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The Renku Sessions: Pilgrims' Stride 36

renkuchainWelcome to The Renku Sessions. Renku is a participatory literary game, following a set of rules that are implemented by the leader of the session. If you would like to learn more about renku go here. And if you would like to see a sample of a complete renku go here.

I’m John Stevenson, and I have been your guide for this session, a thirty-six verse (kasen) renku. I supplied the opening verse (hokku) and each week participating poets offered additional verses prior to the Tuesday deadlines.

Thank you all for a great final week of offers! A total of twenty-seven poets, providing one hundred-forty-seven verses, created exactly that sense of onward movement and optimism that our renku called for at this stage.

From poets already included, here are a few links that would make strong finishing verses (ageku) for Pilgrims’ Stride:

the squeals of girls
blowing soap bubbles

    –Carmen Sterba

so many baby birds now
and all cheeping loud

    –Alan Summers

she picks up the largest shell
and listens to her childhood

    –Marion Clarke

how this giant soap bubble
flexes with the wind

    –Sandra Simpson

just one breath
scatters dandelion seeds

    –Lorin Ford

releasing a colt
into the pasture

    –Maureen Virchau

the lingering day unwinds
over a fresh cup of tea

    –Alice Frampton

earth smells
of tilling a field

    –joel irusta

And poets not yet included in our renku offered the following, any of which could be our ageku:

warm and serene
lingering day

    –jerry julius

our beanpole

    –Phil Allen

children follow a butterfly
around the corner

    –kjmunro (slightly edited)

whirligig flamingoes
return to the front lawn

    –Todd Treloar-Rhodes

the monarch lays her egg
under a milkweed leaf

    –Thomas Miller

my baseball glove
comes out of the closet

    –Johnny Baranski

I consider that each of the above verses is the possible final verse and will continue to consider each of them to be the conclusion of a unique version of Pilgrims’ Stride.

You will probably want to use the comment box to register your preference(s) for the final verse. I encourage this but I want to make it clear that I am not taking a vote on this. Since we do not have to link for another verse, I am going to consider each of these to be the ageku.

One final request; and I can only make it a request and hope that you will comply. Please make your comments positive, saying “I favor this verse because…” rather than “I wouldn’t choose this verse because…” We have come a long way together and I deeply appreciate your collaborative spirit!

There will be one further post, on November 27, in which I will offer some final thoughts on this experiment in renku and announce future plans for this feature.

What We Have Been Looking For — Throughout the Session

There are many schematic outlines for a kasen renku. We have been using one set out by Professor Fukuda in his book Introduction to World-linking Renku.

It is a good idea for those participating in the composition of a renku to make use of the same list of season words. There are a number of these lists available and I intended no judgment of their relative value when I suggested the use of The Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words for these sessions.

Pilgrims’ Stride

comparing maps
to the mountain pass–
pilgrims’ stride

    –John Stevenson

a sun-warmed stone bridge
over snowmelt

    –Billie Wilson

dampened soil
of seed trays
in the glasshouse

    –Margaret Beverland

grandmother’s silverware
polished every monday

    –Polona Oblak

a sonata
on the concert Steinway
played to the moon

    –Lorin Ford

dragonflies hover
by the swaying reeds

    –Karen Cesar

slight hum
of a drone
in fog

    –Alice Frampton

the atmosphere
thick with teenage pheromones

    –Norman Darlington

I stumble
trying to reply
“I plight thee my troth.”

    –Paul MacNeil

thinking of a red wig
during chemo

    –Asni Amin

the woodland
of silent stories
and shadow

    –Alan Summers

he makes a wish
to become real

    –Marion Clarke

each mirror reflects
only the cool moon

    –kris moon

freshly-caught fish
sizzles in the pan

    –Aalix Roake

a wealthy prince
exiled in Nigeria
soliciting my help

    –Christopher Patchel

sugar plum fairy came
and hit the streets…

    –Jennifer Sutherland

a milky nimbus
at dusk
beneath the cherry tree

    –Scott Mason

pulling in spring clouds
with a telephoto lens

    –Dru Philippou

plain truth
of a skylark’s

    –Stella Pierides

our yoga instructor
tells us to breathe

    –Priscilla Van Valkenburgh

smoldering dung cakes
burning in the blackened pit
flavors the curry

    –Betty Shropshire

the family’s grudge
celebrates a century


first snowfall
covering little by little
all the dirt

    –Vasile Moldovan

scraping the ice rink
of blood, sweat and tears

    –Carole MacRury

the sting
of a paper cut
on her tongue

    –Terri French

used books signed
for someone special

    –Ellen Grace Olinger

a large voddy tonny
for the woman who may be
his next wife

    –Sandra Simpson

stirring the crowd
with the slur of a slur

    –Maureen Virchau

continents join
under this moon
the bones of my head

    –Patrick Sweeney

the scarecrow reads
renku to the rabbits

    –joel irusta

pickled grapes and walnuts
swaddled in silk
in my messenger bag

    –Peg Duthie

no more wet newspapers
since the online version

    –Carmen Sterba

a gothic revival
with a single click

    –Marilyn Potter

ants open a crack between
their city and ours

    –Mark Harris

cherries in bloom
on the kitchen wallpaper
and outside too

    –Michael Dylan Welch


    –Fourteen Poets

This Post Has 26 Comments

  1. Happy Thanksgiving to our American participants and thank you John, for your skilled leadership. You made it a good experience for all of us. I loved the anticipation of seeing which verse you’d choose and loved the fact we had so many participants. I learned a lot simply by reading what other people offered. Thanks again!

  2. Definitely better late than never, Kathy. Was great meeting you at Seabeck. I am wearing my Whitehorse pin and enjoying explaining it to people who ask about it.

  3. I was late to the party, & I am overwhelmed by the comments – with thanks & best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving to John & everyone,
    from the snowy Yukon, Kathy

  4. My sincere and deepest gratitude go to all who have participated. There will be a final post on Thursday, November 27, which is Thanksgiving Day in the US. In it, I will reflect upon our experience with this renku and announce future plans for this feature.

  5. To John Stevenson,

    Thanks for being the sabaki, and taking this renku on during such a busy schedule. I know only too it’s not easy juggling job and family plus travel, plus emergencies. 🙂

    Have a great Christmas! Shame you aren’t in my neck of the woods as I’m a professional Santa.

    warm regards,


  6. My choice from the 14 ageku is

    children follow a butterfly
    around the corner

    -kjmunro (slightly edited)

    although I also very much enjoy

    releasing a colt
    into the pasture

    –Maureen Virchau

    Both the above have a sense of freedom about them which I think works well for the final verse.
    I have very much enjoyed participating in this renku and am also grateful to John for his guidance, encouragement and thoughtful commentary through the process.

  7. Thank you for leading this instructional renku, John. I learned a lot and enjoyed watching it unfold.

    I like this one the best:

    whirligig flamingoes
    return to the front lawn

    –Todd Treloar-Rhodes

    I selected only from those poets who have not yet contributed a verse. I figure we came this far with that challenging intent, it would be good to carry it through!

    I selected this particular verse b/c I love the humor suggesting that the birds are migrating, when their return is really a human tradition. And the cyclical feel of the season coming around again is so sweet for a final verse. I feel a connection between the pilgrim setting out in the first verse and a “returning” in a domestic context in this final one. Finally, I see the image of the spinning wings as a deft play on the cycles of the seasons.

  8. Hey, John,
    Many thanks for being the extremely brave person to sabaki THF’s first renku! 😉 In my view you’ve done a wonderful job of it.

    C’mon Willie, grumpy old men or no, I hope you’ll be willing to lead us n another. ;-



  9. Thank you for sharing such inspiring words, Ellen. I love these lines of yours- “…Present to the harvested fields and the quiet. The first snow. The small roads…” They read like poetry. We are experiencing our first snow here in NY, as well. Your positivity, enthusiasm and gratitude are very much appreciated.

    Yes, many thanks to John Stevenson, The Haiku Foundation, and all the talented poets here. I have sincerely appreciated all your kind and encouraging words along the way, John. I am most thankful for your time and consideration as our guide for this renku session. And thank you to all the poets. Your verses continue to inspire me.

  10. Dear John, Thank you and all the poets and The Haiku Foundation. I learned so much. At first I was overwhelmed, but then I went back to your early posts and read, took notes, and began writing. One week at a time.

    So nice of you to include as many people and poems as possible, in one way or another. All the ways are so nice and appreciated. I read the guidelines for each week, looked at the list of Season Words, and tried to write poems from my life.

    I discovered that years that seemed fallow at the time, had poems after all.

    It is amazing how long, how many years, can go by sometimes. Then a poem that almost writes itself. When I was helping with her care, my mother always asked, “Are you writing?”

    So thank you.

    Each person’s creative process and journey their own. Their poems.

    Today, driving home from errands, my mind was quiet. Present to the harvested fields and the quiet. The first snow. The small roads. Good to take a break too.

    I look forward to your post on November 27.

    Thanks again

    Blessings to all, Ellen

  11. my choice

    children follow butterfly
    around the corner

    a completely believable non-manipulated image, that is fresh hopeful and open ended

  12. I like all of these and would find it an impossible task to choose from them – I don’t envy you, John!

    I must admit, I particularly like how Phil Allen’s simple, three-word verse sounds like a natural ending to the renku – with the final word dropping in intonation when read aloud – while the meaning suggests the beginning of new life.


  13. My choice:

    children follow a butterfly
    around the corner

    -kjmunro (slightly edited)

    This verse definitely satisfies the request for optimism and onward movement. It also establishes a clear link to the previous verse, as well as uses an appropriate season word. I imagine children pointing to a butterfly outside the kitchen window before bursting out the door to follow it. I find the imagery to be quite charming. 🙂

  14. Well, baseball begins in spring, and I don’t recall that we were told to chose the ‘season list,” so I think it’s right for Johnny’s to be included. However, my final choice is:

    children follow a butterfly
    around the corner

    –kjmunro (slightly edited)

    The children’s movement in smaller steps does mirror the Pilgrim’s stride. Now, i understand why my skateboard two-liner didn’t work because it pointed back to the stride of the pilgrims too early.

  15. my baseball glove
    comes out of the closet

    –Johnny Baranski

    children follow a butterfly
    around the corner
    –kjmunro (slightly edited)

    Either of these two offerings would work for me. The main reason is that they seem to finish the renku in an open-ended way…..what’s around the corner, and what hopes for the old glove brought out of the closet.

  16. Hi everyone,

    I like:

    the squeals of girls
    blowing soap bubbles

    – Carmen Sterba

    *if* “girls” was swapped for the non-gender “kids”. For me this would back it a better link back to the hokku, which is also gender non-specific – having children at the end gives the ageku-hokku a nice circularity.

    For this reason I also like:

    children follow a butterfly
    around the corner

    –kjmunro (slightly edited)

    We have been somewhat like children being led by a teacher, haven’t we? Rushing off in this direction and that (chasing butterflies, perhaps) only to be patiently put back on course again. 🙂

  17. My favourites are:

    whirligig flamingoes
    return to the front lawn
    –Todd Treloar-Rhodes

    children follow a butterfly
    around the corner
    –kjmunro (slightly edited)

    appropriate kigo and an action which nicely relates back to the hokku, that of making strides

  18. My favourites:

    children follow a butterfly
    around the corner
    –kjmunro (slightly edited)

    It uses a kigo from the particular list we’ve been adhering to. It links via place (we’re still around ‘house & garden’ in relation to the previous verse) I also like the sense of an implied, metaphorical ‘ corner turned’ as we follow the children following the butterfly, thereby providing a nod to the entire process of this renku.

    whirligig flamingoes
    return to the front lawn

    –Todd Treloar-Rhodes

    This one also uses a kigo from the particular list we’ve been adhering to. (‘whirligig’ is a synonym for ‘pinwheel’) I like the humorous echo of cherry blossom pink in these ‘flamingoes’, symbols perhaps of an over-the-top suburban celebration of high spring/ impending summer season in more than one region of the world. 🙂

    my baseball glove
    comes out of the closet

    –Johnny Baranski

    It’s a well-written verse, pinning down the time within the season very well for the world region/s it’s written from (those world regions where baseball is played and followed as avidly as cricket is played and followed in other regions) I’d say this one doesn’t qualify, though … sorry Johnny! … because ‘baseball’ is not a kigo on the list we’ve used for this renku and I’d have thought that, to be fair, we’d need to be consistent about that.

    – Lorin

  19. *** Also need to add that the verse ties in because baseball is outside and the closet is inside so same dual location as the previous verse

  20. I vote for:

    my baseball glove
    comes out of the closet

    –Johnny Baranski

    Spring is over and the long summer lies ahead so off into the future we go with anticipation and hope for a great season. Ties in with the previous verse because I imagine the closet to be that proverbial kitchen closet where everything including the baseball glove gets shoved until needed.

  21. children follow a butterfly
    around the corner
    –kjmunro (slightly edited)

    I like this verse as the ageku because it links to the previous train but continues into an unknown future. This gives the impression that we are just glimpsing a segment lifted out of time with no finite beginning and no finite end ;0)

  22. I favor this whirligig flamingoes verse because it makes it feel all like a delightful dream, akin to A mid-summer night’s dream, or an Alice in Wonderland daydream.

    As much as I enjoyed all the other candidates, I feel this dances so well in tune with the preceding verse:

    cherries in bloom
    on the kitchen wallpaper
    and outside too

    –Michael Dylan Welch

    whirligig flamingoes
    return to the front lawn

    –Todd Treloar-Rhodes


  23. I vote for:

    warm and serene
    lingering day
    -Jerry Julius

    because…well…it’s hard to see this renku come to an end. So it seems appropriate to savor and just be in the moment.

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