Young Leaves

First published in Frogpond 21:3, Winter 1999, pages 37–39. This was the second of five “chain renku” I started in 1990. It took nearly five years to complete this renku, and it came back to me in early 1995 with all the pleasure of my discovering a message in a bottle that had spent its life crossing an ocean—several times. An earlier chain renku, “Windswept Walk,” took just over a year to finish, and was published in Frogpond in 1992. Its publication might well have encouraged the completion of this renku.

        Like “Windswept Walk” before it, this renku was cast adrift by my sending the hokku to another poet (in this case, Elizabeth St Jacques), who sent it to the next poet, and so on, until 36 different poets had added their verses. To start, I had created a form with spaces for participants to record their verses, the date, their name, and their place of residence. The date of Mike Hind’s verse seems to be out of order, but was most likely recorded incorrectly, and the date of Dick Pettit’s verse also seems unlikely, given that it’s the same date as the previous verse and in the interim the renku would have had to travel more than 3,600 miles (by mail) between them. Seaton Findlay wrote a two-liner when a three-liner was called for, Marianne Bluger’s verse is a commentary on the renku itself (using the older term “renga”), and George Swede wrote a three-liner when a two-liner was due. But mostly the directions were followed, and the renku as a whole gains a lively energy from the various cultures it encountered. Such is the nature of casting this sort of renku off to the wind, letting it evolve as it would. The results provide an interesting array of voices, and the choices of who sent this renku to whom—and the dates (and occasional delays) involved—are every bit as interesting as the verses themselves. All in all, this renku is uneven in its quality, and less successful than “Windswept Walk,” but it contains some truly lovely individual verses, such as Yasuko Yasui’s “forgotten crayfish” and William Hart’s response verse, “the closing fist.”

        Please also read my “Notes About Young Leaves” at the end.

 

 

moonlight breeze                                                            Michael Dylan Welch

                      young leaves                                             Foster City, California

           barely waving                                                       15 June 1990

 

the gentle curve of my dream                                        Elizabeth St Jacques

to faint lilac scent                                                           Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

                                                                                        21 June 1990

 

to the winding stream                                                    Ruby Spriggs

       children running fast                                               Ottawa, Ontario

              and babbling                                                    29 June 1990

 

barefoot                                                                         Dorothy Howard

he goes on about tetanus                                              Aylmer, Québec

                                                                                       27 July 1990

 

The sting of his words                                                    Pauline Gauthier

sharper                                                                           Aylmer, Québec

under the full moon                                                       16 October 1990

 

walking home alone                                                       Nano McConnell

two shadows                                                                   Aylmer, Québec

                                                                                        5 November 1990

 

Ah the moon . . .                                                             Seaton Findlay

      (peed on my foot)                                                     Ottawa, Ontario

                                                                                        4 September 1991

 

this renga game—sadly                                                 Marianne Bluger

passing it on                                                                  Ottawa, Ontario

                                                                                       16 September 1991

 

that vigorous scrawl                                                       Rod Willmot

illegible now—is it                                                         Sherbrooke, Québec

“season word”?                                                              25 February 1992

 

chalkdust                                                                        LeRoy Gorman

then snow clouds                                                           Napanee, Ontario

                                                                                       30 September 1992

 

geese leaving                                                                 Marco Fraticelli

gulls circling                                                                   Pointe Claire, Québec

the schoolyard                                                                8 October 1992

 

Christmas morning                                                         George Swede

each branch of the maple                                               Toronto, Ontario

in a stocking of snow                                                      6 February 1993

 

In the mucky puddle                                                       Peter Mortimer

the trapped moon                                                           North Shields, Tyne & Wear, England

remains free                                                                   15 February 1993

 

gusting towards tombstones                                          David Cobb

willow pollen                                                                  Braintree, Essex, England

                                                                                       20 February 1993

 

As a support for                                                              James Kirkup

the scarecrow without a face                                         Encamp, Andorra

an old boneshaker                                                          25 February 1993

 

Shepherd shaking his stick                                             Makoto Tamaki

at a horsefly                                                                    Encamp, Andorra

                                                                                        28 February 1993

 

a hard frost                                                                     Brian Tasker

among new shoots—                                                     Frome, Somerset, England

the wind-tossed daffodils                                              4 March 1993

 

this too is spring—                                                         Jim Norton

rattle dead beech leaves                                                Lamberhurst, Kent, England

                                                                                        22 March 1993

 

In the tree-top nest                                                        Tito (Stephen Gill)

the heron’s bill at eighty degrees—                               London, England

April Fool’s Day rain                                                       1 April 1993

 

beneath dimpled water                                                  Susan Rowley

—still fish                                                                       Ilford, Essex, England

                                                                                       14 April 1993

 

memory                                                                          Annie Bachini

of eels wriggling                                                            London, England

even when dead                                                             18 April 1993

 

A wooden bucket emptied out—                                    Dick Pettit

darkness at the bottom.                                                 Ibri, Sultanate of Oman

                                                                                       18 April 1993 [date is probably incorrect]

 

Pale against blue sky                                                      Mike Hind

where night left a calling card                                        Muscat, Sultanate of Oman

rim of daylight moon                                                       13 April 1993 [date is incorrect]

 

watching the rain, knowing                                             Colin Shadduck

it’s still raining                                                                 Barnstaple, Devon, England

                                                                                         16 November 1993

 

A drop from a leaf                                                           Eriko Okamato

interrupted by children                                                    Osaka, Japan

falls in a puddle                                                               26 November 1993

 

Being disappointed                                                          Yasuhiko Shigemoto

at the enjoyable swings                                                   Osaka, Japan

                                                                                         2 December 1993

 

some elderly men                                                            Robert Millard

huddled under a bare tree                                               Osaka, Japan

hear laughing children                                                    3 December 1993

 

into the spring day                                                           Peter Duppenthaler

the last camellia blossom—falls                                     Nara, Japan

                                                                                         12 April 1994

 

forgotten crayfish                                                             Yasuko Yasui

in a moonlit tin can                                                          Takarazuka-shi, Japan

scratches—scratches                                                        5 May 1994

 

the closing fist                                                                  William Hart

holds, at last, one minnow                                               Montrose, California

                                                                                         27 May 1994

 

seeing so many buds on                                                   Ikkoku Santo

        the “Beauty under the moon”                                  Osaka, Japan

        my wife feels happy and encouraged                       3 June 1994

 

she points out the light                                                     John O’Connor

       of the Japanese stamps                                             Christchurch, New Zealand

                                                                                          11 June 1994

 

mountain summit—                                                           Cyril Childs

a white-clad priest                                                             Lower Hutt, New Zealand

releases his prayers                                                           15 June 1994

 

in the hills                                                                          Jeanette Stace

the last of the mauve evening                                          Wellington, New Zealand

                                                                                           21 June 1994

 

winter frosts here                                                              Barry Morrall

thinking of northern summer                                            Wellington, New Zealand

an English garden                                                              23 June 1994

 

Far from home—                                                                Alan Wells

the pine, the wind                                                              Wellington, New Zealand

                                                                                           19 January 1995
 

Notes About Young Leaves

The preceding kasen renku has a long and rather amazing history. The idea behind it was to have 36 different writers each contribute a single verse. I started five of these “chain renku,” as I called them, back in March and June of 1990. One of them, “Windswept Walk,” took just over a year to reach completion, and appeared in Frogpond 15:1 (Spring–Summer, 1992). That renku consisted of poems by thirty-four American and two Canadian writers, and won a Museum of Haiku Literature Award.

        In contrast, “Young Leaves” was written almost entirely outside the United States. Just two verses came from California (including my starting verse), and the rest came from six other countries: eleven from Canada (six from Ontario and five from Québec), eight from England, two from Andorra, two from the Sultanate of Oman, six from Japan, and five from New Zealand. My estimate is that this renku travelled a total of 49,114 miles (78,950 kilometers) from mailbox to mailbox around the world—that’s more than two times around the world! I wouldn’t mind having all those frequent-flyer miles! And yet the renku’s original pieces of paper, much folded, stained, and road-weary, managed to make it back to me on 8 December 1996, a full five and a half years after I cast this particular piece of bread on the water. For the record, alterations were made by the poets to four of the verses in the spring of 1998.

        As I wrote in 1992 about the first chain renku to be completed, “The reading of a renku is usually enhanced by searching for the link or connection used by participating poets as they add their verses. This renku has the further enhancement of its unwritten links between people.” The same is particularly true of “Young Leaves,” because the distances between poets have been greater, and the time span for completion greater too. The verses in “Young Leaves” don’t always follow strict renku conventions, and sometimes depart from the three-line/two-line alternation. Yet this renku’s cornucopia of participants has produced many striking verses that I trust you will enjoy.

        Three more of these chain renku remain unfinished. Perhaps they have been lost, or have fallen into neglect. If anyone reading this has participated in the other chain renku I started in 1990 (“Scent of Jasmine,” “Gathering Moths,” and “Her Wrinkled Hands”), please do keep them going—or send me news of their whereabouts. You can write to me at [address removed], Foster City, California, 94404, USA, or email me at WelchM@aol.com. I would enjoy hearing about these other renku, and would love to have them find their way home.

        Meanwhile, “Young Leaves” has indeed wandered “far from home,” as Alan Wells suggests in his concluding verse. But now it has come home, and I hope you find the connections between the poets as enjoyable as the verses themselves and the links between them all.
 

Postscript

I have redone the estimate for this renku’s total distance travelled. I used http://www.convertunits.com/distance/ for great circle routes and http://www.mapquest.co.uk/ for road miles in England, and came up with a lower total of 46,484 miles (74,805 kilometers). I’m sure none of the planes stuck strictly to great circle routes, so a ballpark estimate of 50,000 miles is probably pretty close. I wish I could have taken the trip personally!
—31 October 2009