The thrill and joy of ‘tsukeai’
In the practice of traditional renku, from which the modern renshi originated, ‘tsukeai’ or the art of linking between verses is of critical importance. For renshi, too, ‘tsukeai’ remains to be the challenge. How should you link your poem to the preceding one? If you link only in an explicit, denotational sense, it would result in a so-called ‘betazuke’ (sticky link), in which the time and space between the poems, something equivalent to ‘between-the-lines’ of a text, become flat and prosaic. On the other hand, if you depend too much on connotation, you end up with the link which is self-centered and not understandable to others. Let me examine a few links of my own as examples.
Poem Nr. 3 by Kim Hyesoon is overshadowed by the sinking of Sewol like a nightmare which repeats again and again. My poem Nr. 4 is an attempt to link to it in a broader context. The modern ferry boat is transformed here into an ark in the age of mythology through the implication of the word ‘ship’, generating in the process a sort of nihilistic twists such as ‘preceding life’ and ‘out of the planet’.
Yasuhiro Yotsumoto, when he wrote poem Nr. 10, might be expecting me to expand his last line to a romance as in the traditional Japanese love songs, but I deliberately avoided that. Instead, I introduced the planet Neptune, which is regarded as the sea god, using dry and technical terms. With the “〜” sign in the last line, which signals for the retreated state of mind of the narrator in today’s Japanese writing system (but probably untranslatable), I tried to stay away from what is called ‘mukouzuke’ (link with contrasting characters or objects) in the traditional renku.
In renku, the last closing verse is called ‘Ageku’ and supposed to be open-ended in happy celebration. Instead of being a specific response to Mindy’s poem Nr. 35, my Ageku Nr. 36 is a self-reference to the entire process of our renshi session, in a sense summarizing it. Following the spirit of ‘greeting’ in hokku (the opening verse) in the traditional renku, I too gave my ‘greeting’ in my last poem as the Ageku of this renshi.
This essay appears in the book, Trilingual Renshi, available from Vagabond Press.