Discussion: Renga, Solo-Renga, Solo No Renga, or Tanka? “The Feel of Spring,” Solo renga

For my weekly poetry challenge post this week, let’s discuss the Japanese form called the Renga. By the way, this syllable counting site rocks: writerlywords.com. How Many Syllables.com seems to have been hacked this week, along with my social media email. What a mess!

Renga… You’ll hear this term in the poetry community and like me, you might ask why a renga is not the same as a tanka. In fact, many poets will write a tanka and call it a solo renga.

So, what’s the difference between a tanka and a renga?

The Poets Collective explains:

“Renga, Renku, or Haikai-no-renga is the linked poem discipline developed by Basho. It is a cooperative poem of many stanzas. Poets, (2 or more) gather to create a spontaneous poem of alternating 17 syllable (5-7-5), 14 syllable (7-7) stanzas. A popular form of Renga is written in 36 stanzas known as kasen renku. The custom dates back to 13th century Japan.”

“The poets in rotation take turns writing the stanzas. The poem begins with the hokku (5-7-5) recording when and where the gathering occurs, see below. The next stanza (7-7) is usually written by the host, in response to the subtle compliment suggested in the hokku. From there the stanzas are written in turn by the various members of the assembly in an alternating (5-7-5), (7-7) pattern. The poem is ended in a tanka (short poem) which combines 2 renga stanzas into 1. (5-7-5-7-7)”


The Poets Collective (I’ve paraphrased most of the following paragraphs) also says that the renga or renku shouldn’t become a narrative, and it shouldn’t tell a sequential story. It should move around, and the stanzas should “link and shift” (Bruce Ross, How to Haiku). The stanzas need to connect in some subtle way to the previous stanza only, not the entire poem.

This connection or link should be through a word, a mood, or an idea captured from the previous stanza. It “develops texture by shifting among several traditional topics without narrative progress,” (William Higgins, The Haiku Handbook).

The Renga or Renku is:

Syllabic, featuring alternating stanzas, usually of 5-7-5 and 7-7 syllables. (onji or the Japanese sound symbol for which there is no exact translation in English, the closest we can come in translation is a syllable)

A cooperative poem, written by 2 or more poets.


Composed with stanzas or verses that “link and shift”, it does not tell a sequential story.

Structured with a beginning, middle and end. Hokku (starting verse), followed by linked verses, and ends with a Tanka (small poem).

Connected to the seasons. The hokku shows the season in which the gathering occurs, somewhere within the renga, there should be verses referring to each of the seasons to create a complete circle.

In simpler terms…

The first part of the renga is a (5/7/5) haiku (hokku) written by your guest. The second part of the renga is the host’s response (wakiku): (7/7). The renga’s value exists in the interaction between the different links. It’s that transition between the first three lines and how they leap to the last two lines, penned by two different poets, that defines the renga.

Now, you can see where the renga resembles the tanka: 5/7/5, 7/7. The difference between the tanka (written by one poet), and the renga (two poets collaborate to write the poem) is the number of authors. Sometimes, you will see a renga called a “Tan-Renga” which means short poem. It still means the same thing.

Remember, the renga will feature a haiku (nature related) where a tanka is a much looser form, allowing for different subjects other than nature. A tanka does not require the first three lines to be a haiku. There’s your difference!

The Solo Renga or Solo No Renga:

Then, you will see a term called a solo renga or solo no renga. They both mean the renga was written by one poet. (I’m using one of my tanka poems as an example. My solo renga follows below). The poet will often show the haiku separate from the last two lines like this:


fate steers a fresh course
candle glow transformation
good deeds rewarded

Freyja, keeper of the Runes
light beneath the underworld

The tanka poem will read with the five lines written:


fate steers a fresh course
candle glow transformation
good deeds rewarded
Freyja, keeper of the Runes
light beneath the underworld

If you take one of your haiku, and add two seven-syllable lines to it, you’ve written a solo renga. It’s that easy!

Here is another example of a solo renga by Ken Gierke, from Rivrvlogr, called Cock Crowing from Fence Post.

And Jules, from Jules Pens Some Jems shares a solo renga series nd 6.1 Past, Present, Futures? 5P

“The Feel of Spring,” #Solo Renga

a lace of fresh leaves
wreathes a sparrow’s old nest
as spring blossoms fall

a barefoot walk through the grass
the feel of a new season

©2020 Colleen M. Chesebro

We’re talking about spring in the haiku. The last two lines reinforce the spring theme and how everything feels fresh after the long winter. The sensory detail of walking through new grass is one everyone can relate to.

41 thoughts on “Discussion: Renga, Solo-Renga, Solo No Renga, or Tanka? “The Feel of Spring,” Solo renga

  1. Thank you very much, Colleen^^ It’s almost three at night here 😂 I am half-sleep, but I PROMISE to read it again tomorrow. You could be a wonderful teacher 👍 I leave it to simmer in my head 😴 If someone else is not coming to my dreams 😉 You are a great friend, Good night ✨ ✨ ✨ 🌺 🌺 🌺

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  2. I once read that a cooperative series of tanka from a ‘professor’ or ‘leader’ and his students went on for days and was several hundred pages long!

    Thank you for the solid explanations though as I only had bits of this information and often write series of tanka (solo renga?) to tell a complete story or picture. 😀

    Thanks for sharing one of my pieces.

    (I’m having a mini vacation so I’m going to have to be playing catch up when I get home – for all of us State Side have a enjoyable Labor Day Weekend!) ~Jules

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      1. I’m sure pure um… haiku organizations would just bar me as I don’t follow convention in most regards. But that’s OK. I usually don’t use any kigo either. And in general because there are no capital letters in Japanese (written in Kanji, -as well as Hiragana and Katakana — two phonetic alphabets (syllables).- I only capitalize names in my verses and titles. My quirk.

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    1. And… Jules, I thought the solo renga and renga was a tanka as well. It’s not. The first three lines are a haiku, followed by two lines of 7 syllables each that somehow connect to the first three lines. Of course, the renga needs two authors, as well. ❤

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      1. Yes,… but I’m a rebel braking rules. You aren’t supposed to title haiku or most American style Japanese poetry – but I do (mainly to keep some sort of organization… and I like too).

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        1. Exactly, but for the blogs its too hard to keep track of your poetry. I’m also hoping poets will submit to journals and such, so I want them to know the rules. What they do on their blogs is fine with me. Contests, and journals are a different matter. ❤

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          1. I have entered some contests… but generally I stay away from any haiku contests because I know I don’t follow the rules 😉

            I stay away from (because I almost got burnt twice) from vanity publishers). And I don’t enter any contests where I have to pay to enter or have to pay an editor to review my pieces before they get published in their ‘journal’ or ‘chapbook’. I don’t like editors messing with my stuff – especially small works.

            I also shy away from those places that want you to vote and read many others in order to be voted on.

            I’ve had haiku in our Newspapers Special Sunday Supplement. But they switched to completely online for that feature. And I don’t bother with it much now. I’ve also entered haiku in Pure Haiku – a blog run by one person who I’ve known for years.

            Maybe one of these days I’ll do more with my writing. I enjoy several blog prompts – including yours!!! ❤

            Just getting back from time away so I might be delayed this week ~cheers!!

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            1. Well done, Jules. I’ve got a haiku published in a British journal and a Canadian one. Nothing in the U.S. I like the journals, they’re fun to read and full of all kinds of writing. I submit to the free places as well. Pure Haiku is amazing! I need to reconnect there, as well. I think we all find our Japanese form. I’ve always love Haiku for the simplicity of words and deep meaning. ❤️

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              1. I had some thing of mine a short fiction read at an international do-dad that I learned about through Carrot Ranch. And I had something published via a British offering that was based on writing (being inspired by) for Japanese wood prints from a museum. I suppose I should be better about keeping track of where I have ‘stuff’. I’ve also had poems published in at least two ‘for charity’ books. Mostly under my pen name though a few under my own name.

                Blogging though and the different writing communities is just plain fun! – Thank you!

                It was only a year or two that I actually won some money for fiction via Carrot Ranch’s October Rodeo event. I was a primary judge the first year for the rodeo. But I was able to enter the other contests. This year the Rodeo will be via the Saddle Up Saloon at the Ranch, with regular weekly prompts continuing.

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                1. Cool! I’ve won a couple Carrot Ranch rodeo spots myself! This year I’ve volunteered the poetry challenge as one of the events. No details yet, but I’m excited to be part of the rodeo. ❤️

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  3. Thanks for sharing the explanation and your examples, Colleen. My head was spinning until I read your examples and then it became clearer. ❤️

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    1. Franci, some of these Japanese forms are so complicated. I’m sharing the textbook definitions because we need to know the differences. In English, our syllables are so different from the Japanese onji sounds. A renga is a fun form. I’d like to experiment with this form for the challenge next year. It could be fun!

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    1. I want to add some more forms to the challenge next year. More American forms, but the renga needs to be in there with the Japanese forms. The collaboration would be really fun!


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