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renga report



My First Renga - Subhadassi

Around half past nine I walked downstairs into the light of an early autumn morning. The night’s rain had gone. I was full of anticipation.

I’d been looking forward to a day of renga ever since Linda France had first talked so enthusiastically to me about them some years before.

Everything came in a red van – an iron tea pot which was put to work almost immediately; big bare beams and slats made of Douglas Fir; meditation cushions and mats; Beth and Alec with their hats.

Within an hour, after some malletting and drinking of green tea, the pick’n’mix of objects from the back of the van had been beautifully organised in space, and we were ready to start.

I loved having the excuse to sit all day in my own garden, beside the old crooked apple tree weighed down with Bramleys, in sight of a living Douglas Fir that towers over the whole of Sandysike. It was great to see this place I’ve become inured to over the last couple of years through others’ eyes.

This borderland with Hadrian’s Wall speeding through it like an arrow, its presence (visible or invisible) trailing long and low.

I enjoyed the communal making of the poem. What, as a writer, I usually do in the privacy of my own head, or at the privacy of my desk, I did with others, out in the open. We all our shared newly-minted lines and phrases without having had time to worry about their quality. This process was a great antidote to preciousness, and self-obsession. Who owns the poem? We all do. Very liberating.

And there was more. There I was, both a Buddhist trying to practise Buddhism in a Western context, and a poet trying to bring the spirit of Buddhism (honesty, clarity, sensitivity, appreciation) to bear in his life, in his work. And I was engaging in an ancient Japanese art form, which embodied so much of the simple formal beauty of Buddhist practice with other Westerners in the grounds of a new rural Buddhist Retreat, I’d been involved in setting-up.

So, as well as the fact of it, it meant a lot to me symbolically. That conversation between the best of the east and the best of the west. The coming-together of something of western and eastern literary and artistic traditions. And because it was practical, because WE DID SOMETHING RATHER THAN JUST TALKED ABOUT IT, the day went under all the potential froth and blather of such ideas into our lived experience.

It was good.