My Allenbanks Renga

Having talked about the writing process in a previous post, here is the Renga that I wrote.

The edge of autumn

Today’s truth –
the seventh month is our ninth
white river brown

grassheads dance
to a chainsaw’s tune

branches sway
trunks creak
above dropped leaves

the canopy pours green
onto the path

tripping on roots
my breathing quickens

on the gorge edge
the updraft lifts the sky

leaf needle twig
strewn stone
steps down to the pond

sedge reed and lily
the tarn lies still

light shades
from bending leaves
pollen blown as rain

a dragonfly
hunts the glade

pheasants creep away
through bracken
a plant of an earlier time

fallen trees
soften into earth

swallows skim
the edge of autumn
rain mists the meadow

around over along
the Allen sings.

A 14-verse Renga at Allen Banks,
Morralee Wood,
on 6th September 2017,
by Martin P Eccles.

My introduction to the poetic art of a walking Renga

The day was organised by poet, and the days ‘Renga Master’, Linda France. Along with Linda and eight others I took part in a walking Renga at Allenbanks, Northumberland. Our two-mile route was chosen by Linda and related to her interest in Susan Davidson who, in the mid 1800’s, designed much of Allenbanks as experienced today.

Though I had written haiku whilst walking, the Renga was new to me. The traditional length of a Renga varies, though is often 20 verses – today we were writing 14 verses. A Renga has a basic structure of alternating three and two line verses, each a response to a place along the way. There is an underlying compositional ‘link and shift’ principle – verses are linked by, in this case, the act of the walk; the shift is that, in general, verses don’t repeat ideas or images previously mentioned. There is usually a central set of three love verses and in our case these became three verses based around one location on the walk – the Tarn in Moralee Wood.

The walks between verses were relatively short and (deliberately) slow, and whilst companionable, were conducted without ‘chat’ – to allow us to absorb, reflect on and respond to the place where we were walking. Each stop was about ten minutes during which we each composed one (occasionally two) verses. At the end of the ten minutes we then each read our verse (preceded by the chosen verse from the previous stop) and the Renga Master then chose one of the offered verses to go into the group Renga. As well as writing the group Renga we were also each writing our own Renga. The whole walk and writing took about five and a half hours.

The day was hugely enjoyable, walking with a group of poets and contributing to a shared end. Equally, I can think of ways in which I can use this method and discipline to inform my own practice as a solitary walker. I am very much looking forward to the next one, whenever that might be.

This is the group Renga that we all wrote.

The Landscape, Ourselves

Today’s truth –
the seventh month is our ninth
white river brown

a startled heron
wingbeat of silence

what is that sumptuous smell?
she only knows it
as ‘country’

a choice is made
to keep to the middle way

tripping on roots
my breathing quickens

through the ghost of a window
we gaze over the valley

mirror tarnished
by pondweed

layer upon layer
memories settle

my companions are painting light
collecting earth
gathering pollen

by the water
a stack of wooden bones

and so we lean
into the landscape

picture the moonlight
shadowing these branches

in a wild grove
between two fields
with all that’s unspoken

muttering, meandering.

A 14-verse Renga at Allen Banks, Morralee Wood, on 6th September 2017.

Participants: Jo Aris, Matilda Bevan, Holly Clay, Martin Eccles, Linda France, Malcolm Green, Sharon Higginson, Alex Reed, Eileen Ridley, Christine Taylor