John Carley, RIP

News has come that John Carley (born 1955) has died in England, on January 1. John had had a serious illness for four years, something he bore with good humour and fortitude. I feel privileged to have known John, even if only by email and through shared writing online.

His communication skills were second to none and he was one of the best teachers I have met. Thanks to him, my interest in renku is ongoing. He was also the best sabaki (renku leader) I have come across, patient, thoughtful and with the ability to see the whole poem even as we worked through its mysteries. His decisions were invariably sound and based in an expert knowledge of renku.

His love of linked verse saw him invent the four-verse yotsumono, and he celebrated the form with a collection written with several authors, myself included, in The Little Book of Yotsumonos (Darlington Richards, 2012). The same publisher is bringing out the hard-copy edition of The Renku Reckoner, John’s life work, and taken from his now-defunct website of the same name. Thanks to a pdf version being available earlier, Vanessa Proctor has reviewed TRR on Haiku NewZ.

I have looked this morning for John’s free e-book of haiku, nothing but the wind. Sadly, it seems to have disappeared along with its erstwhile host, Gean Tree Press.  Update January 30, 2014: The free ebooks, including John’s, published by Gean Tree Press have appeared back online. Find them here.

At my invitation John led a small team of us to write a 20-verse nijuin for entry into last year’s Einbond Award. We were up against a tight deadline and a trying period health-wise for him – he not only led us right through the poem but in his summing up said: “This is far and away the best poem I’ve ever been involved in. And all those thousands of words of renku theory are worth less than one good exemplar. If I have a style, this is it. Thank you. J”

No, thank you John … and we won! (Icing on the cake, as he reckoned he’d taken some risks with verse choices considering it was a competition entry, and an American competition at that.) Early Morning Heat is in the new issue of Frogpond.

There are several articles by John on Basho, renku, kigo and other topics available online (Haiku NewZ, A Hundred Gourds, etc) and I urge you to seek them out and read them.

I feel like I’ve lost a mentor, a guiding light and a dear friend. I can’t imagine what his family must be feeling (typical John, though, he arranged for an email to be sent to advise of his death) and my thoughts and good wishes are with them and with the others, like me, who mourn him.

new year’s day –
a single shaft of sunshine
across the penines

(for JEC)

– Sandra Simpson

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