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HOW TO WRITE LINKED SIJO
AND SIJO SEQUENCES
 
 

by Elizabeth St Jacques ©1996
(revised March 2001)


While linking in certain forms of ancient Korean poetry is well recorded, linked sijo are extremely rare. With changing times and western poets taking sijo to their hearts, this lovely poetry form is proving to lend itself  perfectly to linking. 

Since the early 1990s, Dr. Larry Gross and I have promoted sijo to poets in the West, establishing guidelines for sijo in the English language. Therefore, we experimented with linked sijo, borrowing the basic concept from Japanese renga. Two works of linked sijo written by Dr. Gross and myself, published in the Spring 1996 issue of the printed journal, SIJO WEST,  are   to our knowledge   the first by western poets. To our delight, other poets are now writing linked sijo. Indications are that linked sijo will thrive.

A Japanese renga, usually comprised of 36 linked poems of three and two lines, may be written by one author or a number of poets. Because each sijo consists of 3 long lines, often divided into couplets to accommodate western publishers, thereby demanding more printed space, six sijo in a linked work seems adequate. In this case, a linked sijo may be written by one or up to three poets.  Here how it works:

Poet #1 writes a sijo to which the second poet's sijo links in some way to the first. Poet #1 writes another sijo that links to the second poem, and so on for a total of six sijo. To link, choose an image, color, sound, sensation, sentiment or whatever from the newest sijo and respond without a link that is not too obvious. Each link connects only with the preceding sijo, never with earlier or later sijo.

It is important that each sijo stands by itself and, like Japanese renga, each link shifts in a new direction. This takes us on a fascinating and surprising journey that makes linked poetry so unique (and challenging). 

Because linked sijo consists of a group of poems though subject matter of each poem is different and unrelated, therefore, it has no theme a title is necessary. Unlike Japanese renga, do not to lift a phrase from a link for the title. Instead, look for a common thread that runs through the work and choose a poetic title that best reflects that thread. 

In the following example, can you see how each sijo links?
 
 

                             ALL THE DIFFERENCE
                                          (a linked sijo)
 

                         by Larry Gross & Elizabeth St Jacques
 
 
 

                   I pick up that tattered broom
                     to sweep leaves off autumn's patio;
                   When I was a boy I straddled
                     its handle for my horse.
                   Now that no one is looking,
                     what the hell - Hi-Yo, Silver ...  (LG)
 

                  At sweet sixteen, she had outgrown
                     her precious bicycle;
                  Young women (sniff) earned luxuries
                     of leather and four wheels.
                  Now sixty-three, what does she buy
                     to roll away her girth? Yes!        (ESJ)
 

                  The plane silenced our goodbyes,
                     froze her leaving in steel and glass.
                  It shrank her away, a nestling 
                     leaving home for bluer sky.
                  Behind my sigh, the greedy
                     terminal welcomed travelers.        (LG)
 

                  Excitement drew me from the road
                     to the ancient canyon's call.
                  From the cliff, my spirit soared --
                     an eagle flowing through silence.
                  Yet, soft chants filled up empty space
                     and low drumbeats from distant days. (ESJ)
 

                  Silent now through vibrant drums
                     beneath the tent of the mountain;
                 gone to their fathers the bronze painted 
                     braves grown weak in the hunt.
                 Thundering out of the tunnel,
                     we stop at the post for beads.        (LG)
 

                 One year of convent nighttime hours
                     and long unnerving sounds:
                 through corridors, black rosaries clicked
                     with muffled hymns and padding feet.
                 Now moonlit winds hum lullabies --
                     the convent is a parking lot.         (ESJ)
 

THE SIJO SEQUENCE


While a sequence and linked sijo have similar traits, important differences in a sequence are:

          a)  each sijo in a sequence focuses on an overall theme 
          b)  a sequence may consist of any number of sijo but try not 
               to get too carried away. 

Surprise! That's it. (And you expected a long list, didn't you?) Now for an example:
 

                            PURSUIT OF DREAMS 
                                    (a solo sijo sequence)
 

                                  by Elizabeth St Jacques
 
 

  His world is steel and open hearths  coke gas stench and hot ingots;
  burns and bangs and whistle blasts a raging world of noise and heat.
  Quiet corners drenched in cool are designs for distant worlds. 
 
 

  Sour sweat drips from his body, eyes burn red and lungs turn black;
  hot white steel pours greenbacks gold while outside caskets stand ready.
  Sunshine  fresh air  waters clear  fill misty corners of his mind.
 
 

  Some nights he sprawls upon cool grass to gaze at the universe;
  sweet silence speaks of mystery and silver passages await.
  Smoking steel  knee-deep soot dissolve into the Milky Way. 
 
 

  He carries stars into his dreams  dances through the galaxy.
  Gentle pastures made of light seed music breezes sweet and cool.
  Hot steel noises far away   he softly hums of liberty.
 
 

   (this sequence is a slightly revised version since it first appeared here)

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