Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dust of Kyoto

Kyoto's dust is still on my bag.

I was at a lecture last week about the porous boundaries between prose and poetry.  Poet and prose writer Susan Sink spoke about the practice of haikai no renga, the communal writing of linked short verses (haiku).  The honored guest poet began with a single prompt verse (the hokku), and each poet in turn added a verse in response.

There were arcane rules to some games (if there was a verse on love, a second in the same theme must follow and perhaps a third, but never a fourth), and runs of 36 and 100, versions played by mail, and collections that were edited after the fact (my favorite collection title:  Scrap Paper Coverlet, edited by Yosa Buson, an 18th century Japanese poet).  The original game favored humor, often ribald humor (think sake-fueled poetry slam), and was wildly popular but grew more staid with time.

Matsuo Bashō (furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto // The ancient pond / a frog jumps in / the sound of water) was not only the acknowledged master of the art of haiku, but a master teacher, as well. Susan shared some of Bashō's haiku including this one:
Even in Kyoto
hearing the cuckoo's cry
I long for Kyoto.
I was in Kyoto last fall, and would return in a heartbeat.  The verse made me realize that I still have Kyoto to hand, for my trusty waxed canvas bag surely has the dust of Kyoto on it, as well as a hearty dose of incense from Koya, a dash of Minnesota moss, and a flick of Philadelphia's grime.

Thirty different translations of Bashō's famous frog haiku into English, in case you don't like the one I selected from Donald Keene.

You can read more about haiku no renga here or in Earl Miner's book Japanese Linked Poetry (the fifth chapter - I found it in Bryn Mawr's library).


  1. I have a small traveling bag that I always take on trips; it replaces my handbag, as it is handbag and wallet in one. In 2005 I went to a Fasching (German Carnivale) parade, where tons and tons of confetti was thrown. Much of it went into an opening on the back of the bag, where you might otherwise slide in a paper or something.

    Years later, although it has traveled to many other countries, states, and cities, and has been shaken out over and over again, I continue to find confetti bits. It brings me great joy.

    Thanks for this post Michelle!

    1. I adore this story, Fran, as well as the image of the confetti still appearing in your lfe!