6 | A Write-up from Contributing Editor Joshua St. Claire
About the Renku: Quantum Entanglement
Joshua St. Claire, Contributing Editor
I approached our editor, Justin Sloane, with the proposal of working with some of the writers in his circle to produce a renku in the spring of 2022 and I was delighted that he agreed. I was also a bit nervous because I would be working with a group of writers whose prestige far exceeds my own. A diverse group answered the call: award-winning authors, editors of storied journals, educators, artists, and even a poet laureate. Contributors hailed from North America, Europe, and Africa. Experience with Japanese poetic forms, renku specifically, was diverse as well. The group included highly experienced and world-class haijin who have studied renku extensively, beginners with no to minimal experience, and everything in between.
For those readers new to the form, the roots of the renku date back hundreds of years to ancient Japan. A proper historical survey of the genre along with its roots and branches could fill several volumes. Even a suitable description of renku, as it has been practiced for the past few decades within the Anglosphere, could easily run into the hundreds of pages. However, simply put, renku is a form of linked poetry, produced collaboratively, within a traditional set of rules and structures, in which each verse links to the immediately prior verse and shifts away from all other prior verses. Its effect is similar to a movie montage in which the reader comes to understand the meaning, not merely through the semantic content of the verses, but, more importantly, through the juxtaposition of images between verses.
As you are reading, be aware of a few special verses defined by the rules of the form. The first three, known as the hokku, wakiku, and daisan, set the renku in motion. The final verse, the ageku, must close the poem and link to its beginning. The moon appears three times and blossoms appear twice in set verses to remind us of the transience of beauty in life. The remaining verses build a bridge between these tent pole verses to discuss love, the seasons, philosophy and the fruits of the imagination.
I asked Joshua Gage, an experienced poet with significant training with renku, to write our hokku, the first verse of the renku. He produced several excellent verses, and I ultimately chose “hear our words.” I queried the group to let me know if they preferred to write a renku with primarily literary or speculative content (as our group of poets included several prominent speculative poets). Joshua Gage also sagely proposed the idea of starting our renku with traditional, literary subject matter and then pivot into the speculative. This was an excellent concept and we proceeded in this way. I asked Wendy Van Camp to produce our second moon verse (“flashes on the moon”) which introduced speculative subject matter. I chose the title, “Quantum Entanglement,” from a verse by Irina Moga. This poem requires us to hold several related—but wildly different—ideas in our minds simultaneously, in a sort of quantum superposition, which results in a poem that is greater than the sum of its verses.
My sincere thanks to each contributor and to our host, Justin Sloane. It was absolutely my pleasure to work with all of you. Thank you for the opportunity.