Saturday, June 9, 2012


I’ve always loved haiku, those delightful little poems that offer us a delicate moment in just a few words. Recently, though, I learned that haiku arose from a much older tradition, the dynamic, collaborative poetry known as renga. This is how it works.
Poets arrive at a gathering with a freshly written verse of three lines. One of these hokku is chosen as the poem’s opening stanza. Each poet then separately composes a possible second verse. One of these is selected. This process continues, poem flowing through some mysterious process of becoming as verse gives rise to verse. Finally, a completed poem emerges.
Andrew Shelling, in an article on renga in the magazine tricycle, describes this process as “poem responding to poem.” Each stand~alone verse links to the one that precedes it, yet also moves the poem into new and often surprising territory.
Just like life. A moment, beautifully rich and complete unto itself, softly or startlingly becomes the next. Each instant arises from and is inextricably linked to all that precedes it, yet adds its own nioi, a Japanese word meaning scent. And that scent carries us into the next moment.
Of course, in our busyness we often miss the fragrance entirely. And so we practice slowing down~~in meditation, in contemplative prayer, amid nature, and in the writing and reading of verse.
In haiku and renga, Shelling writes, stanzas are “too short for complicated ideas, fancy metaphors, intricate figures of speech…(and) leave small room for self~promotion…(or) philosophic reference.”

No, this is bare bones poetry, perfect for those who want to touch the bare bones essence of life, that indescribable something that streams beneath all human activity and contrivance. The Japanese term for this quality is yugen. In The Japanese Theatre, author Benito Ortolani describes yugen as, “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe…and the sad beauty of human suffering.”
With its traditional emphasis on simplicity, impermanence, and the lessons embodied in the natural world, renga has long been associated with Buddhism. “Renga, like haiku,” Shelling writes, “is not just a poem but a state of consciousness." Quoting 17th century renga poet Matsuo Basho, Shelling tells us that for a person living in this awareness, “everything he sees becomes a flower, and everything he imagines turns into the moon.”
A finished renga is a necklace of individual haiku beads strung seemingly without effort. This is poetry as meditation, poetry as a doorway into the Eternal Now.
Our days are renga, too, sparkling strands of haiku moments. Let us string them with awareness, allowing each bead to awaken us more fully. And may we delight in being part of such a dazzling collaboration, for together, poem responding to poem, we create something precious and new.

Blessings on this haiku moment, the one right here as you read these words. May you welcome it and add your own sweet nioi before passing it on.

Wishing you flowers and moons,

Loanne Marie

Here’s a link to Shelling’s article Whirling Petals, Windblown Leaves in the winter 2007 issue of tricycle. It is worth reading, indeed!

And here’s a lovely little tutorial about the writing of tiny poems, How to Haiku.


Shelling’s article quotes Murasaki Shikibu, a writer of more than a thousand years ago, saying, “It was unthinkable that a poem should get no reply.” Shelling writes that to, “make no response, Murasaki believed, is to have no heart…to show oneself ‘uncooked’, a mere barbarian, with the shabbiest of table manners or bedroom etiquette.” Well, Murasaki certainly made her feelings clear on that one!

Traditionally, renga comes with some rather stringent rules. Though things have relaxed a bit with modernity and renga’s introduction to the west, custom continues to dictate some specifics. But as Shellling writes, “Maybe the elaborate rules devised in feudal Japan… have gotten less important than the simple human act of making poems together.”

So it is in this spirit that I offer you an opportunity to renga (yes, I’m makin’ that a verb!), right here on this blog. I’m not exactly sure how this will work, but I do know it could be great fun. If you’re interested in renga~ing, email me a note to By next weekend, when folks have had a chance to respond, we’ll start the process of figuring out together how to begin.

So, please, don’t be shy! As Shelling writes of his own renga experience, we can allow our renga “to compose itself, independent of our will” as we all write, “without a trace of self~centeredness…toward a single poem.” Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Hope to hear from you~~yes, you!

* * * * * *

Oooh, it looks to be great fun! If you'd like to follow our renga in process~~or even contribute yourself!~~you can do so here.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Renga online!

Let me explain! At the end of the essay on renga, I offered folks an opportunity to try their hand at this lovely form of collaborative poetry. Five brave souls agreed to give it a whirl. While renga traditionally came with many rules and conventions, we decided on the following:
  1. Our finished renga will consist of the standard 36 verses.
  2. Verses of 3 lines will alternate with verses of 2 lines.
  3. There are no rules regarding syllable count. Verses will be kept short; it is suggested that they take no longer than 5 seconds when read aloud.
  4. One writer was to offer an opening 3 line verse, the hokku. As is traditional, this reflected the current season. (Incidentally, renga usually move around the seasons as the poem progresses, changing every few stanzas.)
  5. Subsequent verses are offered by whomever feels inspired. This way, no one feels on the hot seat or pressured to respond.
  6. Should two or more folks respond to the same verse, the original renga splits. We actually began with two renga, as two folks offered an initial hokku, but both have long ago split into two. We've since decided that we will stay with just these four renga, primarily due to logistics and space issues. If two folks respond to the same verse, the offering of the person who hasn't responded in a while will be chosen.
We also decided that we'd feel free to throw in some other conventions~~or make them up as we go along. For example, it was suggested for verse 5 below that, in keeping with convention, we mention the moon. Someone may also say something like, "Okay, let's have the next stanza refer to love...or let's change to the next season...etc." Or someone can offer something, like "The next verse must make reference to a shade of red, or to food."

I will be hosting this renga. Folks send their verse offerings to me by email to: and after some period of time, I post them here. We're making this up as we go along folks, so don't be shy.

One other point. Renga differs from our usual idea of poetry not only in being collaborative. The finished renga is not a unified whole in the same way most poetry is. Each verse is a stand~alone, but is linked to the one before it, though not to the ones that precede that one. So the completed poem likely won't have an overall point or theme. It is some wild and living thing that morphs and shifts, and where you find yourself in verse 23, for example, cannot be guessed from, and won't be immediately connected to, where you were in verse 12. Renga's beauty is in the action, in the flow and jump between verses. As each stanza is added, the other writers might even need a moment or two to get the connection, to recognize the link in the author's mind.

And if I might wax a bit philosophical, I've learned that renga is a lot like life. Something comes your way. You may like it or not, feel moved by it or not. Now, though, it's yours to decide how you'll turn it before passing it on. Renga is good practice for life, and quite fun. It's not what's handed to you that matters. It's what you do with it.

So enough of that! Here's what we have in process at this point~~

Renga 1:

Oh beloved Solstice~~
Never ending days taste of
Sweet summer fruit...

Ahhh...sun's daze
of vine and roses

tang explodes
on tongue~~
first tomato!

Red ripples down,
Oh...the lusciousness

of those layered clouds

in western sky,
slivered moon peeking

fuller in each night's sky

'til sun kisses moon full on lips waiting

Renga 1A                                                                                  Renga 1B

Waning and waxing,                                          Suddenly the breast beats hard
kissing and dissing,                                            As being longs for such a kiss
temperatures cool~~Harvest Moon!                                  light begins to dim and fade

Garden draped against the frost,                              Wildness whispers...tempting slyly
ghost children in the dark                                             fear befalls the frozen heart

knife slicing into tender skin                                  fear and wildness, enduring dance...
innards scooped, maniacal grin~~                            freeze and thaw, shrink and stretch,
flaming jack o'lantern!                                              hearts crack, open, bloom

Now we celebrate our departed~                          fruit and seed freely offered,
With sugar skulls and dancing bones...                     
wheel turns once more~~autumn

skeletal worshipers sway and bow,                                Earth's palette ablaze,
sun~drenched leaves release...                                           how palpable the gift...
aspens' hommage to Earth                                           returning always, all ways!

golden quilt seeping sunlight,                                      turning, turning, this becomes that,
warmth for dark days coming soon,                                      Light changing forms eternal

Sun and Earth drift apart,                                                           and shifts into darkness now,
coolness grows...fickle Sun                                                              sap draws down, hugs bone...
eyes another (hemi) sphere                                                               the hush of all living things

Yearning for Sun's barely remembered kiss,                     
Fanning long~banked passion to flame once again                                       

cooling now under mounded snow,
unrelenting sun a half~remembered dream

Renga 1 (joined again)

south and north
flow as one
season~spin unending

Renga 1A                                                                                             Renga 1B

life to death and back again,                                                                twirling sufi spins
Inside...outside...growing weary                                                       love eternal, Bismillah!

of short dark days                                                                          as a rose by any name

candlemas arrives                                                                                labels matter not
sun perks up                                                                                 God~smell tastes sweet

eyes grow wide                                                                              awareness stills, opens

anticipation tingles                                                                  God~speak fills with silence

lover's touch returns                                                                  still to fill, listen to nothing
thrills, warms                                                                          heart opens, thoughts loosen,
sleeping crocus stirs                                                                  boundaries blur...poof!

blessed senses!                                                                     like dandelion fuzz on a breeze
nothing goes unnoticed...                                                        notions of "I" scatter

or without response                                                                                thoughts on fire,
tho perhaps unseen                                                                              heat stifles silence
hidden bulb opens                                                                                          Samu awaits

shoot breaks surface,                                                                   bubbles sponge dish presence
green rising through April snow                                                 buddha baby in soapy water

Note: Rumi, our guest poet, offered these next two... 

the green ones have come...                                                              the Friend is here
tipsy like the breeze                                                               like water in the stream,
up to some new foolishness                                                       like a lotus on the water

tickling me awake                                                              air molecules to expanse of sky
vision clears...oh, my!                                                              Earthsong in the uni~verse

as reeds at water's edge                                                                   awakening at last
awaken with dawn,                                                         tender life breaks thru warming dirt
tingling toward a new day                                                                      spring again!

Seeds nestle into fresh~hoed soil                                       days stretch, perfectly filling
itchin' to root and to shoot                                                  space left by receding dark

Renga 1 (joined again!)

perennials roused from sleep,

we lengthen and deepen, too~~
eternal dance 

skyward calls...

sandhill cranes heading to the Bosque

auditory reminders
to seek our own far shore
no matter the distance

ripples move shore to shore

connecting near with far

pollen flows
sneeze explodes
June thru open window

Thoughts caught off guard,
Visions of seasons long ago

And coming soon and again

as spinning we move
ever 'round the Circle, enchanted

Longing to become
Who we already are....

beneath snow and soil
seed stirs 
consciousness dawns

Life everlasting....

Renga 2:

Not yet officially summer, heat rises as
The granite dome sizzles and bids me come
Offering gifts of love and solace.

The rose and iris have run their course
but oh, the hollyhocks

Now proclaim
the garden theirs!
As they pierce the summer sky.

Yearning toward red-tails,
swept beyond on heat rising currents

hawkache for thermals

rising forever into night, better to kiss
the wise sweet face of moon...

Hawkache, heartache,

the longing of all things for magic

Currents, thermals, swirling 'round...

above, below, within soul cries
searching, searching...but for what

freedom from the illusion
that it is separate from all that is

Is all that seems significant

but lost to all that Being is?
Awareness beckons...sing songs of Truth.

Scarlet maples, flaming true

touch, listen, breathe...

Earth's breath building, blowing,

keening through branches,
leaves swirl, clouds darken, snowflakes fly

Renga 2A                                                                                  Renga 2B

young eyes watch white mounds form                    And blanket the earth in silent warmth
as father slaps and mother screams                          to rest and incubate Spring's newness

mittened hands scoop and pack,                                   down below, who knows what goes,
snowy igloo forms...                                                        roots live, perchance, a wild life~~ 
cool haven from parents' heat                                            mingling, coupling with abandon,

Decades pass, girl grows up,                                           Ah, the shenanigans occurring
heart slowly dares to thaw                                                beneath all proper, placid soil 

 january sun                                                                             soil and cleanse
icicle stretches                                                                           heat and cold
toward home                                                                        this and that unfolding

icy finger, frozen heart                                                       wind whips still~wet sheets
form seeking movement                                                       earthbound sails unfurl

memories awaken,                                                                  black against blue
melting amidst fear                                                            crow circles, slows, aims...
that clings to hope                                                             splat! raucous laughter

terrifying promise                                                                            pealing glee
life spins on                                                                                   bells!

warp and weft entwine                                                                          days of young...
life emerges, evolves                                                                           float on wave
unseen artist smiles                                                                           crashing wildly

thread's perspective:                                                           droplets arc and come home
pull twist tug ouch!                                                        rainbow smiles flash, topsy turvy

Released from bindings,                                                               a perfect greeting
hearts play on,                                                                            upon returning home~~
lifting, lilting over time.                                                      water releases to ocean

and space, here there now then,                                                     breath lets go to air

ever~evolving tapestry extends                                                    I dissolve into you

Note: Rumi, that guest poet extraordinaire, offered these next two... 

when the soul lies down                                                             after a day or two

in that grass                                                                             lilies sprout,
the world is too full to talk about                                                the shape of my tongue

Lingering music of crescendo days,                                         perfect for praising

Playing forward to renewed growth                                            bloom of flower

trees move from bud to leaf                                                 words drop from these lips
listen now with your other ear                                            thudding rocks ill~equipped
tra~la, tra~la, tra~la~la~la!                                                           to hold such Light

still we offer well~chosen stones
homage to abundant magic

verse follows verse

individual rocks gently placed
renga cairns marking our trail

Renga 2 (joined again!)

song, word, leaf, bloom
praises all!

illness, violence, pain...

roughened songs of joy 
trill all the sweeter

as ripe red berry sings
summer's arrival to the tongue

following a pinon path
rinzai in nature
echos of eternity

cricket whirs, fan whirls
cool sheets, warm darkness covering

dreams enfold, unfold
shapes shift and morph
wide~awake edges blur

sunrise to sunset, light to dark,
    sacred space between

Awakening the spirit,
Rising to awareness,
Rejecting the past.

The sky is speaking.


Aaaahhhh....we are now complete!

A heart~felt thank you to everyone who participated, in whatever way and however often. You each are part of these renga, 6 months in the making. Glad to have you!

Cyberhugs and blessings to you all!

Loanne Marie