School of Renga 

Jane Reichhold  



Lesson Four
First Steps for Learning to Renga

The idea of starting to work on a renga with a stranger may be somewhat intimidating, but help is readily available. Before there was renga with many links there was the renga form of only two parts. It is basically a tanka written by two persons. It looks like a tanka, acts like a tanka but if it takes two persons to write it the form is called a tan renga – short linked elegance. Tan renga can either begin with the three-part stanza or the two-part stanza. A nice way of complimenting someone who sends you a haiku is to respond with your link to make a tan renga.

old master
weighing air
spills some
                                    - Bambi Walker Steiner

Zen students laugh
swallow it whole

                                        - Jane Reichhold

Take some time practicing your renga skills by picking haiku that you admire or have enjoyed by other authors. To them add your link of either two or three lines. Remember this is just practice and you need the permission of the other author if you decide to publish any of the work.

The Barest Bone of Renga
            If you are feeling there that is no way you could remember all these rules about renga, there is even more help. By writing a renga on a sheet where the links are numbered, with indication of whose turn it is, along with hints as to what comes next, the writer can concentrate on writing instead of worrying about missed rules. Here is a sample form indicating the most basic rules for a renga you can copy and enlarge. If you wish to have copies of the forms designed for each of the seasons based on Bashô’s examples, they are available online at: After your renga is written, you can delete all the information in the brackets to make it seem that you understood everything perfectly.

It is perfectly acceptable for you to write a renga by yourself. The work is then called a 'solo renga' and has been done for centuries. Again the use of the template can help you get the moons and flowers in the right places.


Traditional Kasen Renga
[title - often taken from the first link]
a – [author’s name]

1. [ 3 lines] hokku



2. [ 2 lines] wakiku


3. [ 3] daisen [should end with a verb]



4. [ 2]


5. [3  MOON ]



6.[ 2 ]


7. [ 3]



8. [ 2]


9. [ 3]



10. [ 2]


11. [ 3]



12. [a - 2]


13. [ 3]



14. [ 2 MOON]


15. [ 3]



16. [ 2]


17. [ 3]



18. [ 2 ]


19. [ 3]



20. [ 2]


21. [3]



22. [ 2]



23. [ 3]



24. [2]


25 [ 3]



26 [2]


27. [ 3]



28. [ 2]


29. [ 3 MOON]



30. [2 ]



31. [ 3]



32. [ 2]


33. [ 3]



34. [2]


35. [3]



36. [ 2 ageku/ closure]



Form Copyright © Jane Reichhold 1989.
[Permission to copy. ]



If you are still feeling too shy to find an actual person with whom to do a renga, there is one more opportunity for you to practice a renga with someone else.

You can take a published renga and remove the links of one of the persons and you rewrite the renga with your own words. This you cannot publish unless you get permission from both persons, but it is a fine exercise. You can always use your links in another renga.

Another way to practice working with the strangeness of someone else's ideas is to do a book renga. You find a book of an author's work that you have noticed has haiku-like phrases in it. Using the form above, you write in the links of one of the particpants by using phrases from a book. Werner Reichhold has done these with Basho, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. This is an excellent way to study the works of authors you admire while at the same time having a chance to hold a conversation with your favorite author

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Sample of a book renga - a renga written with links taken from a book written by someone else.

Virginia Woolf
Werner Reichhold

on the neck of swans
leaving gold

coins in a farmer's palm
during the depression

cold water
over the mackerel
in the bowl

white and yellow winding
the cat weaves its mantra

cherry colored fingernails
by the moonlit waters

she moves her eyelid
how much depends on water

steam pipes
mother earth my whirlpool
skin in touch

rock the brown basin
my ship may ride the waves

a lady pirate
fingertips go up in smoke
Virginia's cigarette

white stones one picks
up by the seashore

pollen blown how long
away from mating time

I am relieved of hard
contacts and collisions

slash dress
car key case
deep purple

off they fly
fling of seeds

sure a boy
one more part
on the ultrasound

my roots go down
I am all fiber

beach sand swallows
prints of naked feed

all tremors shake me
pressed to my ribs

their hair

the apple tree stark
in the moonlight

two gardeners
one with spray
one with manure

given a greener glow
to green things

up the blade
a tulip

we come back from a walk
night gowns blown tight

the bread rises
in a soft dome
under a towel

uncountable fingers
magician's hand on rabbits

I who long
where the swallow dips her wings
for marble columns

lighted stardust
present and parted

rattle of wheels
on the pavement
horses plod home

hanging the shirt out
on a line to sweat

the sun sharpened
a white blind
by the bedroom window

slicing to figures'
single movement

a shadow
falls on the path
elbow bent

up hill
the breath interrupted

she said
the moor is dark
beneath the moon

the wolf's howl
passing it on

Virginia Woolf's links are unchanged text taken from her book The Waves, Copyright 1931 by Harcourt Brace Jovanowich, Inc.

Links in italic are by Werner Reichhold




Page and Materials Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2011.

Please give credit when borrowing.


The above picture of Basho at a renga party was painted by Buson and added to the text of Basho's book Oku no Hosomichi - Narrow Road to the Far North. It was scanned from a facsimile scroll of the original work purchased at the Museum of Art in Tokyo, Japan.