Renga – Montage on Paper

Simply put, ‘renga’ is a cinematic poetry.

It’s also a Japanese form of collaborative, linked verse, which intercuts between “panoramic view[s] of nature and human sceneries”[i] and thus has much in common with film. Both forms are authored by a group of contributors and both forms have a ‘director,’ (or leader) – in renga, this person is known as the sabaki. The sabaki’s responsibilities are many, from verse selection and alteration, to guiding participants through the structure.

As a poetic form, ‘renga’ is at least 800 years old. It is still practised around the world, though today it is more commonly referred to as ‘renku.’ Whichever term is used, thanks to the internet, renga is spreading into other languages and cultures.

In order to understand renku, some familiarity with haiku is useful – not in the least because the lead verse of the renga, the hokku, is the precursor to what we now call a haiku. Traditionally haiku is a minimalist, imagistic poem reflecting the natural world. Use of kigo (season-words), ‘cutting words’ instead of punctuation, and a strict syllable count totalling seventeen, are important features of the poem.

So what does a renga look like? If you’ve never seen one, think of renga as an interconnected chain of haiku. Connections in renku are vital, because what happens between verses, is where the action lies. It’s the leaps of understanding a writer (and a reader) must make from verse to verse that makes renga so subtle and so addictive to write.

Further, a renga must ‘always be looking forward.’ It should also be a unified work. For this to happen, writers have several principles to guide composition, chief of which is ‘Link and Shift.’ I’ll try demonstrate the principles theoretically before providing a concrete example.

Firstly, when read, verse one will have a close relationship or ‘link,’ with verse two. Verse two and three will also be linked, but verse three should not refer back verse one – and so the pattern continues, with verse four having no relation to verse two and so on throughout the renga. Secondly, it is necessary that from verse to verse, some sort of ‘shift’ of focus occurs. In this manner, a renku always moves forward thematically, while maintaining internal connections.

Here’s an example, the opening of a twelve-verse renku, the Junicho form:

summer visitors
the children show off
marble-sized pumpkins

careless laughter
filling blue watering cans

at the picasso exhibit
a shadow
crosses the wall[ii]

Between verse one and two, ‘children’ can link to ‘careless laughter.’ Further, both verses imply a garden as their location, bringing in a second level of linkage. Kigo allows for a third level of linking, that of season, as both verses bring summer to mind.

Next comes the link between verse two and three, represented by the ‘blue’ of the watering can and the more subtle, implied reference to Picasso’s famous ‘Blue Period’ in the third verse.

So even as links unify the poem, each verse still shifts from the other. Firstly, from the outdoor world of nature and the garden with its ‘vegetables’ then its ‘watering can,’ we move indoors, shifting focus, to the human world of paintings and shadow. There is also a shift in mood, as a potentially ominous element is introduced. Finally, between verses one and three, there are no links, and across the whole poem so far, no words or images are repeated. In this way, the renku strives to never ‘look over its shoulder.’

It’s a challenging but immensely satisfying art form. If you’re interested in renku, amazing resources abound on the internet. The Renku Home, started by the late William J Higginson, the Renku Reckoner, maintained by John Carley and Jane Reichhold’s site, are all brimming with useful information. All sites have examples, theory and The Reckoner includes exercises. Issa’s Snail too, might be worth a look, an online space open to newcomers.

So find a group, join up and try your hand at renga! A wide range of forms exist, from the popular Kasen at 36 verses (great for a larger group of writers) to the Junicho at 12 verses and even John Carley’s 4 verse form, the Yotsumono (for two poets.) And read a few renku – once you can see the leaps a writer took between verses, you’ll find it easier to make your own when you participate in one.

Best of all, jump right in! Start writing – a good sabaki will always help you.



[ii] From the Junicho ‘Summer Visitors

Melissa Allen  (v1) Max Stites ( v2) Ashley Capes (v3)
Ashley Capes (sabaki)

(first published in WQ, Queensland Writers Centre)

A Hundred Gourds – Submissions Open

Hi everyone!

A new issue of AHG has just gone live, and with it a submission deadline – so if you’ve got some haiku you’re keen to submit, have a look at the guidelines here and see if you can get your sub in before September 15th.

AHG is a great, very diverse publication showcasing haiku, haibun, haiga, tanka and renku, along with great features and an ‘expositions’ section – well worth checking out!

A New Junicho at Another Lost Shark

Haiku and renku fans should check out a great opportunity – Graham Nunn is hosting a ‘New Junicho’ at his blog, Another Lost Shark, and has opened submissions – all are welcome – so jump over and submit a verse! (There you’ll also find more detailed guidelines, a schema and a link giving some background on the New Junicho too, but in brief, renku is linked verse written collaboratively. It’s a lot of fun too!)

I was lucky enough to contribute the hokku (lead verse), here is is:

between thistles
the crane’s
Egyptian walk

You’re next :)

“Loki” at Cordite #33 – Creative Commons

While I’ve been working on the Cordite zombie renga, a whole issue has come and gone, and now the new one is up, and it’s a danm exciting one. One of my poems, Loki is featured which is always a thrill – but the best bit with this issue, is that it’s remixable – much like the  Custom / Made issue a little while back.

This means, to quote:

Cordite 33: Creative Commons contains thirty-three poems (okay, thirty four, but one of them’s an image), plus a wealth of feature material. But that’s not the end of it. In the spirit of Creative Commons, we’ve decided to make the poems in the issue available as downloadable Word and text documents.

We ‘d therefore like to invite you to download the issue and start remixing. You don’t need two turntables or a microphone, just a text editing programme and sense of creativity. You can edit and re-arrange the poems in any way you see fit.

Perhaps you’d like to take a line from each poem and construct your own meta-poem. Perhaps you’d like to cut every second word and see what you’re left with. We could go on, but don’t want to pre-empt your remixes too much!

As there’s no sound in a vacuum, we’re very interested in seeing the results of your efforts. For this reason, we’re now accepting submissions for Cordite 33.1: The Remixes, which we hope will eventually contain a whole bunch of remixes, from both contributors to the issue and readers.

Please send your remixes to with the word ‘Remix’ in the subject line. Remember to attach your submission as a Word or RTF document. We’ll be accepting submissions throughout the month of August – this means that the deadline for submissions is midnight on 31 August 2010.

So what are you waiting for? Download and get cracking!

David Prater and team have been busy pushing boundaries for a time now, certainly more than many publications, and in doing so, have been opening up poetry in satisfyingly collaborative ways. And why shouldn’t they? There should only be a certain amount of static elements to an online journal – new technology enbables too much potential for that that technology to go unexplored.

Can’t wait to see where they take it next!

Cordite – Zombie Renku – Room for Fresh Blood!

The zombie-themed renku has just hit halfway (18 verses to go) and we’ve got room for fresh blood!

So if you’re interested in learning about the amazing renku process of collaborative linked verse, then stumble over and join in! You don’t need to know a lot about renku, and so long as you’re aware of the basics of haiku, you’ll pick this up – it’s all about link and shift!

Here’s the intro/guide to the feature

And here’s the renku as it progresses

Cordite, Zombies Launch! New Renku

With the launch of the new issue, Cordite is unleashing zombies across the land!

The issue, edited by Ivy Alvarez, features a wealth of material from a host of writers (I wonder if ‘host’ is the right collective noun for zombies?) and I’ve barely scratched the surface – and personally I’m pretty happy to announce the following 3 things: my poem man about town is featured, along with an article that I co-wrote with Graham Nunn The Death of Poetry in Australian Classrooms.

Lastly, I was lucky enough to be offered the role of ‘sabaki’ or leader by David Prater, for the new renku at Cordite, the Zombie Haikunaut Renga! If you like haiku and renga, please jump on over and submit, we’re open to all, and it’s going to be a really interesting, modern renku.

Here’s a link to some guidelines I set up, hope to see you there!

Zombie Renga Instructions

New Renku up at the Snail

Issa’s Snail, a space I put together for renku/renga (a form of collaborative verse) after participating in the Cordite ‘Haikunaut Island Renga‘ just finished it’s latest Triparshva renku, you can find it here, along with Junicho & the current, ongoing Kasen, led by Graham Nunn.

John Carley, a highly knowledgeable man, has greatly assisted me & the other writers at the Snail, it’s brilliant to have him and we’re looking forward to the next renku.

In our current Triparshva you will find verses by

Barbara A Taylor
Colin Stewart Jones
Genevieve Osborne
John Carley
Sandra Simpson
William Sorlien

and by many others elsewhere on the site!

Haiku from Issa’s Snail

Today I’m mirroring a post from kipple  – where I collected samples from some of the great poets contributing to the interactive renku site Issa’s Snail (see link to the right) I hope to present more soon!

two worn Oxfords
all that’s left of father
in the wardrobe


a heron’s meal
interrupted by
a teenage jet-ski


one strand
carries a spider

Joseph Mueller


trying her name
ending with his –
the pen runs dry


Christmas Eve –
stepping into
a stranger’s footprint


heat haze
she runs up waving
a fan shell

Sandra Simpson


rainforest –
should I listen to bellbirds
or the currawong?


the stray tomcat
tries a kitten’s voice –
winter dusk


winter fly –
my death poem

Lorin Ford