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The Renku Sessions: Hokku Invitation

renku_300I regret to report that no one offered to lead this session. That is not a surprise, though a disappointment. And so, we go with Plan B.

We will be composing a twelve verse, Jûnichô, renku. Our ninth THF renku session begins now, with an invitation for hokku.

Drawing from William J. Higginson’s “Renku Home” website, here is what we are told about this format:

Practical Guidelines for the Jûnichô Renku Form

by Seijo Okamoto, Master of the Haikai Sesshin

translated by William J. Higginson and Tadashi Kondô

  1. A renku must have literary value and a sense of stylishness. This is what Bashô called “timeless and fashionable” (fueki ryûkô).
  2. A twelve-tone renku consists of twelve stanzas. There is no front or back. One blossom stanza, which may be any flower in any season–it need not be cherry blossoms. One moon stanza, which may be any sort of moon in any season. About two love stanzas, in any position. About half the verses will be seasonal (a pair each for spring and autumn, one each summer and winter), and half non-seasonal, in a flexible order. About half with human focus, the rest on places, animals, plants, and the like.
  3. Progression and diversity are the essence of renku. Accordingly, a wide variety of things in nature and the world of humans should appear.


Requirements for our hokku:

  • either a spring or autumn verse
  • three lines
  • a single cut/grammatical break (kireji)

Please use the “Leave a Reply” box, below, to submit your hokku offers. I will be reviewing them until the submission deadline of midnight, New York time, on Monday, September 3. My selection and commentary, together with an invitation for the second verse (wakiku), will appear here on Thursday, September 6.

I look forward to seeing your hokku offers!

John Stevenson

This Post Has 96 Comments

  1. Thanks, everyone. The submission period is now closed and you have given me a great deal to mull over and appreciate. See you here again on Thursday!

  2. *
    cold dew
    the radiance of cardinals
    skirting distant mums
    red leaf raspberry tea
    just a nip
    for the poetaster
    yesterday’s news
    imbued with the quietus of
    self disclosure

  3. thank you, John, for doing this again.
    just to pop in:
    corn stubble
    collared doves mingle
    with the pigeons

  4. A few attempts, John. Hope it’s not too many at once!
    ants unzip
    a sugary sheath
    early peony


    fresh culms
    on the bamboo
    family reunion

    cheerful chatter
    accompanying our walk
    spring freshet


    the interest of a horse
    over the fence

    a flicker of swallows
    under the bridge
    morning light


    in a month with ‘r’
    a dozen fresh oysters
    by the riverside

  5. Hi again, John. Here are a few for consideration…
    hazy morning
    the delegates await the arrival
    of their master
    guest nod to each other
    at the entrance
    morning glories
    Halloween treats …
    the farmer’s son feeds
    the smallest pumpkin
    silvery moon
    the jingle of spare change
    in the scarecrow’s pocket
    he taps his glass
    to call order . . .
    cricket song
    white linen . . .
    bowls of apples gifted
    by the old tree

  6. sun –
    in dandelion’s yellow
    me and the wind
    garlic in bloom –
    from the seaside bars
    smell of paint

  7. from flower to flower
    and my eyes with it
    a bee
    river fog –
    a ray brush
    on the hawthorn
    small tuft
    of unfamiliar flowers-
    gray spring morning

  8. rhododendrons-
    a flock of birdwatchers
    pause and point

    what’s the use?
    crows seem indifferent to
    still rags and straw

    childhood sanctuary-
    tamping down
    the tall grasses

    1. Emerocallis? I don’t know the word and have had no luck looking it up. Can you tell me what it means?

      1. John and Severa, my guess is that Emerocallis is intended as Hemerocallis: the daylily.
        What season, though? I associate them with summer.
        – Lorin

      2. si John e Lorin Hemerocallis = liliacea dagli steli molto lunghi, che si notano molto quando è sfiorito, io pensavo al kigo nipote0= primavera ma se non va bene riproverò. Grazie

        1. Thanks, Severa, Yes, I think they do begin in spring. You might tryusing the common name, in English for Hemerocallis: daylily (singular) or daylilies (plural).

  9. harvest moon –
    filling the demijohn
    with sloes

    storm clouds –
    a hedgerow anchored
    with wild plums

      1. There’s probably a simpler way of avoiding this loss of spacing but what I’ve been doing is putting a period on each line that I want to be blank.
        Like this.

      1. ha ha! thanks John – I’m afraid I’m not much of a performance artist, however, your point is well taken. If renku was (were?) an oral composition the ambiguity presented in the written form might be difficult to communicate.

    1. Welcome, Anna Maria. This is a nice start.
      Your hokku has two kigo (season words) – “autumn” and “chrysanthemums” (which are considered an autumn topic in renku). There is no rule against multiple kigo but one factor, in such a short poem, is taking up space by effectively saying the same thing twice. This can be either an asset or a liability. And the distinction can be hard to call.

  10. lo the full moon
    in a thousand faces-
    pumpkin garden


    in this year
    the crickets begun to sing
    much earlier


    in a thousand places
    the poets get ready to write
    a fall junicho

  11. I am new to renku, John, but I’d like to offer this hokku:

    lotus’ wide leaf
    bisects the grand muse
    of a frog and a fish

  12. candy corn
    more decoration
    than anything
    pumpkin bread
    from a recipe
    in grandma’s hand
    the color of cider
    the color of wine

      1. Hi John,
        Early spring is when they start running in Port Philip Bay. The indigenous people shared the timetable early in the piece, and by my time as a small kid I was up before dawn to see my father and his mates off from the beach across the road. 🙂
        I’ve now googled & this bloke has it right:
        “I find the first run of snapper in Port Phillip bay is just before early September or late August around the full moon.”
        ““The Right Time to Fish
        The best time to fish in early spring is at the first and the last light, as the bite times are quite short. The bite time increases and the fish become faster as the season progresses, and you may even try your luck in the middle of the day.”
        Around this recent full moon is the time they’ve begun. They continue throughout spring.
        – Lorin

        1. ps John,
          By the calendar, today, September 1st, is the first day of spring for all Australia, but in reality our seasons don’t fit into the traditional European four seasons. But then, neither do the Japanese seasons.
          – Lorin

  13. Thank you, John, for starting this junicho.

    Herewith, my offers for hokku:


    aiming high
    around the mulberry bush
    all the chooks


    morning assembly
    jasmine, wisteria scents


    a gentle dance
    splays of pink orchids
    in the breeze

    1. Thanks, Barbara. I had to look up “chooks.” That’s fun.
      See my comments below about multiple cuts (kireji).

      1. This verse has two cuts – after each of the first two lines. I commented on this with an earlier verse offer, by another poet. Placing a prepositional phrase before that which it modifies is so common in English-language haiku that it’s a kind of cliche. We do it so often because it’s a good way of creating the required cut (kireji). But this verse doesn’t need a second kireji because it has already created a full stop with the dash at the end of line one.
        Through the years of THF renku sessions I’ve noted that different session leaders have differing priorities. One of mine has been effective line structure and, in particular, the effective use of kireji. The hokku is the only renku verse with this feature and, as we go on, I will be reminding poets who are used to writing haiku that renku is not a sequence of haiku. After the hokku, which is the only renku verse that has the potential to stand alone – in large part because of the action of the kireji – the poetry happens between rather than within individual renku verses.

        1. Thank you John. Would these then both be structurally in keeping with your lesson?

          first rain
          in the vernal pool
          salamanders dance

          first rain –
          salamanders dance
          in a vernal pool

          1. Just saw this question, Linda.
            The second version definitely has a single cut – after line one.
            The first version is what I call a hinge verse. We have our choice between reading:
            first rain
            in the vernal pool
            as an unbroken phrase. In which case the poem has a single cut. But we can also read this as:
            first rain (-)
            in the vernal pool (,)
            salamanders dance
            In which case, there are two breaks, after lines one and two.

  14. *
    still life
    the tulips’ slow bow
    to the artists
    PS. I’m very happy with Plan B. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Liz. I haven’t entirely given up on plan A yet but happy to go with B if necessary.

    1. Thank you, Maryam.
      Unless you mean that the cardinals disintegrate, this verse has no cut (kireji).

  15. Here is my proposal, I am expert on renku and I would like to write something new :

    shorter days –
    in the crock jar
    last lemon

      1. Terrible, I wanted to write that I’m NOT renku practice, sorry John Stevenson !!!!!

        1. Nothing to apologize for. I have the advantage of being able to go into the Haiku Foundation website and correct my typos. And I have had to do it four times, just today!

    1. Thanks, Carol.
      I don’t know what I think about starting a renku with the single word/ line “end.” It’s interesting but also seems a little arch.

    1. Hi Carol,

      I’m used to reading a lot of haiku, so I say send as many as you think are good ones, within reason.


  16. Very new to renku. I have been watching the last cycle in hopes I might contribute as well. I look forward to learning through practice.

    breathing inꟷ
    scent of new growth
    in the trees

    1. Thank you. Looks like there is a special character at the end of your first line but I’m not sure what it is.

    1. Thank you, Marina.
      You have two breaks here. After the first and second lines. A prepositional phrase before that which it modifies is a frequently used English-language haiku tool for creating a kireji. But you already have a kireji with the full stop and change of subject between lines one and two. And you intensify this effect by saying “new tiny leaves” instead of “tiny new leaves” in line three. A simplified version of this verse might read, for instance:
      azure sky-
      tiny new leaves
      in a cracked pot

      1. “A prepositional phrase before that which it modifies is a frequently used English-language haiku tool for creating a kireji. ” – John
        I didn’t know that, John. All these years and it’s escaped me!
        – Lorin

        1. Yes. If you have an image:
          black pocketbooks
          on shelf
          after shelf
          a haiku poet is likely to present it as:
          on shelf
          after shelf
          black pocketbooks
          It’s almost a reflex. Check out any English-language haiku journal and see how often you see this construction. In my own poems, I generally read the the image in its more natural order in order to consider its poetic value separate from this device. The device adds something but I want my poems to have that plus something that doesn’t depend upon the device.

          1. Thanks, John. I understand now. Yes, I’m familiar with the structure, just didn’t realize people were using it to seem to cut the verse. I’ve used it myself. Other times, I’ve referred to it as “the drum roll pause”. 🙂
            – Lorin

  17. How much I was waiting for it to begin. I wanted to offer my help in starting it. But I am still an amateur and in learning stage.

    Here is my 1st hokku-

    scarecrow . . .
    the girl in new dress
    orbits around it

    1. Thank you, Aparna, for getting us started. There is no better way to learn than by doing. There is no better time for doing than the “learning stage.”

    2. Also, a couple of comments about your hokku offer.
      The diction in the second line is somewhat truncated, to my ear. A more natural version would be “the girl in a new dress” and I would also suggest “a girl in a new dress” because a comparison does not seem to be implied (between the well dressed girl and other girls). The comparison to the scarecrow does not need to be pointed out. It is in the nature of scarecrows to be sporting old clothing.
      In the third line, “around” is redundant. If she orbits “through,” “within” or some other preposition, it should be stated but an orbit “around” is so expected that it need not be stated. This leaves you room to do more with the third line. Actually, I would keep “around” and trade “orbits” for some other descriptive verb – “sashays,” “struts,” etc. A good choice here could make this verse “pop.”

      1. Thank you so.much , john for your feedback on my hokku. It is great to learn through it. May I submit more or only one verse is allowed ?

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