one cup senryu
july 26, 1998
excerpts (brian heagney) from the book one cup senryu:
what is our goal? to roar into the gentle ports of japanese high culture in our black ships, sequined colossi, doling out whiskey and winchesters, baseball caps and laser pens? certainly not – how venal, how low. it is of course, nothing short of the systematic and blood-boltered overturning of the self-serving capitalist imperium in all its forms and ramifications, globally. and also to have some fun with this senryu thing here.
senryu developed during the late 1700's in boomtown edo as a poetry of social rather than “pastoral” commentary. whereas haiku, which shares the same 5, 7, 5 syllabic configuration, concerns itself largely with the transience of nature and its seasonal convulsions, senryu is a poetry of ironic observation, an exposure of the frailties and contradictions flesh is heir to.
the tradition of poetry tournaments (uta-wase) dates back to about 760 ad in china. the practice had spread to japan by 900 ad, when in some competitions contestants thirsty for rice wine would have to hastily compose a poem before a tiny boat bearing a flask and cup floated past them, or else the next contestant downstream able to do so in time would gain the honour of draining the cup.
part of being a member of the educated aristocracy meant corresponding regularly in verse whenever a letter was called for to convey congratulations, greetings, or sympathy, before paying a visit, a romantic letter of longing to a beloved, or perhaps, if your wooing words were well received, a morning-after note. poetry was an itegral part of daily life for any educated person at the time and through each successive century until our own.
on july 26th 1998, in the great tradition of poetry competitions, people gathered, booze was imbibed and art was made. the less traditional aspects of the event were the use of zooty technology (i.e. a computer) to facilitate the writing, editing and printing of the first 40 copies of the book in one afternoon, as well as the linguistic and cultural diversity of the participants.
the photos in one cup senryu served as the themes for the poems. poems written in english were instantly translated into japanese and vice versa. participants were free to drink as much and as often as they pleased, although composition time was strictly limited. the poems were selected by rotating panels of three judges. each poem appears in the handwriting of the author.
members of the kineticity collective are driven to create art. the name is derived from "kinetic" and "city" roughly meaning "urban movement." we sniff each other's armpits.
a poem (by jim dunton) on the page pictured above right (erik sanner photo, melinda gamargo feet):
ripe for the sucking
a fetishist's feast awaits
soba and big toes
from my memory:
brian heagney, marie claire kidd and i met; almost immediately we said "let's do something". brian was writing poetry, i was making images; marie claire said we shold start a collective. we wanted to involve people, not do something and hear "oh, art, how nice." ultimately we decided to revive a "lost" way of experiencing art (e.g, poetry competitions) and try something "new" (e.g., print a book for a bunch of people who made it together at the event, with full color photos and multiple copies of identically-handwritten verse, something which presumably would have been impossible in preceding centuries, and exceedingly difficult in the twentieth prior to scanners, home computers, etc.). jimmy liversidge (computer-designer-type) then joined us in putting together "one cup senryu."
about 20-25 people gathered at al's crazy cactus in ichikawa on a sunday afternoon (if i find their names, i will post them). a photo would be circulated; participants were then given a time limit in which to compose a poem. our "plans" for a rotating panel of judges were quickly deemed unfeasible and alka saved us by managing to pick an all-inclusive range of work while honoring the stronger verses from each round. volunteer translators (yoko hata and minako nakashima) helped us share our poems with each other.
perhaps one copy of the book was completed by the end of the event, due to machine and human confusion, but within weeks everybody (hopefully) ended up with a copy, thanks to marie claire's and brian's efforts.
i believe everyone involved remembers the event which was ultimately the only project the kineticity collective (brian, marie claire, jimmy, and erik) brought to fruition. brian and i have collaborated on other projects since, and hopefully we will do more together.
in closing, you are invited to see the fold-out invitation (designed by jimmy in the shape of a vending-machine sake jar label):