A Hundred Gourds 2:3 June 2013
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bristlecone pines;
they straddle two dimensions
- mountain wind

opening the stone,
a sapling sprung forth

a red wheelbarrow
leans against the fence,
its tyre deflating

how many tassels has
a cardinal's galero?

la bella luna
shares a doorway
with the mourning dove

planting daisies
how pale my hands!


beneath the wrack and mire
turtles all the way down

only Poseidon’s trident
was found washed ashore

so auspicious,
second-hand yard schlock
recovered from the storm

in the eyes of a stranger
an old lover's gaze

at first I laugh
and then I cry
watching the city lights

from the executive suite -
tents in Zucotti

pigeons and pinstripes
scatting across
the canvas squares

does it shine, also
on the Sea of Tranquility?

a neon sign
in the palm reader's window
only half-lit

at the station
fresh out of tickets to sell


high up above
an Escher-like
grid of power lines

a radio voice
talks about the blue jay sky

crackle, crackle . . .
the hen’s eggs sizzle
away the day

the scent of cilantro
from my old umbrella

inside the volume
of Van Gogh's letters,
one pressed flower

we promise to meet again
for the next meteor display

Composed between November 15 and December 29, 2011
Revisited April 3 to April 7, 2013

The Authors

Ashley Capes, Australia 17
Tzetzka Ilieva, United States 4, 8, 11, 20, 22
Pat Nelson, United States 5, 10, 12, 15, 18
P.A., United States 1, 9
Sandra Simpson, New Zealand 3, 6, 14, 21
William Sorlien, United States 2, 7, 16
Barbara A. Taylor, Australia 13, 19

Topics Schematic and Verse Placement

(4x) – gendai 1, 7, 13, 20
(6x) – shasei 2, 6, 9, 10, 19, 22
(2x) – literature 3, 21
(2x) – art 8, 17
(2x) – religion 4, 15
(2x) – music 5, 14
(2x) – politics 12, 18
(2x) – film 11, 16

Bristlecone: Tomegaki and Kanso

It was the Autumn of 2011 when the inspiration to write poetry came via a fellow visual artist's post on her blog. A hokku was written in response, and then, a short verse to link to the first; a tan renga was created. But why stop there? A certain collaboration came to mind, one resulting from writing a different kind of renku, the New Junicho . Employing its twelve tones with “pop culture” topics in place of season, moon, love and blossom, the New Junicho contained contemporary allusions similar to the subject matter once relevant to the ushin renga of old.

Still, albeit an “abbreviated” form, writing the New Junicho had raised questions of expanding the content and breadth of such an endeavor to more traditional formats. Could modern cultural allusions be indicated in a longer renku form without piling on intertextual reference deemed “outlandish” and packed with excessive verbiage? Would that content hamper what was otherwise a unique literary genre meant to exhibit a light, flowing style of prosody? The opportunity to carry on the experiment proved too compelling to resist.

After seeking advice on proportions of topic allocation applied to the traditional movements of Jo, Ha and Kyu and abetted by a certain amount of bravado, it was decided to apply these “new” rules to the Triparshva, another recently created, twenty-two stanza renku enjoying wide acceptance amongst renku poets. Gathering authors from the first New Junicho along with some welcome and talented newcomers, we blithely set about our task.

From the very beginning the composition phase was exciting! The innovation of this modern cultural format led to some ingenious linkage, although it was decided early on to intermingle a conventional topic schema as well. We writers, giddy with the newness and freedom afforded by a culturally modern viewpoint, watched the poem take on a life of its own. Bristlecone was born.

However, with the poem finished and the excitement worn off, subsequent critique of the piece led to re-thinking its structure - it become apparent that the prickly nature of the creation, aptly related to the final chosen name of the piece, was indeed troublesome. Admittedly, we may not have been able to see the forest for the trees!

In our haste and exuberance a “sensory overload” had occurred during composition. It seemed that the poem moved along well enough from moment to moment, but it had become clear that pro-nouns, odd grammar and inferences abounded which interfered with the overall movement of the piece. A sign of poor writing? Far more likely an over-zealous sabaki too shortsightedly quick to prove a point was to blame. Bristlecone languished by the wayside for well over a year.

Only recently did the poem come to light again. After applying some determined editing, and with the advantage of hindsight, we present the final draft above. As to whether Bristlecone is worthy of the label haikai-no-renga, we leave that final judgment to our readers.

William Sorlien


As I read through our subsequent changes I thought the final draft of Bristlecone came off very well. I believe you can call it a "new" Triparshva because that's exactly what it was.

Forgetting kigo was a new experience for me. True, we all struggled to find the right verses for the appropriate topic allocations. There's no doubt the Triparshva, because of its length, can become quite a mish mash of perceptions when applying the "new" approach.

All fun though; it was new, exciting to be part of this creation. Essentially, link and shift are as vital in all forms of the new renku.

Barbara A. Taylor


It was fun to write, and if you remember, Bristlecone was the first renku I ever worked on.

Pat Nelson


I had read through the final draft of Bristlecone more than a few times and wanted to let it settle a bit. What I’d picked up that most stood out to me (in the original draft) were the proper nouns in three verses quite close together (two of them abutting) – Sea of Tranquility, Psychic, Escher. I think Van Gogh is separated enough that it doesn’t make my ears waggle! The original placement of “station agent” kind of bothered me because of the name of the film. It just seemed a bit stacked up in this section, that’s all.

It’s not a bad poem, given there was a fair bit of angst and feeling our way with it. I note that my own verses are some of the most conventional; speaks volumes about me!

Sandra Simpson


I like the final rendering of Bristlecone and I think it works. There's flow, there's surprises and it's not burdened by crazy intertextuality that wouldn’t be enjoyed for the average (not meaning 'average' in a negative way, either) renku reader.

Whether these "new" styles of renku do read as too 'proper noun', 'allusion-heavy' pieces might come down to the reader and, I think, we as writers. If no-one else starts writing them, maybe there's something in that act that suggests the 'new' isn't working?

Ashley Capes


I was happy to see Bristlecone finally reach publication.

This was my first renku experience (except for a couple of yotsumono we did with a friend before) and I loved it so much that I became a regular visitor of Renku Reckoner and found myself reading first the 'collaborations' section of the journals.

I do not feel knowledgeable enough to comment on the style or topic pattern, but if it got me hooked on renku, from my point of view, that new thing was a success.

Tzetzka Ilieva (Vida)

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