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In Session: Genre Trouble: Subverting Norms in Premodern Japanese Poetry
2: Quotable Moments: Renga Anthologies and the Individual Link
Monday, March 22, 2021
10:00am – 11:30am EDT
University of California, Berkeley, United States
The 15th-century rengashi Sōgi is considered the master of the 100-verse sequence, and the individual renga links collected in the major anthologies he edited (Chikurinshō, compiled solely by Sōgi, and Shinsen-tsukubashū, compiled chiefly by Sōgi among others), are often assumed to be excerpts from full sequences. However, recent scholarship has demonstrated that only a small percentage of links in these anthologies are traceable to extant sequences of one hundred or one thousand verses. Further examining those links that can be traced, I find that they are not average verses but are frequently among the more virtuosic links in a sequence, such as those that skillfully manage a sharp transition between topics.
In this paper I argue that the individual links quoted in the great 15th-century renga anthologies are not mere byproducts of the 100-verse sequence, but functionally constitute a related yet separate genre. Full renga sequences value harmony among participants' contributions and balance among various topics, and within a sequence individual verses are constrained by the rules of sequencing and repetition, some of which are shaped by the recording medium of four sheets of paper. With links taken individually, however, these concerns do not apply. Meanwhile, single links are more quotable and more mobile than full sequences; certain links appear in multiple texts and seem to achieve wide recognition. Sōgi's anthologizing of renga links celebrates individual poetic skill and shows that even in the heyday of the full renga sequence, the fun of verse-capping has never gone away.