Man Overboard

A Renku Experiment
by John Stevenson, Nassau, New York
Previously published in Frogpond, 35.1, 2012, pp. 124 -126

After five days in Maine, much of which was spent in writing renku with Scott Mason and Paul MacNeil at Paul’s camp on Onawa Lake, Yu Chang and I drove back to our homes in upstate New York. As we reached the final leg of our journey, entering the Massachusetts Turnpike, we began to compose haiku in the “exquisite corpse” style. While I drove the car, Yu wielded his laptop. The process involved dividing the composition of lines between players. Initially, for instance, we started with Yu thinking of a second line while I thought of a first and third. Without sharing what we were thinking, Yu typed his middle line and then I dictated my first and third. He then read aloud the entire poem.

The first one came out:

behind the garden        (j)
between the lines         (y)
turning inward             (j)

We then switched assignments — I thought of a second line, while Yu typed out his first and third offers:

puffs of clouds
from separate clouds
on the way home

We wrote two more, alternating again, as follows:

a fast car
the shortest distance
with eyes closed

clear blue sky
with an aching back
there is nothing in my mind

Primed by this experience, plus the days of renku practice, we decided to compose a twelve-verse renku in this manner. We did not make any agreement about the subject for each verse, leaving this to chance. But it must be acknowledged that our renku experience was evident here and there. It is obvious, for instance, that we both thought a blossom verse was due when we got to the eleventh verse. Here, un-retouched and featuring the original grammar issues and repetitions, is our collaboration with chance.

Man Overboard: An Exquisite Corpse Renku
by Yu Chang, Schenectady, New York and
John Stevenson, Nassau, New York

end of summer
a few cars at the pee stop
when the bell rings

rushing out of the house
with a snapping turtle

at the water’s edge
a commercial message
the smell lingers

look at the moooon
crosses the state line

there’s never enough
dipping her toes
the missing sock

man overboard
left to imagination

the sinking feeling
on the shortest day
in the produce section

apples and oranges
at Starbuck’s

cowboy and indians
there is not a soul
playing “old maid”

a view of the ocean
a first planting of wheat

plum blossoms
expecting cherry blossoms
someone beat me to it

a soap bubble
picks up speed