Renga for the Fifth Season | in collaboration with Oliver Kellhammer, as co-residents at Phats Valley, Truro, MA | September 2014
The “unseasonable” weather of the Anthropocenic climate is altering what we’ve known as summer, fall, winter, and spring. We, and a few others, have begun to call the Anthropocene’s unseasonable climate: “the fifth season.” While inhabiting the local and quite “normal” autumnal changes just beginning to emerge on Cape Cod during a residency at Phats Valley, we experimented with how a 1200 year-old, seasonally-responsive Japanese poetry form (renga) could invite us to newly meet contemporary realities. Our intention was to activate renga’s collaborative "seasonal" poetry process as a means, and embodied practice, for being with the planetary changes we are enmeshed within.
Over the course of a residency leading up to a public event, we visited local sites and attempted to attune to the local geologic, geographic, environmental and seasonal histories of this small stretch of Cape Cod. Sites visited include: Marconi Beach, Wellfleet; Provincetown Jetty, Head of the Meadow; Provincelands dunes (Cape Cod National Seashore); Herring Cove Beach; Northern Truro and Phats Valley/Eagle Creek area, among others. Along with looking for Anthropocenic inflections of the “seasonal,” we met these local sites with an added intention to tune into the larger planetary forces that are re-shaping these places, here and now. Appearances of the "fifth season" are outside of linear time and contiguous space. They bring with them strange assemblages of displaced flora, fauna and human-made materials, as well as strangely unpredictable weather patterns. We gathered poetic responses to our experiences into a saijiki-inspired almanac (saijiki is an almanac composed of seasonal words, called kigo in Japanese). Our Phats Valley almanac includes words, phrases, and thought fragments that are both responsive to the local Cape environment and at the same time suggestive of its connections to the dawning “fifth season” that is the Anthropocene.
A public renga-creation event was held on Saturday, September 27, 2014
2pm | 18 Phats Valley Road, Truro, MA
Oliver Kelhammer led a "Disturbance Ecology" walk for the public event. Guests also did a period of "micro-visioning" of the Phats Valley site, and gathered inspirational “data” for poetry creation. Our group then engaged in a process of on-site, collaborative renga creation. The renga form calls for a participant to write three introductory lines following the 5-7-5 syllable count. Then, another participant adds another two, seven syllable count lines to complete the stanza. This was then repeated until the scrolls were filled, completing the renga "party."
Press release for the event:
“The sun and the moon are eternal voyagers; the years that come and go are travelers too. For those whose lives float away on boats, for those who greet old age with hands clasping the lead ropes of horses, travel is life, travel is home.”
—From Narrow Road to Interior, Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉), translated by Helen Craig MCCullough
In the spring of 1689, Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō set out on a five-month journey in Japan. His experiences are documented in his book, Narrow Road to the Interior, also known as The Narrow Road to the Deep North. While traveling, Bashō drew upon and further developed a 500-year old practice of collaborative haiku poetry called renga. Bashō’s style of renga included juxtapositions of place, events and allusions to literary, historic and mythic sources. Renga, in its most basic form, is recognized as being inherently collaborate (linked verses by multiple authors build upon each other’s words), inspired by the environmental and social contexts of the moment (such as what trees are in bloom, what stage the moon is in, and who is present at the time of the renga writing “party”), and responsive to the impermanence of the moment.
On Saturday, September 27th, artists-in-residence Oliver Kellhammer and smudge studio will practice a contemporary translation of Bashō’s collaborate, time-based poetic form and journey-based practice for Cartography Primer No. 2. They will use that translation to produce a collaborative, renga-inspired work that speaks to the impermanence and continuous renewal of “place” and daily life: the change that makes the world.
Today a renga-like creative practice that responds to the unfolding contexts of its own production would involve many social and environmental conditions unknown to Basho. Indeed, the material conditions of daily life in 2014 are barely understood by those of us who are living them.
For our renga-inspired event, we will invite participants to attune to ephemerality, impermanence and change by walking and pausing in Truro. We will ask guests to spend an hour with “the change that makes this place.” We will invite them to use words, diagrams, sketches and found objects to creatively respond to local events and experiences of change as it plays out across their time-based experiences of “this place.” The exact site and route of travel will be shaped by what is present at the event: people, weather, light, season, affordances.
We will then gather around a large scroll of paper. Together, we will create a collaborative, renga-like work on the scroll: a flowing, “call and response” sequencing of words, images and objects that poetically link our collected, incomplete, and ephemeral experiences of “place”.
The resulting renga-like work will take up challenges and possibilities that are offered by change, as it propels all humans into uncertain but linked futures. We will seek ways to share this work with a public audience.
Transcript of renga generated on-site at Phats Valley 9.27.14, collaboratively written by Ann Chen, Elizabeth Ellsworth, Rachel MacFarlane, Davey Field, Hanna Kang-Brown, Jacob Kang-Brown, Oliver Kelhammer, Jamie Kruse, Jeff Warren.
trying to read insect
so cicadas, really?
Antsy but waiting
Brown rhythm machine
My gaze it turns to.
unknown tracks crisscross
First, take a photo:
The catalog grows
Outside that is in
Yet the fifth season
Beware! Of the tick!
water- spots, ripples
site as a graveyard.
Turquoise netting scrap
what opens will close
How would you know where
no place anywhere
Do the waggle dance?
The Cartography Primer is a workshop series held in conjunction with the Phats Valley residency program. Through walking tours, mapping and other means, we uncover and document the unique history of the site. Phats Valley Residency is administered by The Nomadic Department of the Interior (NDOI), a creative research group co-founded by Ann Chen and Davey Field.
Renga For the Fifth Season | 9.25.14