Summer Visitors

a junicho renku


summer visitors
the children show off
marble-sized pumpkins


careless laughter
filling blue watering cans


at the Picasso exhibit
a shadow
crosses the wall


in the lake shallows
someone has dropped eyeglasses


the moonlight
on ranked hay bales


a quick spinal adjustment
for the unfinished scarecrow


the last chapter
I trace letters
on your back


crumpling together
on a bed of fallen leaves


not quite dawn
rushing the bin
to the curb


clack! the llama’s teeth
meet in my migraine headache


pasta al dente
golden courgette flowers
at dusk


tiles swept clean
lean on the broom a moment



Ashley Capes (sabaki), Max Stites, Melissa Allen

A Hundred Gourds 1.3, June 2012


By the time this renku appeared in print I’d almost forgotten about writing it. The process of composition was slightly dreamlike, taking place as it did in slow motion, across a span of nine months in 2010-2011, in a collaboration between three very busy people living on three different continents. (Ashley is Australian, Max a U.S. native who’s lived in the U.K. for many years.) Looking at it again brought back pleasant memories of all our discussions and revisions and of Ash’s expert guidance through the sometimes-exciting, sometimes-infuriating restrictions and stipulations of renku. (Ash also frequently guides the development of renku over at Issa’s Snail, in case you’re interested in seeing some of his other work.)

It’s interesting to me how renku, which started, really, as a party game, is more likely these days to resemble a leisurely pen-pal correspondence. When I have, so to speak, “played” renku as a party game — Live! In Person! One Night Only! — I’ve found that my interest in it rises dramatically. It’s not that I don’t at all enjoy the slower, more contemplative pace of long-distance renku composition, but to me, much of the point of renku linking is the real-time, in-person sparking between human minds and the way it both facilitates the creation of poetry and acts as a strikingly effective icebreaker to create a warm, relaxed group dynamic. (If you’re doing it right, that is. I’ve heard of people leading renku sessions in such a stern manner that they made participants burst into tears. That’s a sad story. Don’t do it that way.)

Writing renku long-distance can also, of course, be a highly enjoyable social experience–certainly composing this one was–but I think that for me it allows my perfectionist tendencies too much free rein for it to be entirely comfortable. When you’re composing more in real time, perfectionism is a luxury you can’t really allow yourself. The point is to have fun, not to come up with the most perfect link that could ever be conceived. Also, as far as I can tell, most of the time writing renku is about a thousand times more fun than reading it anyway; the elusive, subjective nature of renku linking, which makes it so much fun and gamelike to compose, also often makes it a challenge to enter into as a third-party reader. This means that the number of people who actually read even any published renku is likely to be vanishingly tiny–even tinier than the number who read haiku. So even more than with most forms of art, I think, the process really is more important than the product.

Your mileage may vary, of course. I guess all I’m trying to say is, if you’ve never joined a live renku party? Try to do that sometime. Also, Ash and Max? It was a pleasure getting to know you. If we’re ever all on the same continent, we’ll have to do this again.



10 thoughts on “Summer Visitors

  1. It’s an absolute joy to read a renku when the participants are in tune with each other… When you’re writing with the right person it can be marvelous … I got my teething done with Alan Summers and had a few wonderful partners along the way…John Stevenson… both of whom are intuitive and generous and kind in exploring…. Oh, I also learned a great deal from Christopher Herold… There are also many wonderful renku haijin I would beg you to visit. I’ve been spoiled I think… But I’ve learned how many places in your own psyche you discover in writing with a good partner.

    • Oh, I love reading renku too, Merrill (well, quite often I do), but I’ve had many people tell me that they find them too difficult to follow and usually skip over them in journals. And all my experiences writing renku long-distance have been wonderful, it’s just that live renku is… more wonderful.

  2. Great to read this, Melissa! I’m currently writing my first junicho with a group through Issa’s Snail, which was started at the renku workshop at the NZ Haiku Conference, and lead by Sandra Simpson. So many rules! But a great learning experience. Definitely fun when we wrote all together in person. Lots of laughs! 🙂

  3. Excellent post, Mel – you and Max were wonderful to work with and I really, really would love to do one live, bet it’d very different indeed!

    I love your description of composing renku online/over time & distance as being similar to a pen-pal experience, brilliant!

  4. Afraid I’ll miss a live session with you in Wisconsin. Another time? Let’s hope so. In fact, I insist.

    Yes, you can feel a really good renku. You may not even draw the same inferences, but a good renku is all encompassing, a joy to partake in as well as to read and admire.

    Willie, A Hundred Gourds

  5. Pingback: collaboration as inspiration « secretscribing

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