Judges' Commentary for 2002
The first thing we both noticed after eagerly opening our thick packages of renku for the 2002 Einbond Renku Contest, and beginning to read was . . . these poets are truly enjoying themselves! Almost every poem showed an under-standing of renku form and rules. But even more, the poets grasped the joy of writing together.
As judges, we concentrated on looking for a strong hokku, followed by a steady opening, a variety of topics, seamless link and shift, and excellent individual verses. No entry was perfect, and our choice of a Grand Prize winner and two renku for Honorable Mention takes nothing away from the delight we felt in reading individual verses and passages in the other renku.
After careful reading and analysis, we decided to award the Grand Prize to the kasen renku “The Wind Shifts”. The four poets who participated in this renku seemed to trust one another, comfortably tossing each verse off with a light, playful renku spirit. There were many “ooh” and “ahhs” as we read this renku. The first two verses, however, are weak when compared to other entries. A hokku should have all the qualities of a stand-alone haiku. We felt that this hokku was not well-focused in time. But the remaining verses in the opening are skillful and the linking is elegant. In the ura (the second fold) the energy among the poets flows strongly. The “dream of wild persimmons” verse starting this section is just one example of the inventiveness and sensitive link-and-shift that the poets achieved in this section. It might be said that that the love verses tend to develop a story, how-ever, “such docile lions” tightens the flow. We also debated the use of “the first ants” as a spring kigo. Time should not move backwards in a renku—for example, from Easter (late spring) to snowmelt (early spring). In this kasen, time flows onward, from “plum petals” to “the first ants” to “opening game”. We appreciated the clever use of a little word like “first”. The second set of love verses are somewhat troublesome. Avoiding cliché is important in a renku. The second moon link “... a smith beats a hammer” is unique and evocative. Finally, the last six verses move to a quick close, with a variety of focus, both on topics and on human senses—touch, hearing, aroma, and sight. We felt the cherry blossom verse was plain. But then, in the ageku, a henro (a Japanese pilgrim who visits eighty-eight temples) at the “eighty-eighth temple” was a nice surprise, ending this renku with a “warm” feeling.
“Something that Sings”, a nijuin renku is a close contender for the Grand Prize. Its beginning is stronger than “The Wind Shifts”. The hokku, in particular, is inter-esting as an example of using indefinite words to convey a precise feeling. But then, there are some lazy verses: ‘shouts/and laughter in #4, and “red wine/in his glass/and hers” in #7. Most of the verses in this renku show the evocative power of brevity. But being brief requires careful consideration of the juxtaposition of lines within a verse. In this renku, the second moon verse occurs earlier than is usual, and is a two-line, rather than a three-line verse. A nijuin has four ori or “folds” (as does the kasen), but arranged as 4-6-6-4 verses, and it includes one blossom and two moon verses. Typically, the moon appears in #1 in the second fold, the second moon in #5 in the third fold, and the blossom verse in #3 in the last fold. You can insert the moon verses earlier or later (but not the blossom verse). The linking in the third section is close in feeling, though topics are varied. We loved the impact of “I'd like to be a-l-o-n-e”. And the line break in “scent/of the bending/lilac” is very effective.
“a peacock wanders” showed the strongest start of all the renku submitted for this year's contest. The hokku concentrates the reader’s imagination, while presenting juxtaposed images that resonate gently with one another. The wakiku (second verse) closely follows the hokku, yet leaves openings for further development. And the third verse nicely shifts to a new locale and feeling. Then the flow continues from the “marathon” to the “derelict caboose”, and the “marked-down pumpkin”. The verses are varied in point of view, syntax, topics, and verse structure in a way that is especially refreshing. Unfortunately, the renku weakens after this promising strong start. Several verses have similar topics (“faded soprano” to “billboard for last year's concert” or “iris” to “squirting flower”). In addition, both blossom verses lack focus.
Writing renku is, above all, great fun. The poems we read resonated with that spirit. We hope that all the parti-cipants of this year’s contest continue to write together, and to encourage more and more poets to experience the unique thrill of collaborative verse. Thank you all for your contribution to this contest! Viva la renku!!
—Alice Benedict and Fay Aoyagi, Judges