Judges' Commentary for 2001
These comments were written by Shinku Fukuda in Japanese, reflecting comments from Eiko Yachimoto and Fay Aoyagi. The comments were translated into English by Fay Aoyagi.
Compared with 12 entries last year, there were 6 entries in the 2001 renku contest. This was rather disappointing. However, we are glad to point out that all the entries were full kasen. In Japan, renku contests only accept half-kasen (18 verses) due to the high volume (700) of the entries. We feel this is unfortunate because kasen is the jewel of renku. We admire the many poets who have made efforts to obtain a deeper knowledge of renku, have had more experience in writing it and are eager to explore this new world.
There are some important elements in kasen renku. There should be close responsiveness between the hokku (the first verse) and the wakiku (the second verse). The omote (#1-6) should be calm and cheerful. In the ura (#7-18) and the nagori-omote (#19-30), the poets should shift and develop verses with the feeling of 'ha' (breaking the rhythm). The kasen renku should contain the compulsory two blossom verses and three moon verses, as well as two sets of love verses. There should be unlimited variations in the materials and the flavor of linking. The topics can be on society and its subjects, human nature, humor and current events. In linking, the poets can find the strings from the previous verse by picking up the flow through the topics, the emotions, the scents, the sounds and the hierarchies. They can also leap. An ideal ageku (the last verse) should have a hopeful and cheerful tone.
To judge with the utmost fairness, each of the three judges first submitted his/her favorites with comments to the others. After thorough discussion, we reached our conclusion. The grand prize is awarded to Winter Stars and the second prize goes to Snowball Snow. Let us discuss why we selected Winter Stars as the winner. We use the terms omote, ura, nagori-omote and nagori-ura here because we believe that awareness of these four parts of the renku is important for best results.
The poets seem to have written this kasen, Winter Stars, with relaxed pens, while keeping their eyes on American life-style and feelings. Basho used the term 'sejo-ninjo' (the feeling of the society and and its subjects). See the omote 3 and 4, the ura 1, 3, 7, 8, 9 and 12, the nagori-omote 7 and 8 and the nagori-ura 3. Each country has its own culture, customs, and human characteristics. We don't have to remind you that those elements of the society where the poets live are often reflected in the renku they write.
Responding to the hokku with the winter stars by describing the warmth of home, the wakiku shows us happiness in everyday life. The shift in No. 3 verse is excellent. The flow from No. 5 (moon) to No 6 (a stag) tightens the renku. All three moon verses deal with different situations. The moon eclipsed by the smog in Los Angeles is inventive. (Please remember that 'no moon' and 'the invisible moon' should be avoided in the moon verse.)
The first blossom verse is about withered cherry trees responding to the Living Dead in the previous verse. Skillfully, the poet focuses on a single branch with blossoms. The second blossom verse is picturesque and shows sensibilities often seen in Japanese-style renku. Are the first love verses (the ura 3 and 4) about a man falling into the trap of a prostitute? These verses about contemporary urban life are entertaining. However, the second love verses in the nagori-omote 8, 9, 10 are a little weak as love verses. The stronger love verses do not deal with children in love.
In the omote 4 and 5 and the ura 1 and 2, we see good shifting from the inside scene to the outside scene. The shifting and linking in the omote 5 and 6 is excellent, as well. The development in the nagori-omote 2 (tuba), 3 (elephant) and 4 (barnacles seal) is clever. The nagori-omote 5, 6 and 7 with the rejected manuscript in the middle demonstrates excellence in developing the flow.
Unfortunately, we don't see much variation in the nagori-omote 11 and 12 and the nagori-ura 1 and 2. The poets could have shown more movement here. Another flaw in this kasen, we must say, is there are too many animal verses (the omote 6, the ura 6, the nagori-omote 3, 4, 12, the nagori-ura 1, 6). It is better to have no more than one verse with a four-legged animal in the whole kasen. Also, too many outside verses in the middle are inhibitors of variation. In addition to the nagori-omote 8 (the kids' smooch) verse, there are several humorous verses.
The omote 4, ura 9 and 12, the nagori-omote 8 are superb examples of haikai. We can feel the kind eyes of the poets. The ageku with a frog is well done and evokes warm feelings. Some English-language renku have artificially long verses with forced three-line-breaks and occasionally even a short verse in 2 lines is too lengthy. In this winning renku, we don't see these shortfalls. The choice of words in this kasen is simple but powerful. Equally important is the pleasant rhythm and sound. We hope that many English-language poets will be inspired to write with relaxed and cheerful pens as shown in the winning renku.
Let us briefly comment on the second winner, Snowball Snow. The shift and development in the omote 2 and 3, the omote 5 through the ura 5 are skillful. Three round-figure images in a row in the ura 5, 6 and 7 are somewhat disappointing. The cherry blossom verse with Madam Butterfly in the ura 11 is unique and evocative. The response to the ura 12 is cheerful and clever. A pair of herons in the nagori-omote 1 is answered by the human marriage verse in the nagori-omote 2. Here, the poets show effectiveness by twisting the flow. A gypsy in the nagori-omote 5 and refugees in the nagori omote 6 are a little close, image-wise and a little inert, link-wise.
Too many dark verses appear in the nagori-omote 8 through 11. However, the development in the nagori-omote 1 through 4 is skillful. The second blossom verse could be about cherry blossoms as in the traditional-style Japanese renku. The ageku is excellent with a bright and hopeful tone. We see excellent linking rather than dramatic shifting in this kasen. We believe the readers can feel how much the poets enjoyed writing it. Compared with the non-winning entries, this kasen follows the renku rules diligently and is a very high-level, powerful work. We truly respect the poets in the U.S. who are beginning to establish their own world while they enjoy writing high quality renku. We all thank the poets who entered this contest.
Lastly, we are so grateful for being given this opportunity to judge the contest and we enjoyed reading all the entries.
—Shinku Fukuda, Eiko Yachimoto, Fay Aoyagi, Judges
In October 2000, the Global Renku Symposium was held in Japan with Shinku Fukuda as a coordinator. The international renku panelists were William J. Higginson from the U.S., Ian Cordescu from Romania, Mr. Zu Yao-Ming from China and Ai Yazaki from Japan. To promote renku which we can share as a global treasure, we issued "Global Renku Tokyo Manifesto." For the poets who are interested in English-language renku, Shinku Fukuda wrote "Introduction to Global Renku". Please contact Shinku Fukuda to obtain this book: