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with comments by William J. Higginson

Note: A number of articles on writing renku in English appear in various issues of Frogpond, the journal of the Haiku Society of America. Most of the books listed below are focussed on Japanese linked poetry, a bit academic in tone, and not easy reading. But who said renku was easy? The beginning student would do well to look particularly at the books by Blyth, Higginson (including the article in Finch and Varnes), Mayhew, Sato, and Ueda, which are perhaps the easiest to read. The next step would include the works by Carter and Ramirez-Christensen. Miner's books can be useful, but involve his awkward way of repeating stanzas, so that one cannot easily understand the movement of the whole poem. (I heartily recommend getting the books you're interested in from a library, first, as those from academic presses in particular tend to be expensive. Work the inter-library loan system!)

For your convenience, you may go directly to books by author:

R. H. Blyth
Steven D. Carter
Chris Drake
Penny Harter
William J. Higginson
Cana Maeda
Lenore Mayhew
Earl Miner
Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkôkai
Ron Padgett
Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen
Jane Reichhold
Hiroaki Sato
Haruo Shirane
Makoto Ueda
Burton Watson

Blyth, R. H. Haiku, Vol. I, Eastern Culture. Tokyo: Hokuseido Press, 1949. The chapter entitled "Renku" includes a complete, annotated translation of "The Kite's Feathers" (aka "First Winter Shower")--an important renku by Bashô and friends.
Carter, Steven D. Three Poets at Yuyama. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, 1983. This is the most outstanding example of a 100-stanza classical renga, by Sôgi (1421-1502) and his two most prominent disciples, Shôhaku (1443-1527) and Sôchô (1448-1532), in a decent translation with extensive annotations that particularly well illustrate the method of linking by literary allusion, one of the major features of classical renga that diminishes in importance in renku.
----------. The Road to Komatsubara: A Classical Reading of the Renga Hyakuin. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Council on East Asian Studies, 1987. An intriguing study and translation not only of a major 100-stanza renga by Sôgi, but also of a rulebook for writing renga completed in 1501 (including and updating material from two earlier centuries) by Sôgi's disciple Shôhaku. The rulebook takes up the allowable frequency of repetition of hundreds of items. (These rules are designed for 100-stanza classical renga, and do not necessarily agree with the practices of Bashô or modern Japanese renku masters.)
----------, editor and translator. Traditional Japanese Poetry: An Anthology. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991. A major academic anthology that covers the whole range of Japanese traditional poetries, including linked poetry, in fine translations.
Drake, Christopher. Copying Bird Calls: A Hundred Linked Haikai by Nishiyama Sôin (1605-1682). Hollywood, CA: highmoonoon, 2000. An annotated translation of a hyakuin (100-stanza) solo linked poem by a pre-Bashô haikai master, a pioneer of the commoner-style haikai that arose in the early Tokugawa period (1600-1867).
----------. Haikai on Love: A Hundred-Verse Linked Sequence by Matsuki Tantan (1674-1761). Hollywood, CA: highmoonoon, 2000. An annotated translation of a hyakuin solo linked poem by a haikai poet active after Bashô, at a time when the satiric senryu was on the rise. The piece represents a tour de force in the commoner-style haikai of the Tokugawa period (1600-1867), in that Tantan deliberately flouts many linked-poetry conventions that had survived into haikai, mainly by concentrating on the topic "love" throughout the entire sequence..
Higginson, William J., with Penny Harter. The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985; Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1989. The section on linked poetry includes a 36-stanza renku in English.
Higginson, William J. The Haiku Seasons: Poetry of the Natural World. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1996. Discusses the nature content of traditional Japanese poetry from the Manyôshû to work by living poets. The chapter on linked poetry has annotated examples in translation and a chart showing the organization of the seasons in typical 36-stanza renku composed at different times of the year.
----------. Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1996. This is the first English-language book in the style of the Japanese saijiki, or poetry almanac. Over 600 seasonal and nonseasonal topics are presented, with 1,000 poems by 650 contemporary poets from 50 countries. For renku writing, it includes important annotations as to the parts of seasons to which various season words apply.
----------. "Bashô-Style Linked Poems" in Classics in the Classroom: Using Great Literature to Teach Writing. Edited by Christopher Edgar and Ron Padgett. New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1999. Article on teaching linked poetry in an elementary school Title I reading program, withs examples. Available on this Web site.
----------. "To Clean the Mind: Haiku, Linked Poems, and the Seasons" in The Teachers & Writers Guide to Teaching Nature Writing. Edited by Christopher Edgar. New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, in press. Article on leading a public workshop on haiku and renku, with an emphasis on nature and the seasons. Includes examples and reproducible handouts.
Higginson, William J. and Penny Harter. "Japanese-Style Linked Poems" in An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art. Edited by Annie Finch and Katherine Varnes. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. An article on writing a 12-stanza renku, with examples.
Maeda, Cana, translator. Monkey's Raincoat. New York: Mushinsha-Grossman, 1973. A unique and refreshing translation of the four renku from the Bashô-school anthology Sarumino, with a stanza-by-stanza commentary from the point of view of the poets. An excellent training-ground for linking.
Mayhew, Lenore, translator. Monkey's Raincoat: Linked Poetry of the Bashô School with Haiku Selections. Rutland, Vt. and Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1985. This is the most readable translation of all four renku and selected haiku from the Bashô-school anthology Sarumino. No annotations.
Miner, Earl. Japanese Linked Poetry: An Account with Translations of Renga and Haikai Sequences. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979. This is "the standard academic treatment" of linked poetry, recommended only for advanced students.
Miner, Earl, and Hiroko Odagiri, translators. The Monkey's Straw Raincoat and Other Poetry of the Bashô School. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981. This is the only complete Sarumino in English, including all the haiku and a haibun, with some earlier and later renku added; the layout makes the renku difficult to read.
Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkôkai, translators. Haikai and Haiku. Tokyo: N.G.S., 1958. Includes a translation of the same renku presented in Blyth, above, with notes and a season-word index.
Padgett, Ron, editor. The Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms. New York: Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1987. The article on renga includes several examples of students writing. This book should be in every language arts and English classroom, and is very accessible to students grades five through secondary.
Ramirez-Christensen, Esperanza. Heart's Flower: The Life and Poetry of Shinkei. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994. This outstanding academic work details the life of Bishop Shinkei, one of Sôgi's teachers, who is otherwise virtually unknown in English. The poetry section includes many of his hokku, as well as two 100-stanza renga (fully annotated) and 100 of his tanka. To read Shinkei is to find a true precursor of Bashô.
Reichhold, Jane. Narrow Road to Renga. Gualala, Calif.: Aha Books, 1989. The first collection of linked poems by non-Japanese poets that I know of. It shows the range of interest in linked poetry in North America before the 1990s, when more information on Japanese practice began to become available to English-speakers.
Sato, Hiroaki. One Hundred Frogs: From Renga to Haiku to English. New York and Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1983. An outstanding discussion of Japanese linked poems, with translations, including a kasen that exists in manuscript with Bashô's edits and annotations; includes some haiku and linked poems by American poets. Also does include over 100 translations of Bashô's most famous poem. (Do not be confused by a later book with a similar title that does not include the material on linked poetry.)
----------. Bashô's Narrow Road: Spring & Autumn Passages. Berkeley, Ca.: Stone Bridge Press, 1996. The poet's travel diary Oku no hosomichi and a linked poem; the haiku and linked poem stanzas are presented in single lines of prose, as in the previous work.
Sato, Hiroaki and Burton Watson, editors and translators. From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry. Garden City: Doubleday, 1981; various other editions. Undoubtedly, the most comprehensive anthology of Japanese poetry available. And more than a quarter of the text is given over to "The Age of Renga", with parts or all of several linked poems, all in Sato's one-line-stanza format. Includes minimal notes on items of Japanese culture that would otherwise be unintelligible to most readers.
Shirane, Haruo. Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Bashô. Stanford, Ca.: Stanford University Press, 1998. Outstanding academic treatment of Bashô's poetics; includes an annotated translation of a Bashô school renku.
Ueda, Makoto. Literary and Art Theories in Japan. Cleveland: Press of Western Reserve University, 1967. Includes valuable chapters on linked poetry and Bashô's poetics.
----------. Matsuo Bashô. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1970; Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International, 1982. This is the standard literary biography in English, with many good translations; includes two fully annotated renku.
----------. Bashô and His Interpreters: Selected Hokku with Commentary. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991. Excellent translations of almost 300 of Bashô's haiku, with many poets' and scholars' comments on the poems. Arranged chronologically, interspersed with a narrative of the poet's life. Special value for renku lies in the brief notes as to the contexts in which the poems were written, which include some renku sessions. Also, the comments on the hokku give a well-rounded view of haikai aesthetics.
----------. The Path of Flowering Thorn: The Life and Poetry of Yosa Buson. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. An excellent literary biography. Includes three annotated translations of kasen renku by Buson and members of his school.
----------. Dew on the Grass: The Life and Poetry of Kobayashi Issa . Leiden: Brill, 2004. An excellent literary biography. Includes an annotated translation of a kasen by Issa and his students.

The author's interview on Amazon.com.

You may also be interested in the author's bibliography of books on tanka.

Teachers should know about Teachers & Writers Collaborative.

To comment on this site, suggest additions, or share your experience of writing renku, you are welcome to e-mail Bill Higginson at: wordfield-at-att-dot-net, replacing "-at-" with "@" and "-dot-" with a period.

Copyright © 2000, 2002, 2006 by William J. Higginson. All rights reserved.

Page last updated 24 October 2002.

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