Imago lacus

The picture above was taken by a dear friend, the American poet Debra Kang Dean (please do not use it without permission). I met Debra three years before, when I went to Walden to work with his late husband Brad, a great Thoreau scholar. Once we spent hours tracking this quotation: "Some men go fishing all their lives without ever realizing it's not fish they are after." We concluded that Thoreau never wrote it, but si non è vero...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bodies in rhythm

Each renku is like twenty sips of time recorded in a week, by poets from different places but united by the joyful irruption of a new season in their calendars, and by sharing the concentration and singleness of purpose that is associated with Japanese poetry. I read this subtle and elegant quartet with increased attention to what is just “glimpsed in the dark there.”

When I wrote the preceding blurb I had read only the text on a screen. Now that I can read it on paper it is even better. For this recording of "what to be salvaged, / what to leave untouched" from solstices and equinoxes contains vivid haiku and tanka in a sequence flowing with ease and grace. By listening to their chained flashes, the apparently trivial business of going through our nights and days is linked with the whole universe in concrete detail. Discrete and evocative, fresh yet respectful of the traditional form, these renku are rich in personification, alliteration, and atmosphere. When two poets collaborate like this each one amplifies the other, and the real challenge is not to guess who wrote what, but to see how their voices supplement, each stanza shifting the previous one towards an unexpected direction.

I specially like this 4th stanza in the 4th renku, the autumnal equinox one, because in it there is an explicit reference to a “you”, indicating that the renku is written with a partner in mind, present or distant. It also connects time and space through the act of writing poetry, “where cadence is all”. And it does it through all the senses, both indoors and outdoors,  breathing the “air tanged with woodsmoke” with a lost “gaze drawn inward and downward / until I, too, disappeared”.

Russ Kesler & Debra Kang Dean, with linocut prints by Laurel Leonetti
MORNING’S SPELL: Four Twenty-stanza Renku (Finishing Line Press, 2013)

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