Renga: Time and Shadow by Else-Maria Tennessen and Douglass Rankin

Time and Shadow

The green-tailed towhee
comes to feed on garden seed
he won’t stay long. DR

Bloom and grass fade
Hunter’s moon. ET

The departure
of one
is the departure of many. DR

Your skull with gray hair
startles my younger heart. ET

A to-do list
falls from the book
twenty years old. MS

Buy black beans, soap, and bread,
that’s the year I fell in love. DR

Warm candle light
French onion soup—
Dakota blizzard. ET

Snow-muffled silence…so deep
Stoke the fire, move close. DR

On the wintry bank
A white hare
I only see his shadow. ET

Snowy owl—wing beat, heart beat
Night falls, leaving no trace. DR

Pages turn
The clock ticks
A story unfolds. ET

Dark falling on the city
Two silhouettes on the shade. DR

A pink sunrise
over the Christos mountains
steaming hot coffee ET

Quiet start of a new day
Only “now” is guaranteed. DR

As the moon rises
Jack rabbits take flight
Over the dusky road. ET

Anything is possible
floating in the land of dreams. DR

Dawn on snow
An early spring breeze
Snowdrops in bloom. ET

Honey bee legs—full of pollen
return to the hive…again… DR

Half Kasen Renku
Else-Maria Tennessen and Douglass Rankin, with Miriam Sagan

Renga From Japan

Today we’re excited to have our opening at Studio Kura. I expect to have photographs soon. But in the interim, I’m posting a renga written by me and Isabel Winson-Sagan.
We started in Santa Fe in late December and finished here a few days ago. I’ve left in our initials and numbering of links so you can see the process. The moon links aren’t in the traditional spots–it’s a pretty free approach. Might be some more revision yet. Enjoy!

1.These mountains
turn purple at dusk
then darker still

2.Hawk on a cactus
silent snow

3.Winter triangle
brighter than other

4.New Year’s in Japan
the paper store is closed

5.Waning moon
an old woman
sets out lettuce beds

6.My mother sings
at the Ikisan station

7.New house slippers
purple with polka dots,
Coming of Age Day

8.Cranes out on the river bed
no- boys in soccer shorts

9. Dark, light, dark, light
from the train window–
I touch my own pulse

10. Thunder clap awakens me,
blissful stretch under quilt

11. A steamed pork bun
cold kitchen
bright red tea kettle

12. If the weather clears
I’ll understand…everything

13. Wind that rattles 
paper screens-
passing dragon?

14. Your mouth on mine
knows no country

15. Words wrap around
my arms, they keep my spirit
from wandering.

16. Our neighbor across the way
lives like a monk

17. A dog pants over
the water bowl, rabbit—
a flash, and gone.

18. Hot asphalt, the whole city
strolls to a boom box beat.

19. At the window
naked woman, a breeze
moves the curtains

20. He looks at her from the bed
still surprised at his luck.

21. Long hair down her back
wet from the bath, sticks to skin
footprints left behind

22. Knit one, purl two, dropped stitch
just that kind of afternoon

23. Two rabbits
making mochi
in the moon.

24. The tomb on the street corner
at night, he goes walking.

25. Day of the dead
a sugar skull
with my name.

26. A stiff neck from reading
years pass 

27. A fleeting dream
all that remains, faint taste
sweet tea and milk

28. A lonely child looks out,
his computer screen glows

29. Fantastical 
castle– is the hero
prince or demon?

30. Watching anime under
covers with my mom

31. Leafless tress,
a pencil sketch
against the moon

32. The A-bomb dropped
here, as well

33. Hiroshima, don’t
feed the pigeons or sleep
in the peace park 

34. Bulbs finally come up
I see your hat

35. Laundry blooms bright
falling blossoms

36. A patient reward
new green shoots of garlic.

Capping the Poem

Recently I’ve gotten interested in a simple capping technique based on the Japanese renga. One person writes a haiku, another person completes with a couplet (each line of the couplet 7 or less syllables). It makes a tanka, but collaborative.
Enjoyed doing this yesterday with the poetry workshop in wetlands in La Cienega.
Here are some results for inspiration:
under gibbous moon
collection of memories
better forgotten
Ursula Moeller

and yet they come unbidden
urging me to let them in
Pat Preib


lunar light
softer than solar
both bathe me UM

in the light that warms
in the light that holds me PP

How To Write American Renga

Renga is a wonderful Japanese collaborative poetic form. It can take a lifetime of study to understand. But there are ways to plunge in and have immediate fun with it.

Try This:

The basic form of the renga (also called renku) is like a chain written in links or stanzas. Each link is written by a different person. Three is an ideal number to write renga, although it can be done by two, four, etc.
It has 36 links. A half renga, which might be your goal, has 18. You can aim to complete either 18 or 36.

The form is as follows:

5 or less syllables
7 or less
5 or less (identical to haiku form)

7 or less
7 or less

5 or less
7 or less
5 or less


The FIRST PERSON writes the first link, called the HOKKU. This stanza is essentially a haiku without people and with a season. HAIKU came out of renga–it was originally just a bunch of left over opening verses!

The first link is then passed to the SECOND PERSON, who adds a two line link. This process of passing goes on until the 36 links are done.


YOU CANNOT MOVE BACKWARD IN TIME. If the renga starts in mid-summer it may move forward to fall but not backward to spring.

YOU CANNOT REPEAT ANYTHING! If a dog appears, or a mountain, that is it for dogs or mountains.

Originally renga was written at drinking parties–so presumably that is why it started serene and got wilder in the middle. Should end on a quieter
note as well. It often ends with the season spring.

When just two people are writing it is usual to sometimes double up–one person writes two links so s/he isn’t always stuck writing the couplet or the haiku.

Renga can be written in small groups of any size, or by two people. They can be done in person, by e-mail, or regular mail. You can write a solo one too. To write a solo renga, follow the form but maybe write just a few links a day.



Cut + Paste Renga

This renga cafe party was led by by Elizabeth Jacobson last week in Santa Fe.

Photo by Edie Tsong

Cut + Paste Society Renga Roundup
This is the first one we did the traditional way
dark pink hollyhocks
stand in the road dust, no rain
just fire ants swarming
fear fills my tender bare feet
sky so blue, so dry
as my son sings out
summer in present and past
burnished glare heat
not forgetting how much time
changes when we stop moving
each petal nods
toward the seasonless blaze of sun
even in clouds
that hide the earthly creatures
dreaming of thick icicles
bare feet or floorboards
wondering if I forgot
to say: I love you
tug and smack of sweaty skin
pulling against a smooth chair
aching with her loss
my daughter touches the keys:
music can bring us home
away from despair into
a time apart from grief
shadows lengthen now
the pain wanes with the sun
relief cools the night
crane marking sky in pattern
black, grey, black as the sun falls
its time to block the sun.
and sleep for several lifetimes
extra random letters, whatever.
This is the last one we did using the exquisite corpse technique
pay me what you owe
me—a kiss, a scratch, or laugh
at all my witty remains     
things left over after summer
seep into the earth like blood
bone mixed into soil
leaving behind pale, dusty    
fragments.  Moth wings
iridescent  plaited sheen
enfolding your hidden pulse
heartthrob, heartthrob, thump
careful sunlight spreading for
abroad and along the riverbed                  
Tamara Bates
Monika Cassel
Sydney Cooper
Elizabeth Jacobson
Michelle Laflamme-Childs
Miriam Sagan
Edie Tsong

Blowing on Embers: SITE Santa Fe Renga by Hunter, McGrath, West

Blowing on Embers

a renga by Frances Hunter, F, James McGrath, J, and Cynthia West, C
Miriam Sagan, poetry workshop at SITE SF, 9/12/10

After stretching for
five years, morning glories meet
over the front door. C

All that growing time –
now glorious. F

Now without sweet scent
flowers beckon to rainclouds
dreaming winter sleep. J

Racing its shadow
the skink speeds over gravel. C

Knowing that summer fades,
the mole experiences
nostalgia. F

Only crickets sing half moon songs.
Stars dance new constellations. J

The sky of fallen
pears climbs black branches, viewing
the waste below. C

Oh moon, disregard all.
Look with favor on tomatoes. F

My garden opens eyes.
This is where hands are hearts
beating against time. J

The wild sunflowers cast purple
shadows, telling birds’ secrets. C

Whence comes the wind?
From whose mouth is it blowing?
Such a close secret. F

Morning stones are soft.
This is where I dream your voice. J

Giant red dahlias
unfurl, trumpeting louder
than fiesta parades. C

Green lingers on the trees.
Emerald soon fades to gold. F

Mountain trees spin silver.
The road home speaks white lies.
We will sleep together. J

Weighted to the ground, the peach
tree groans with unpicked passion. C

That damned SITE rain keeps falling.
When will it ever stop?
Patience grows tired, Eyes close. F

Mattress springs pinch rings on our legs.
Sirens scream outside the window. J

Pouring seeds, honking horns,
How can I concentrate on
kissing your mouth awake? C

There is no such thing
as a good day for book learning. F

The last fire is dead.
The only coals live in our hearts
where spring hides behind shadows. J

Blowing on embers, we kindle
the sap in green eggs. C

Renga Team Huggins, Mazzara, Myers: SITE Santa Fe

Form Matters
Memories delude
Stuck in foolish fancies
I laugh at myself
Dripping coffee smells like night
Stars swim and shine beneath me
What a folly
How elusive this crazy tie
Bound but boundless
Flying leaves return to earth
Cool grasses wither and sing
Ropes braided and taut
Hold this kite from flying
To the tree tops
Paper cutout facades rise
Disguise and obliterate
Black diamonds float in yellow space
Waiting, staring, where to go next
One, two, three four, five
This formal form keeps me sane
Watching, counting, playing bard
Some things never grow old
Some of us never grow up
Cowboy hats fly
Red, green, and black boots kick up
Rough writing on lines
Whimsy verses re-ride, whoa
The poet who writes alone.
–      Caroline Huggins

–      Maria Mazzara

–      Juliet Myers

Renga From SITE Santa Fe


[LH]   Water flows streaming

Amoebic colors surprise
Flying across seas

[CK] Condensing fluid frozen
Crystals, snow, ocean, motion

[MW] Eyes follow wild waves
Chunks of icy land shear
They row away

[LH] Paper hearts moving
To galactic horizons
Excess falls,  dropping

[MW] Underneath, yellow green pulse
Hidden, waiting for the melt

[CK] Memory in sepia
Passing patterned stripes
Man’s machinations

[LH] Cavernous ships glide
Angels focus from stars
Darkness before dawn

[MW] Pounding heart sad falling bones
Red glow consumes the landscape

[CK] Swirling sea
Seething then retreating
Churning evermore

[LH]  Libby Hall
[CK]  Chris Kain
[MW] Margaret Wood