By Rosemary Nissen-Wade
While visiting Hawaii, Helen Patrice picked up the book, No Choice but to Follow, a series of linked poems (renshi) by four Hawaiian women.
Renshi (連詩 renshi , linked poetry) is a form of collaborative poetry pioneered by Makoto Ooka in the 1980s. It is a development of traditional Japanese renga and renku, but unlike these it does not adhere to traditional strictures on length, rhythm, and diction.
Helen loved not only the poetry but the idea, and asked in various poetry groups if anyone would like to collaborate with her in a similar venture. I thought it was an exciting notion and put my hand up straight away.
Helen and I are old friends, and long-time admirers of each other's writing. On a recent visit to her home city, I stayed a night with her, read the book that so inspired her, and became even more eager to give it a try. Then we got together with another (mutual) old friend, Jennie Fraine, through whom Helen and I first met. We showed her the book and enrolled her too. We decided to call ourselves The Followers, as we'll be following each other's poems in sequence and also are following in the footsteps of the Hawaiian poets of No Choice but to Follow.
We needed a fourth person — the idea being that everyone gets a week to write a piece, making four a month. Helen hadn't specifically sought collaborators who were women, or her personal friends; it just panned out that way. And we weren't necessarily looking for another Australian. It was more important to find someone we could relate to as poet and person. We thought of various possibilities. One person was away and temporarily out of touch; others weren't well-known to all of us. Of the rest, we decided to ask Welsh poet Michele Brenton first. Helen and I both knew her online, knew we were on the same wavelength as people, and loved her work. Jennie was happy to trust our say-so, and luckily Michele said yes.
No Choice but to Follow was initiated by Bamboo Ridge Press. The poems were originally published as weekly website postings to commemorate the press's 30th anniversary. It was funded by various grants and bodies to become a book and CD. It is also available as an ebook (the form in which I now own a copy).
We're doing our copy-cat project under our own auspices, so we created this blog for our weekly postings — and yes, we do intend to turn the results into a book.