The Renku Sessions: Pilgrims’ Stride 27

by John Stevenson on September 11, 2014

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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 will serve as your guide for this session, a thirty-six verse (kasen) renku. I have supplied the opening verse (hokku) and each week I will select an additional verse from among those submitted prior to the Tuesday deadline.

Fifteen poets collectively presented fifty-four verse offerings this time, a good turnout considering that we lost part of our submission period to site maintenance. My post will once again be abbreviated, because of a combination of the time lost to site maintenance and the demands of my day job.

We had an auspicious debut from Maureen Virchau. She offered fourteen verse twenty-seven suggestions, the majority of them encouraging strong consideration. Only technical matters have prevented her from joining our renku on the first try. Some examples of technical issues:”telephoto lens” in an earlier verse precludes photographs or glasses, “century” in an earlier verse precludes us from specifying a number lower than one hundred, “scraping the ice” in a recent verse precludes “buffing out the scratches.” I hope Maureen will keep playing and, if so, I expect we will soon be including a verse from her.

Our twenty-seventh verse comes from Sandra Simpson. Alcohol is often included as a renku topic. “Voddy tonny” may be an idiom in more general use than I know of but I read it as having a sort of “baby talk” quality and that could be fun to play against in our next verse. I’ve made a couple of changes in Sandra’s original text – principally, moving line three to the beginning to avoid a cut and changing “second” to “next” in order to skirt the retrograde numbering issue. Not that it is in any way a requirement, but I am pleased with the symmetry in our renku – having two love verses from male poets and two from female poets.

Here is the verse you must link to:

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

    –Sandra Simpson

The next verse, the twenty-eighth, is non-seasonal. It will be followed by an autumn moon verse. Here are the formal requirements for verse twenty-eight:

  • Non-seasonal (should not include words or phrases from our season word list)
  • Written in two lines, without a cut
  • Linking with the twenty-seventh verse, and only the twenty-seventh verse
  • Shifting widely to a new topic and setting

Add your suggested two-line link below, in the Comments box. You have until midnight EST, Tuesday, September 16, 2014. You may submit as many verses as you like, but please use a new comment box for each one. I will announce my selection for the next link on Thursday, September 18 here on the blog, and provide information and instructions for submitting the next link.

What We’ll Be Looking For — Throughout the Session

There are many schematic outlines for a kasen renku. We will be using one set out by Professor Fukuda in his book Introduction to World-linking Renku. It will not be necessary for you to have a copy of this book since instructions will be offered before each verse is solicited.

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 intend no judgment of their relative value. For purposes of this session I am suggesting the use of The Five Hundred Essential Japanese Season Words.

Pilgrims’ Stride to Date

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


Book of the Week: The Monkey’s Face

by Jim Kacian on September 15, 2014

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Penny Harter’s mature volume from 1987 (From Here Press, Fanwood NJ) evokes the connectedness, both visceral and uncanny, of all things, between species and between ourselves.

You can read the entire book in the THF Digital Library.

Do you have a chapbook published 2009 or earlier you would like featured as a Book of the Week? Contact us for details.

Haiku featured in the Book of the Week Archive are selected by Jim Kacian, following a concept first explored by Tom Clausen, and are used with permission.

fingering the bones around the soft spot— the newborn's head
full moon— light in the cracks of the sidewalk
scattered paper— tire tracks cross the headlines
distant thunder— overhead, a satellite moves in the dark
snow finished— the blaze of winter stars
the monkey's face between my hands— winter twilight


The Kindness of Strangers 2: On Everyday Magic

by Jim Kacian on September 12, 2014

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bowlWriting a good haiku has many different components. Excellent haiku often come from simplicity and in finding profound meanings in very modest things. One of the masters of finding that magic in everyday life was the beggar monk Santoka Taneda’s favorite poet, Taigu Ryokan. He pushed the form of haiku to its limits and did not care much for any of the rules. His poems still feels modern, although Ryokan was born in 1758, over 100 years before Santoka.

Taigu means great fool, a name which Ryokan chose for himself. His poems are full of the wonders and joy of small things, even though he chose to live his life in the face of adversity. A haiku poet will do well to let him or herself to occasionally be a great fool and laugh both at ourselves and the world around us.

In order to find the magic in our everyday lives we need to be playful. To view things with fresh eyes as though they are completely new to us and allow ourselves to be amazed. It is a gift to see our world through the eyes of a child in haiku and re-discover the magic of our own surroundings.

I forgot my bowl again

my lonely little bowl

please nobody pick it up

last year a foolish monk

this year no different

My life is like an old run-down hermitage

poor, simple, quiet.

Not much to offer you

just a lotus flower floating

in a small jar of water

there is a bamboo grove in front of my hut

every day I see it a thousand times

yet never tire of it

Palestinian haiku poet Rita Odeh has that same playfulness in her haiku. Like Ryokan, she also depicts adverse conditions of the destitute and sees both beauty and humor where it occurs.

That full moon

a coin falls into

the beggars palm

Winter solitude

only a sparrow

to share my meal

A rainy night

even without sandals

the clouds jog

—Anna Maris


The Kindness of Strangers is a six-part series by Swedish poet Anna Maris of haiku written in consideration of poverty, homelessness, begging and our responses to these issues.

Do you have a feature you would like to share with the haiku world? Contact us with your idea.


Book of the Week: Border Lands

by Jim Kacian on September 8, 2014

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Jim Kacian travels to the old country for the funeral of a friend’s father and discovers what of himself still belongs to the old ways in this 2006 Red Moon Press offering of haibun and haiku.

You can read the entire book in the THF Digital Library.

Do you have a chapbook published 2009 or earlier you would like featured as a Book of the Week? Contact us for details.

Haiku featured in the Book of the Week Archive are selected by Jim Kacian, following a concept first explored by Tom Clausen, and are used with permission.

passing the jug the warmth of many hands
the steep path— a babe on the back of her mother
night wind one dog starts them all
ancient road wearing away my share
departing bus— a child I don't know waves to me
goodbye hugs all the places where we touch


The Kindness of Strangers 1: The Value of Begging

by Jim Kacian on September 5, 2014

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bowlMany of the respected masters of haiku were Buddhist monks. Many wandered on foot, from temple, to temple. Almost all of them were begging. They were a cherished part of the community. They would chant sutras and write poems for people and be given a few sen in return. Their abilities never questioned or wasted.
Within many faiths, charity is a part of practice. To give, unconditionally to those in need, those who have less, benefits both the giver and the recipient.
With austerity arriving again at our doors, begging and giving have yet again become part of our daily lives. Is there poetry in begging? Of course there is.
He who was called the beggar monk wrote many favorite haiku. Taneda Santoka walked, wrote and drank sake until his death on October 11, 1940. These are some of his poems:

My begging bowl
Accepts the fallen leaves

Chanting the sutras
I receive the rice;
The shrikes sing

The warmth of the food
Passes from hand to hand

If I sell my rags
And buy sake
Will there still be loneliness?

Sometimes I stop begging
And gaze at the mountains

Homeless poets are still a fact of life in our modern times. The American haiku poet Patrick Frank wrote as a homeless person for a year in New England, USA in the 1990s. He now lives in Asheville NC, USA and is an advocate for the poor. His poetry collections include Things That Matter, On the Blue Ridge Line, and Back to the Sun. His one-line haiku have much in common with the writings of Santoka.

head down standing in line a homeless man

making a space in my single room, and in my heart

homeless, alone, but the snow falls gently

dawn walking downtown homeless, but at peace

I walk miles down the highway, my bag stuffed with poems

—Anna Maris


The Kindness of Strangers is a six-part consideration by Swedish poet Anna Maris of haiku written in consideration of poverty, homelessness, begging and our responses to these issues.