Linked Verse Courtesies: Seven Proposed Rules of Conduct

First published in Frogpond (need to confirm the issue), 2007. Thanks to Garry Gay, Paul MacNeil, Gene Murtha, John Carley, and William J. Higginson for reading earlier drafts of this piece and suggesting revisions and refinements. I am grateful for their input, but do not wish to assume or imply that they endorse these views.

 

Many haiku poets write linked or collaborative poetry, such as renku, rengay, and tan-renga. But not all are aware of the responsibilities inherent in participating in these pursuits. What are the ethics of how poets should treat their contributions to linked verse or other collaborative writing? Inappropriate uses of your own contributions, or the verses of others, even if by accident, could invalidate a collaboration or its individual pieces for a contest or for publication, or it could violate the trust of one’s collaborators, especially if the content of the work might be in any way personal. Because each poet has the right to control where his or her work goes, that right becomes a team process as soon as one enters into the writing of collaborative or linked verse. In Japan, the notions of “ownership” of collaborative writing such as linked verse also differ from Western perspectives. We in the West are not writing in Japan, of course, but it is still entirely “Western” to respect the group effort in our poetic collaborations. To help poets who might not have thought through these issues, especially if they are new to collaborative writing, the following are seven proposed courtesies or rules of conduct for the consideration of anyone who writes renku, rengay, or tan-renga with a collaborator. 

  1. Above all, because writing renku, rengay, and tan-renga writing is a collaborative process, I will remember that ownership of the whole collaborative piece and its parts is also collaborative, and I will respect the cooperative investment in the entire collaboration and each of its parts through the full process of reaching a final resolution, such as being published, placing in a contest, or being abandoned (whether complete or not).
  2. If I write a verse in collaboration with someone else, I will take that verse out of circulation for any other purpose (as an individual haiku, in a haibun, or for any other use). I will also remember that many collaborators will not want their partners to use pre-existing verses, but if my partners do not mind this and I offer such a verse, I will use unpublished verses only, and will notify my collaborators that I’m offering a pre-existing verse.
  3. Once I’ve written a renku, rengay, or tan-renga, I will not share the entire piece or verses written by others with anyone (whether as a submission for publication, for critique, or just to share it for personal interest) without the permission of the other poet(s) involved. (To do so without permission might jeopardize its possible placement or eligibility in a contest, or violate the confidence I have with my fellow poet(s) regarding the possibly private content of that renku, rengay, or tan-renga should they happen to not want to share their verses with specific people or publications for whatever reason.)
  4. I will not submit a renku, rengay, or tan-renga for publication or to a contest without the approval of the other writer(s) involved, and will send it only to places that we mutually agree upon, and in the prioritized order of contests, journals, or other publications also agreed upon.
  5. If anything might happen, even accidentally, to challenge the preceding three courtesies, I will immediately notify my other collaborator(s) so that we can mutually decide what to do with our group creation. We will continue to work collaboratively, cooperatively, and with mutual respect and understanding together, even if one of us might have made a mistake, however large or small. We will proceed supportively with the understanding that mistakes sometimes happen.
  6. After a renku, rengay, or tan-renga is published and/or if it places in a contest, should I wish to use the entire creation or the individual contributions of others in a book or for some other purpose, I will notify the relevant collaborator(s) beforehand and secure permission. After initial publication or other agreed-upon subsequent uses, I will feel free to reuse my own contributions independently if I so choose (an additional courtesy, however, would be to acknowledge the original context with any republication of my individual contributions).
  7. If my partner(s) choose(s) not to publish a renku, rengay, or tan-renga, I will respectfully defer to that wish, and I will ask their permission to use my verses independently before doing so, should I wish to do so.