The RBGE shan-shui renga

It was very good to return to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on Sunday, as I worked there for nearly fifteen years. I was there to lead two writing workshops for the collective Invisible Structures as part of their Secret Grove of the Garden project for the Edinburgh Festival, and I had suggested, in view of the Garden’s long association with Chinese and Japanese plants, that plant-hunting expeditions in both countries could form a framework for group composition. The two schemas were therefore linked but different, reflecting the differing geographies. Participants ‘dropped in’ to the yurt for varying times, and I was delighted by their commitment to producing original poems. They came from India, Finland, and China,  as well as from a variety of places in the UK. The final poems are now published on the Invisible Structures blog.

One of the advantages of the renga format is that it gives individual participants the chance to construct their own solo verse sequences, whether or not these were selected for inclusion in the group poem. So we’ve all got our own narratives. Here are my two:

1. Plant-hunting in Japan

The sea rough, and salt winds blowing,
push the ship to a safe anchorage.

High hills surround a busy town,
smells of cooking, smoke drifts through trees.

I aspire to have my eyes opened,
to see things never seen at home.

A long walk in the mountain foothills,
flowers change colour in altitude’s rainbow.

Wonder after wonder, the unfamiliar pulls me
from headland to headland.

This morning I stood on Mount Fuji
but the air smelledof Scotland.

Like a banquet of many courses,
each tasting new, never feeling full.

How the little ones have grown.

2. To the top of the world

I sometimes think I’m too old for this;
all the preparation, planning, packing.

Profusion is the word for everything;
plants on top of plants on top of trees.

The tastes are new, and most are good,
but some rebel inside me.

Endless ridges, deep cut valleys
where yellow rivers flow, cool green forests.

Frost whitens the low grasses,
rims the little leaves of herbs.

Round each bend in the track
a new flower, a new colour for the rainbow.

All is stowed away. Sitting on the quayside
I pray for a fast voyage home.


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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