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The Renku Sessions: Way of the Wind – Week 22


I am John Stevenson and I have been your guide for a twenty-stanza, nijûin, renku.

This will be the wrap-up for the “Way of the Wind” sessions. The completed renku has now been added to The Haiku Foundation’s archives:

We have had some good suggestions for alternate titles this week. As I mentioned last time, we will keep “Way of the Wind” as our title, because it’s a good title and because almost all of the weekly sessions have been indexed under that title. And because the title of a renku most often comes from the first verse (hokku). The sense of forward motion is best served in this way, revealing the source of the title immediately, thus saving readers the suspense of wondering when it may come up later and drawing the reader’s attention back to the title when the phrase is finally encountered.

I asked for alternative titles because it’s fun to consider other titles and because the process recognizes highly resonant phrases that occur later in the renku. Here is the list of such resonant phrases that were offered over the course of the past week:



Pooh Sticks                   


Delicious Fillip


Bumps Along the Way


Pebbled Waves


A Sidelong Glance


The Long Day Opens


Sweeter Blood


Discovered Chaos


A Chime of Pots


Three-martini Lunch


Low on the Hips


In Relentless Pursuit


Fires of Hell


That Delicious Fillip


Taking Leave


A Warm Soak


Clang of the Gate


One offer was made of a phrase that does not actually occur in the renku:

The Rookie                    

As you can probably imagine, this would add to the suspense of wondering when the title phrase would appear by taking the reader all the way through to the end before revealing that the answer is “nowhere.”

The motivation for this offer seems to be to create a title that would tie things together by referring, thematically, to several verses within the renku. Never say never, but this is rarely the function of a renku’s title.


Keith Evetts raised a question this week. “I’d like to understand better the reasoning behind the stricture to avoid kireji/grammatical breaks, particularly in the three-line verses.”

Since the reasoning behind this is the product of centuries of tradition, I would only be guessing at the reasoning. I can point out that, among all of the renku verses, only the hokku has been viewed as the direct ancestor of the stand-alone poem we know as “haiku.” And it is the use of the kireji (which we most often express in English as a grammatical break) that contributes to this potential to stand alone, as a complete poem. Other renku verses contain kigo (season words or phrases) and other verses in the “jo” (opening section) and, to some extent, the “kyu” (closing) share tonal similarities to the hokku. But none of these factors has given the other verses the reputation of birthing haiku. The hokku stands alone because it serves as an example for all that follows. It puts multiple images next to each other in a way that creates a poetic experience for the reader. But renku are, above all else, collaborative. So, after the example of the hokku, all further poetic interaction is intended to take place in the interplay between verses, rather than within single verses. Almost everyone who comes to English-language renku, arrives through prior experience with English-language haiku. As a result, they arrive with certain habits relating to expected norms for that genre. But a renku is not a haiku sequence. So, repeated reminders about making the poetry in collaboration with the prior verse, rather than within the new verse itself, are naturally required.


And now, to announce what is next: On Thursday, September 30, Kala Ramesh will introduce a session in which she will lead us in the composition of a “Rasika” – 8-verse – renku. Many of you will remember Kala from the “Rasika” session she led here in 2017. For anyone not yet acquainted with her, here is her page from The Haiku Foundation’s “Haiku Registry:”

I hope you will all enjoy working with Kala Ramesh!


Thank you,






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This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. kala ….very much looking forward to your guidance in the art of rasika!

    this ‘way of the wind’ 20 verse renku has been another spectacular learning and fun experience.
    thank you to the foundation for providing this space, thank you to john for his gentle guidance and sharing his immense experience in the art of renku, and many thanks to all the participants and their comments each week for making this a fun, interactive and inspiring place to be.

  2. So glad there is another renku session ahead of us. Thank you, John, for propelling us forward, and to Kala Ramesh, for your commitment to guide us next. Looking forward to it!

  3. Thank you, John .. and thanks to all the poets .. it’s been fun and entertaining and a lovely learning experience

  4. Many thanks John for guiding us on another renku journey, it must take quite a bit of time each week to do this. Thanks also to everyone who participated and it was great to have some new contributors in this session.

  5. John, many thanks to you for leading us through this renku. I found the whole process both informative and delightful, enjoyed your comments and everyone’s verses and appreciated the genuine sense of camaraderie.
    ‘Way of the Wind’ reads well in the archives. I’m wondering why there are lines in italics in verses 1, 2 and 4, though.
    I’m pretty sure they’re not there intentionally. Is it possible to lose the italics in these 3 verses?
    green barley—
    we follow the way

    of the wind
    kids playing pooh sticks
    with plum blossoms

    a coin in the cap
    of a street busker

  6. So thankful for your guidance and teaching , John, and to everyone else for their creativity and willingness to share!

  7. Thanks John for your explanation of why only the hokku is truly a haiku and the rest isn’t. I suspect I will not be the only person who appreciates the explanation, but also appreciates that Keith Evetts asked it in the first place.
    On the other hand, I found that many of my submissions through the weeks helped me write haiku, some of which have been published. Some of them still exist in my file for reworking as possible use in haiku yet to be. I think the list of kigo we used throughout certainty helped in that regard even IF some caused controversy.
    Regardless, I have a better idea of what a renku is, but I have a long way to go before I might begin to understand how it all fits together. Thanks for leading us through the process. It certainly was instructive, if a bit confusing, for me, but I appreciate your long hours and work through these many weeks of reading submissions and selections. Thanks again, John.

    1. Nancy,

      This is exactly my experience, too. Although I am not composing haiku in a renku session, much of what I don’t use has served as the seed material for haiku after the session.

  8. Many thanks, John, for your very educative guidance during this renku. Greatly valued. A year ago I looked at traditional renga/renku and threw up my hands in horror at all the constraints! Now I am utterly hooked.

    And thank you for your elucidation on the matter of kireji/cuts/grammatical breaks. It has been very interesting and challenging to write in this way. I had thought myself that the reason might be that grammatical breaks interrupt the free flow desired of the renku as it develops; and that the juxtapositions are found between the three-line verses and the two-line verses that follow, as you confirm. But I’ve seen renku where there are kireji/breaks in several, even most, of the three line verses, for example in Kasen “Shining White” (1998) (Introduction to World-linking Renku – Shinku Fukuda) and in Higginson’s Haiku Handbook (p. 202, “Eleven Hours”). Perhaps the decision is rightly made by the sabaki / sosho?

    Thanks again to everyone for lighting up the past twenty weeks; and above all to John. Look forward to the Rasika.

    1. Keith,

      Thank you for the question. I thought it was important enough to answer it in this posting, rather than within the stream of comments, where it might be missed more easily.

      What you say about “Introduction to World-linking Renku” is true, of course. There are instances of haiku-like verses, featuring grammatical breaks, in non-hokku verses within the examples it gives. I had the privilege of working closely with Professor Fukuda for the last five years of his life and I believe I can shed some light on this. His key advice about renku was, “First, it has to be fun.” And he was aware that many English-language poets were turned off and discouraged about renku when they were hit too hard with the rules in their first encounters. So, he gave us what he hoped would be enough information to get us started, with the thought that those who came to enjoy the renku experience would naturally want to learn more about it as they went along.

      Those who have been following these sessions on The Haiku Foundation site will realize that I have not attempted to correct other session leaders on this point or any other point. In fact, a reading of the archives will show that I have included haiku-like verses in sessions that I have personally led. My emphasis on this point has been gradual (I hope) so as not to discourage participants, particularly new ones. But it is my feeling that English-language renku is coming along to a point at which this information can come to be more generally known. It is, by no means, the final thing to learn about renku but I am hoping that it is the next logical thing.

      So, thank you for asking, Keith, and giving me a chance to talk about this again.

      1. Thank you, John. That makes complete sense to this beginner. And – through the engagement and the company here – it HAS been fun!

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