Renga On The Round

By Bernie Bell

It all started when Fiona-As-Was-Next-Door sent me an email and photo from her new home near Beauly, telling of how she found a lovely big pink fishing float with poetry on it left by her door.

I kept the email and picture, as I thought it was a great idea and loved the image of the big pink round, balanced on a branch.

‘Poetry in the Round’ pic by Fiona Driver

Then, I read in ‘The Orkney News’, about a crowdfunder put in place by the people of North Ronaldsay to raise money for a machine which will re-cycle waste plastic , and wrote a piece about how fishing flotsam can be re-used as well as re-cycled.

From this, came an email from Yvonne Gray, the Lady of the Renga Round, telling the whole tale of its finding, inscribing and deploying – as follows……

“It originated from the first lockdown, a spell when I had many walks round the shore, from my house out to Billiia Croo or the Black Craig then round the coast to Breckness and Warbeth, through the farm at Clook and back home.

I found the pink float – quite a big one – washed up at Billia Croo just beneath EMEC. I like floats and have dozens of photographs of them – mostly from North Ronaldsay, a place I love to visit. So I photographed this one, and other bits and pieces thrown up in the spell of windy weather we’d just had. It was a colourful collection and I posted several on Facebook, including the float. Fiona made a comment, saying that in all her years of collecting floats in Orkney she’d never had a pink one. The hole through the middle is a darker colour, so maybe it was reddish originally, but faded with being in the sea for a long time. After that I kept thinking it would be fun if I could surprise her with it one day when I was able to leave Orkney. 

The next time I went to Billia Croo I took a rucksack and set off hoping it might still be there. It was, and I squeezed it inside and brought it home.

Then another idea grew – I’d been writing, through the lockdown, a series of renga (a form of collaborative poetry originating in Japan) by email with different groups of people. When you lead a renga you don’t put your own verses in, or rarely, so I had this collection of unused verses I’d written during the lockdown months, all relating to Orkney. So I decided to write them on the float. 

Then at last, in the summer, I was able to go south to visit my parents. I took the float with me and on my way back to catch the ferry from Scrabster, I put Fiona’s new address into the satnav and had a beautiful drive through tree-lined lanes and burgeoning hedgerows to her house. 

As it turned out there was no one at home so I left the float on the doorstep. Then it was back to the A9 and the road home.”

Then…….Fiona sent me Yvonne’s Renga verses, as written on the round ….

“How they cling to these rocks!

Limpets in lockdown.

A pink float at Billia Croo high and dry on waves of stone.

Blue rope and barnacles festoon a beached tree.

A white float at Breckness; tangled rope; three mermaid’s purses.

Like a wandering star the space station drifts above the Hoy hills.

Mountain hares on the Cuilags tundra.

The shadow of eagle wings.”

And the Tale of the Renga Round came full circle!

There’s a lot in those few lines………I particularly like …….‘Limpets in lockdown’……..’Like a wandering star the space station’ ……….’The shadow of eagle wings’ ……..over Hoy. 

Eagle wings over Hoy were only a shadow of times past………until recently.


See also: Innovative Project to Solve Plastic Pollution In North Ronaldsay

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