Informal Notes on The Japanese Renku

Journal of Ranga and Renku

Here are some very informal notes from the renku workshop I recently attended:

The Renku form is an endless poem consisting of alternating three- and two-line stanzas. The fist stanza consists of three lines while the second contains two lines. This pattern repeats indefinitely, or until a specified and predetermined date and time of its conclusion. Each stanza is written by a different poet and should attempt to change the focus, utilize mixed images, borrow syntax or otherwise surprise any expectations that may have been set up by the previous stanza. The Japanese tradition of Renku suggests the beginning stanzas include compliments about, and generally acknowledge the graciousness of, the host.

Ways for shifting focus and linking stanzas in unusual ways:

1) kotobazuke (link through words): Observe rhymes, existing repetition, puns, familiar phrases, grammar or syntax and carry them through. For example, if the first line of one stanza is something like “The man in the hat,” you may want to consider using the same syntax but with a very different subject, like “The car in the street.” Alternately, free associate with words and images. For example, if the previous stanza has a word like “goggles,” it makes me think of “google,” which makes think of searching, so I may write about searching. If the previous stanza uses a word like “sleep” it makes me think of a rhyme, like “sheep”, so maybe I will include something about sheep (sheep searching, searching sheep, shepherds searching for sheep…)

2) monokuze (shift through things/use contrast): Ask a question to which there is no answer, deepen the observation or present an opposite or contrasting mood. If it’s dark, lighten it. If it’s active, present a still setting, if it is quiet, add some noise.

3) ioizuke,  a.k.a./ “scent” (shift mood or feeling): Like syncopation, add an unexpected element to the mood. Use a metaphor or change the setting.

4) Finally, do not explain connections – resist the temptation to explain the image you have presented.

For our pre-Renku exercises, students worked primarily with the Haiku concept, but we discarded the syllabic restrictions,(as English doesn’t adapt to that parameter very well).

Here are a few of my exercises:


Focus: Deepen. That is, look at it, then took at it some more. Do not explain connections.

Our Prompt: Sheep in a field.

My response:

Sheep in a field
Men on horseback
Un-hitch the barbed wire


Focus: Contrast mood/use opposites

Prompt: Small boat in calm harbor

My response:

Small boat in the calm harbor
breeze echoes the sound
of raised voices


Focus: Ask a question/add a person

Prompt: The cat returns after eleven nights

My Response:

The cat returns after eleven nights
Where are you?

Anyway, you get the idea.

The homework for our class is to “make” a Renku, which has been set up as a blog. My fellow poets and I will be adding to it over the next ten days, and I’m really excited about watching it evolve and grow. I hope you, my blog readers, will take some time to check our project out at:

KC Writers’ Place Renku Project 2010

If you are interested in reading and/or contributing to some really great renku yourself, check out the Journal of Renga and Renku (as pictured above) at:  The Journal of Renga and Renku

2 thoughts on “Informal Notes on The Japanese Renku

  1. moi

    Hi Lisa,

    we’re very happy to see how much you like our journal cover – we think it’s pretty cool too! Please acknowledge its source


    in your blog post so that your readers are able, if the wish, to drop by and discover more about both the Journal of Renga & Renku and The Renku Group in which you and they are all very welcome to participate.

    kind regards
    Moira Richards
    Co-publisher, Journal of Renga & Renku

    1. zingarapoet Post author

      Dear Moira,

      I am very happy to acknowledge the source of your journal cover and apologize for my earlier oversight. I will also promote your journal among my fellow poets, particularly those with whom I am currently writing a renku.

      Thanks for stopping in and making comment. I certainly did not mean to borrow without acknowledgment.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.