Renga for the Fifth Season: Phats Valley Residency
09.25.2014, 12:52 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


no proper vantage
I look to
can the app explain
why I cannot read the sky
from within the fifth season?

September’s insects
my ears must turn to find you
no use, you call from every
mountain as you search for your
spring summer autumn winter

formal connection.
the silhouette of Corn Hill
the mounds of Fresh Kills.
what colors the grasses that
spring from the City’s navel?

says the New York Times today:
east coast exodus.
Traveling today’s gentle tide
with new appreciation

autumn equinox,
no matter our doings here
sun keeps its own course.
from the ground, a growing sense:
balance is a distant star.



How might a 1200 year-old, seasonally-responsive poetry form be updated to meet the contemporary realities of 2014?  This coming weekend, we’ll experiment with the possibilities during a public event that is part of our week-long residency at Phats Valley in Truro, MA.  Over the past week we’ve been collaborating with Oliver Kellhammer.  Our shared project is to attune to the local geologic, geographic, environmental and seasonal history of this small section of Cape Cod – with the added intention to tune into the larger planetary forces that are re-shaping this place, here and now.
We, among others, have recently come to call the Anthropocenic-changes affecting all places on the globe, during all months of the year, “the fifth season.”  While inhabiting the local autumnal changes just starting to emerge on the Cape, we’ve had an extra eye and ear out for Anthropocenic inflections of the “seasonal.”  The unseasonal events that can’t be placed in time, but bring with them strange assemblages of displaced flora, fauna and human-made materials as well as strangely unpredictable weather patterns.  We’ll share initial outcomes of our week-long collaboration via a process of on-site renga creation (collaboratively linked poetry) at this Saturday’s workshop.  We’ll offer participants a series of starter lines for the  5-7-5-7-7 syllable count poetry form.  Guests will join in the collaborative writing after having a chance to experience the Phats Valley site and environs for themselves and gather inspirational “data” for poetry creation.  We will also share an accumulation of words and phrases that we gathered together during our field expeditions and conversations.  We’ve collected them into a saijiki-inspired almanac (saijiki is an almanac composed of seasonal words, called kigo in Japanese). Our Phats Valley almanac is composed of words, phrases, and thought fragments that are both responsive to the local Cape environment and at the same time suggesting its connections to the dawning “fifth season” that is the Anthropocene.
Details for the public event:

Renga for the Fifth Season | Cartography Primer No 2
Saturday, September 27, 2014
2pm | 18 Phats Valley Road, Truro, MA

Cartography Primer is a series of workshops that will investigate the Pamet Marsh area through mapping and exploratory exercises. Cartography Primer No 2 will take place Saturday, September 27th at 2pm, at Phats Valley Residency in Truro, MA and will be led by artists-in-residence Oliver Kellhammer and smudge studio.

“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.



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.

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