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The Renku Sessions: Breathing In – Week 14


Welcome to our ninth renku session under the sponsorship of The Haiku Foundation. This has been a Jûnichô (twelve verse) renku, under the guidance of John Stevenson.

I really enjoyed the discussion this week. Many good ideas offered. You will see that I have made almost no changes but that does not mean that these discussions were not worth having. I feel certain that the ideas that were developed in the course of our consideration of revisions will prove useful in future renku sessions.

It might have been fairer to tell you ahead of time that I try to apply a light touch when making retroactive changes to a renku. I have seen instances in which the process of fixing things has taken some of the spontaneity from the piece and I prefer to avoid that as much as possible, even if some “flaws” are overlooked in the process.

The one thing that concerned me was the rhyming through the first three verses. And, as some of you said, the third instance was the one that was “one too many.” There were several good suggestions about how to alter the rhyme word in that verse (memories). Since the poet made one of those suggestions, I am going to take her up on that. Thank you, Liz Ann! So, here is our completed renku:



A Jûnichô Renku led by John Stevenson
Composed on-line at The Haiku Foundation
September – November 2018


breathing in
scent of new growth
in the trees

Shane Pruett

a pollen-covered bee’s
waggle dance

Polona Oblak

china cups
filled with oolong
and reflections

Liz Ann Winkler

the delicate neck
of his housemaid

Maureen Virchau

I pull up my hood
to avoid the snow
and your words

Marion Clarke

UN laughter
heard round the world

Chris Patchel

is it so long since
dugongs were taken
for mermaids?

Marietta McGregor

the rainbow snake redrawn
as nucleic acid

Lorin Ford

English roses
live and die
in Hyde Park

Pauline O’Carolan

the whole band
headbangs in unison

Agnes Eva Savich

the shadow
of crows descending
on a stubble field

Judt Shrode

moonlight streams
through an open gate

Andrew Shimield


Thank you, everyone, for contributing. While I think that this is a really good renku, I must tell you something I often say about this genre. And that is that the final product – the written renku – is analogous to the box score for a baseball game. You can imagine the game by reading it, especially if you have played baseball yourself at some time. But it’s not the same as being in the ballpark as the game is being played. You have all “played along” in an exemplary fashion during this session. I cherish the experience of working on this with you even more than I do the very satisfactory result.

With best wishes, always,



This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. John, I have just realized that I had not left a message here! Participating in this renku under your guidance has been a joy! Seeing the array of links from participants all over the world is fascinating.
    Thank you so much for stepping up to lead this session. Here’s hoping a sabaki is waiting in the wings to lead the next one in the new year. Renku is habit forming!
    Thanks to all fellow participants. It’s been fun.
    . Judt

  2. Late to the party, and there’s little else to say but to echo everyobe else’s comments. Thanks to John and every participant this was a great experience and I think the end result reflects it.

  3. John, it must have been a bit inconvenient to be traveling across the country and back while being a sabaki. But it all came together at last! Thanks to all who took part.

  4. Thank you for all your kind words, John. And thank you for all your hard work. I’ll miss your fascinating commentaries. You are an extraordinary teacher and writer. Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season!

  5. Thanks, John, for your leadership and guidance over the course of this renku.
    and thanks to all who participated for making it a fun project to be involved with.

  6. Congrats to everyone on another finished renku! It’s one of my favorites. Shane’s hokku is such a beautiful beginning.
    Thank you for letting us offer our thoughts, John. I agree that it was a good exercise for future sessions. I do love Liz Ann’s original verse. But “reflections” certainly serves as an excellent substitution in consideration of the rhyming issue. I like that it adds other elements to the verse which subsequently stirs up an image of a housemaid checking her reflection in the polished silverware.
    Take care, everyone. It was so much fun spending time together. Happy writing!

  7. Renku rules!
    Thank you so much for your leadership and guidance throughout this wonderful Jûnichô, John. I always miss participating in a weekly renku after it has ended – it will take a while before I stop checking for your announcements. 🙂


  8. John, and fellow poets, I’m going to miss my fix of renku every week. I look forward to composing the verses, waiting for (Friday) morning to come to see the selection of verse, then the commentary. I think, living as I now do in a very small village, you are all an important link fr me to the greater world. I enjoy the participatory nature and the workings of everyone’s minds so much. Congratulations to Shane for starting us off so beautifully, and to John for steering us with a light hand.

    Will anticipate meeting up with you all again next time.


  9. Thanks John and everyone who contributed amazing verses to this session. It was my first and I have learned so much (mostly how much I’ve yet to learn) about this format. I’m looking forward to future sessions but I can honestly say I’ll never be quite as surprised or humbled as the day I found one of my verses chosen. Thank you thank you and please all, keep writing and sharing. I love your voices.

    Salem, OR, USA

    1. I just took the time to go back and read the further discussions on the last post, and would add… thanks to all who were supportive and critical of both my verse and Liz Ann’s. Not an easy decision. I struggled mightily with changing “trees” but for me there was a vagueness or openness to “trees” that wasn’t there when I tried to constrain it to a particular type of tree. And as noted I loved “oolong and memories” but I agree with someone else who said “oolong and reflections” adds a slightly different and appealing depth. I like it, but would have been happy either way. Just my final thoughts. Thanks again everyone.

  10. Such an honour to have been at the party with such creative, thoughtful and caring participants and leaders. I’m good with my revision though wonder if reflection instead of reflections works. (Sorry, I know discussion is closed.) I’m glad you kept the title, John. Looking forward to the next Renku.

    1. I hope that discussion is not closed. We have this week to say a few more things.
      I did consider “reflection” instead of “reflections” and I can say something about my thoughts on that potential revision. Just my thoughts – for what they are worth.
      1) Every word of a poem is selected on an “asset/liability” basis. And those qualities that give a word value are manifold. The big ones relate to multiple meanings, musicality, and word history. But there are many more. Sometimes we are fortunate in finding a word that serves many of these factors simultaneously but more often we have to select a word that does some things well but not others.
      2) My reading, in this case, is that “reflections” provides a wider range of associations than “reflection.” At the same time, “reflection” is (to my ear) the more musical choice. The asset/liability decision, for me, relates to the fact that this third verse (daisan) is the one that is supposed to launch us into wider realms of association, after the fairly close linkage of the first two verses. And, thus, I select “reflections” over “reflection” because it more easily (to me – all of this is subjective) invokes both thought/memory/ rumination and literal reflections in the tea water, silver tea service and other physical objects/surfaces that might be imagined in the scene.
      3) I wanted to make as little alteration as possible – honoring the social quality of writing collaboratively. Since the poet has offered a good alternative, I was happy to accept that offer. Of course, now, the poet is offering a further alternative; one that I had myself considered. And I could easily go along with the new offer. That I haven’t, after all, is based upon the asset/liability considerations I’ve described above.
      4) Little of this is a matter of rules. That I say it doesn’t mean that it is “right.” I’m just sharing a little more of my own thought process.

      1. Wonderful, John! 🙂 Many thanks for spelling out your process for all of us..
        Here you show the most central reason why, as well as an engaged and co-operative group, each and every renku needs an engaged and reflective sabaki.
        You’re an excellent teacher. 🙂
        – Lorin

  11. As someone who is deaf enough to feel I’d miss many aural nuances at live renku (what, what? 😁) and so be permanently behind the eight-ball, I’m loving the THF on-line renku sessions. I learn so much from the thoughtful and informed discussion. Thank you, John, and thanks to everyone who joined in. It’s been a pleasure playing with you. And I really like the finished product! 🙂 👏🏼

  12. Many thanks for leading us in this Jûnichô, John. It reads very well, imo, and I’m happy to have been participating as part of the crew and honoured to have had a verse selected, too.
    Thank you also for encouraging discussion, which the late John Carley considered to be an essential part of renku from which we can all learn to make renku music together. I’ve enjoyed reading and thinking about everyone’s comments as we went along.
    – Lorin

  13. Thank you John, a great work,it was a beautiful trip

    Thank you John, a great work! It was a beautiful trip

  14. Lovely work, John. It’s been an education, not only the conversations within the many posts but, the marvellous links, which have lead to amazing places around the world.
    I’ve really enjoyed the session.
    Congratulations to all the poets above, and those that have entered wonderful sensual verses.
    Many thanks for the experience 🙂

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