San Francisco Renga

Wow!  What a great day we had yesterday!  Thanissara was in town for a few days and offered to lead a group in the practice of Renga.  Nine of us – nine women – gathered at my house on a cold crisp sunny winter day.  Cozy inside.  Thanissara taught us the basics of Renga…  It’s an ancient Japanese form of poetry, based somewhat in Haiku (though we did a Much Looser form of it).  The basics are that you start with winter, and as the poem progresses you write about all four seasons.  The first verse is 3 lines, the second verse is two lines, and it continues to alternate like that.  Somewhere near the beginning (but not in the first verse) there should be mention of the moon, and a few verses later, some mention of love.  Each verse furthers the theme of the verse before and at the same time moves the poem forward.  Thanissara, who had been taught this form by a Buddhist monk, played the role of our Renga master — the person who ultimately decides which verse will be included at each point.  As we each wrote each and every verse, and shared them aloud, there was quite a lot of discussion to decide which would be the best verse to include.  As there are usually many wonderful verses offered, it is not an easy task to decide which verse to use each time.

Ultimately all nine of us wrote the poem.  And here are the poets:

Renju (renga gathering)

Joyce Futa                                                                                                                              Lucy Hilmer                                                                                                                                       Anita Kline                                                                                                                                          Joan Kresick                                                                                                                                     Colleen Lookingbill                                                                                                                                 Gayle Markow                                                                                                                                    Kathy O’Brien                                                                                                                                        Cathy Wickham                                                                                                                               Teishu: Thanissara

Here is our collective poem:

San Francisco Renga

San Francisco mist gone

sunlight floods yellow room

silent winter waiting


thoughts wanting to be spoken

the evening comes soon


golden pool of lamplight

smell of supper’s soup

steam upon  the windows


outside buds burst open

ten thousand tasks to do


mist of plum blossoms

footsteps on white petals

a dream of moons to come


ninety degrees at ocean’s edge

still, carry your coat!


morning fog hangs heavy now

heaved past peaks by inland heat

green gold hills bleached by sun


wind bends the cypress down

postpone dreams of sun ’til fall


fruit hangs heavy on the tree

as love hangs ripe upon the heart

I bite into the sweetness


gather apples in the baskets

fallen leaves, like love, become loam.


I really want to thank Thanissara for so generously sharing this wonderful practice with all of us.  It was so inspiring, and so fun, and most of all, so enjoyable as we went around the circle each time for each verse and everyone read their own aloud.  It was just, well, really beautiful.  I think writing Renga in a small group of people who love poetry is a great way to spend a winter day,  cozy, collaborative, and inspired – inside.

♥  Gayle


2 thoughts on “San Francisco Renga

  1. Hi Lorene,
    Gayle here. Glad you enjoyed hearing about the Renga experience. Thanissara is teaching a retreat at the moment, so we’ll have to wait to hear what she has to say about the possibility of doing online Renga.

    In the meantime, I encourage poets to gather in their own local communities for multiple purposes… to enjoy live poetry with each other, to be supported/encouraged to keep writing poetry, to enjoy a day of doing Renga together, to hold poetry benefits to support a good cause, and, in the process of doing all that, developing new friendships and community.

    It’s surprisingly easy and rewarding to start gathering a few fellow poets together to write and enjoy each other’s poems. Personally I started a local dharma poets group about three months ago, which meets monthly at my house. It’s so fun. And I also recently joined a group at the local library called OWLS – Older Writers Laboratory – where we meet once a week, sharing and writing poetry. That group has been going for a few years and is so popular, it is bursting at the seams with new and seasoned poets, guided by a wonderful local poet and teacher, who offers the class for donation. I think maybe there is a renaissance in poetry. It’s totally inspiring to get together and hear the really wonderful poetry that is being created now!

    Also, don’t hesitate to send us your poetry here (at so we can post it on the Home page. Though live, up close and personal, sharing a cup of tea together while writing and reciting poetry is best, I think there’s also a wonderful purpose for poets in far-flung locations and countries to get together here – in cyber space – on Dharma Road to grow an international community, supporting each other to write, share, and enjoy poetry. And supporting each other to put our poetry into service by doing benefits. Or perhaps there are other creative ideas out there for how to put poetry into service?

    ♥ Gayle

  2. What a wonderful experience! Thank you for sharing both the process and its “fruit”! I’m wondering how the experience with Thanissara might be “translated” into an on-line experience for those of us unable to meet such as the group of women just did.

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