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Spring 2008, vol 6 no 1


My Struggles with Renku - Frank Williams

The first renku that I took an active part in was around 1997; the second was in 2002. My early attempts were undertaken with very little or no idea of the mechanics of a structured renku but they were fun. I knew there would be a moon/blossoms and some seasonal verses but they were dispersed throughout the renku in a rather haphazard manner.

About a year later, I was invited through a mutual haiku friend and renku enthusiast to take part in a structured Shisan renku with John Carley as Sabaki. John’s enthusiasm for the genre can only be described as contagious, even evangelical; from then on I was a convert and have never looked back. I’m not sure if it’s possible for me to learn everything about renku in a lifetime as ideas change, and new interpretations are considered. My struggle with renku is also the struggle for it to find an authentic non-Japanese voice in whatever language it is written in; and for a lot of people this is difficult.

The first difficulty, do we use Japanese or local kigo? There are many Renku players who advocate the use of Japanese saijiki exclusively and this is all well and good. My problem is that as an Englishman things that happen seasonally to me are different from let’s say someone in Australia or China. Therefore, my first decision was to use local kigo; however, also keeping my third eye on the Japanese model for guidance.

Without discussing the occidental understandings of the jo, ha and kyu movements, which would take too long here, the only other verses that I personally find awkward are the love verses. It seems to me that it’s the section of the renku that is the most difficult to get right. In traditional renku there is the “call for love” and the sequence of verses culminating in the “end of love”. So I thought, why not put the love verses into chronological order? The sequence would evolve as follows: (a) start of love: young; (b) midlife love; (c) love in old age; and finally (d) the end of love. Below are a few examples of this sort of progression.

In From the Cold – A Triparshva renku

an arm slipped around her
on the rollercoaster

Andrew Shimield/ non-season/love/young

your phone voice
grows more distant
with every business trip

Norman Darlington/ non-season/love/midlife

our wedding photos
digitally coloured

Frank Williams/ non-season/love in old age

how black this world
now that we meet
only in my dreams

Norman Darlington/ non-season/end of love


A Ripple Of Shadows – A Nijuin renku

will she still kiss me
with that zit on my nose
Andrew Shimield/ non-season/love/young

after the snip
being told just
how brave he is

Frank Williams/ non-season/love/midlife

* * *

every Sunday morning,
who’s getting up
to make the tea

Andrew Shimield/ non-season/love in old age

last night in a dream
she spoke to Ernest

Frank Williams/non-season/end of love


The examples shown in my opinion work well; however, I’m not suggesting that this way of producing love verses should replace or is any better than the traditional way. All I would say is that it’s an alternative way of doing things, and this can only be to the good. And above all, keep an open mind.



A Ripple Of Shadows appeared in Lynx XXII.1 - February 2007

In From the Cold appeared in Blithe Spirit, Volume 17 #2 (Journal of the British Haiku Society) - June 2007


Frank Williams


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