Renshi Collaboration

Starting a new project for the Grace Hudson Museum with Ukiah poets Theresa Whitehall and Armand Brint. Archive letters arrived with these stamps.


I don’t write alone, I write in conversation or vision or imagined dream speak which is kind of alone but with something else — poem, song or image. I am writing with voices of long-ago poets or to someone I know or can envision. So, it would seem pretty straight forward to collaborate with a couple of living writers, people I know and like. But this takes a kind of stepping over into a new place and a new process which would be easy except for the letting go all the little nooks and crannies that are familiar to me.  Despite my fears, I have been doing a collaboration with two Ukiah poets, Theresa Whitehall and Armand Brint, based on the lives, paintings and archival materials of Grace Carpenter, Edward Espey and Grafton Tyler Brown.  We are writing round robin poems. A few years ago in Tokyo, I was invited to do a gallery exhibit with a group of poets. For the show, we wrote a collective poem that we called a renshi. There’s a long tradition in haiku/tanka of poets writing a renga together by taking turns writing 17 syllable and 14 syllable stanzas. Basho is celebrated as a great haiku poet but in this life time he was equally well known as a renga poet. Poets would spend an evening taking turns writing verses (or links). I imagine drinking was involved.  There are many rules to renga including syllable count and topics of verses. However, a renshi is a free verse collaboratively written poem. With the Tokyo poets, we wrote one as a group years ago for that gallery show is Kichijouji. And now, with Theresa and Armand, we are writing long distance over email, each writing a stanza of not more than three lines and sending it off to the next poet. We have the archival letters of Edward Espey and letters to Grace Carpenter from her father and her friend Maggie in San Francisco. (Maggie would burn Grace’s letters as soon as they arrived to make sure they didn’t fall into the wrong hands). And of course, we sit with the paintings. Each of us is will take one of the renshi with 15 or so links and revise it for the reading February 13, 2019 at the Grace Hudson Museum. Read Carol Brodsky’s article on the event in the Ukiah Daily Journal.