours to Lynx with the hope others may discover this same exhilarating journey we are enjoying.
Our cover photo for the chapbook, thus far available only to team members, but offered to Lynx, is a visual portrait of our endeavour. It is one of several extraordinary rock formations along that stretch of Australia’s southern coastline called The Great Ocean Road. The land is composed of layers of limestone, sandstone, and flint, all subject to the constant punishment of the crashing waves of the Great Southern Ocean, driven by the strong trade winds of the 40th parallel, well-named the Roaring Forties. Thus there is constant change going on as the interaction of our continent’s elements is at work. There is also an eerie sense of spirituality to the place, no doubt from the long-vanished
aboriginal tribes which inhabited the coastal areas for over 50,000 years. We are indeed an elemental nation.
The best part of this for us all has been that the journey has taken us to places in our writing we would not have come to on our own.
Each character was put into a verse representing poetically what the content of the translation offered. Interesting that such very old single Chinese characters can condense meaning so much that they resemble what centuries later the Japanese started to call haikai and then haiku.
forced to offer thanks
to a sheep
that seizes from behind
the flesh we eat
the guitar we cover
with a boa's skin
mastering a family
can wear a beard
out of a vessel
the dog cleaning it up
These translations are taken directly from the book Chinese Characters, by Dr.L.Wieger, S. J., PARAGON Book CORP., New York.