Windswept Walk

Around 1990, I started five “chain renku,” of which “Windswept Walk” was the first one started and completed. It was domestic in its travels, staying in the United States except for brief side trips to British Columbia and Ontario. This was put together the old-fashioned way, by postal mail. How it worked was that I sent the hokku to one other poet, and that poet and each successive poet sent it to the next poet of his or her choosing, without my ever knowing where it went and to whom. It was a leap of faith that it would ever make its way back to me, but eventually, after taking just over a year to complete, the original handwritten document came home on 2 July 1991 after visiting thirty-six different poets. On its way hither and yon, I estimate, with help from, that this renku travelled 32,241 road miles (51,885 kilometers)! Notes about the composition of this renku appear at the end.

First published in Frogpond 15:1, Spring–Summer, 1992. This renku won the Museum of Haiku Literature Award in 1992 from the Haiku Society of America, and also appears with my Notes About Windswept Walk (reproduced below) on the Haiku Society of America website with other winners of the 1992 Museum of Haiku Literature Awards (scroll down a bit on this site). Also published in the Journal of Renga & Renku #1, December 2010, pages 91–94, together with my “Notes About Windswept Walk” and some more recent comments by John Carley.

As mentioned, “Windswept Walk” was one of five chain renku I started. One other chain renku, titled “Young Leaves,” was completed later and in 1999 was also published in Frogpond—and was much more international in its travels. The other three chain renku never made it home and seem to be lost to the four winds. I still wonder what happened to them.

windswept walk Michael Dylan Welch

an orange leaf Foster City, California

turns over 6 June 1990 [originally written 26 March 1990]

skyward, Adele Kenny

the wild geese—their echo Fanwood, New Jersey

12 June 1990

between her white teeth Emily Romano

a cherry tomato Boonton, New Jersey

explodes 24 June 1990

such boredom Alexis Rotella

after the fireworks Mountain Lakes, New Jersey

26 June 1990

the black swan David E. LeCount

paddles the moon La Honda, California

into its wake 30 June 1990

a doe and her fawn Elizabeth Searle Lamb

hidden in shadow Santa Fe, New Mexico

7 July 1990

house at auction: Lee Gurga

all the lawn ornaments Lincoln, Illinois

faded to grey 14 July 1990

I prefer some clouds Hal Roth

the morning after surgery Vienna, Maryland

22 July 1990

giggles & respect kenichi’s yard kanji beware of mountain crone Marlene Mountain

Hampton, Tennessee

2 August 1990

flowing from his wet brush Jane Reichhold

grass words tickle her fancy Gualala, California

6 August 1990

buckets set up Werner Reichhold

beside the bed Gualala, California

the roof leaks 7 August 1990

heaven and earth together Elaine Sherlund

cradle sleep with gentle rain Gualala, California

10 August 1990

tiny feet Caroline Sutherland

from the garden shower Gualala, California

do a muddy stomp 12 August 1990

luna wings stroke twilight tones of moth Penny Crosby

Gualala, California

13 August 1990

after anne mckay

his hands Vancouver, British Columbia

so gentle 23 August 1990

placing seed potatoes Joe Nutt

eyes to the sky Staunton, Virginia

4 September 1990

in her dark hair Elizabeth St Jacques

the blossom Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

whisper white 11 September 1990

Clearing brush he finds Gloria H. Procsal

someone’s wedding ring Oceanside, California

18 September 1990

moving awry Frederick Gasser

with the sunspot Youngstown, Ohio

a widow spider 21 September 1990

sioux medicine man Francine Porad

dances his prayer Mercer Island, Washington

25 September 1990

men picketing Paul O. Williams

a Chevy agency Belmont, California

a child asks, “parade?” 27 September 1990

the blind man lifting Dave Sutter

his face to the sun San Francisco, California

27 September 1990

Wind and Sea . . . vincent tripi

tiny name San Francisco, California

on the painting 30 September 1990

brilliant on the easel Charles B. Dickson

the meadow’s wildflowers Doraville, Georgia

31 October 1990

Amapol Mitzi Hughes Trout

recalling mother’s perfume Roswell, Georgia

on Saturday nights 5 November 1990

“loneliest night of the week”— Geraldine C. Little

searching the stars for solace Mt. Holly, New Jersey

22 November 1990

portmanteau Hiroaki Sato

taken out of storage, New York, New York

dark with dew 21 December 1990

Plane rises dear of the fog Doris Heitmeyer

into profound darkness New York, New York

2 January 1991

Will we go hunting Sydell Rosenberg

for the Blue Moon Jamaica, New York

next New Year’s Eve? 7 January 1991

bleak January day L. A. Davidson

forced narcissus showing white New York, New York

22 January 1991

first I saw her hair Virginia Brady Young

in the wind, then the wonder Cheshire, Connecticut

of her smile 15 February 1991

no way to stop hearing Sylvia Forges-Ryan

that old lovesong North Haven, Connecticut

19 February 1991

florist shop door Karen Sohne

slowly swings shut North Massapequa, New York

closing out the street noise 5 March 1991

at the tap of Minna Lerman

the baton . . . Havertown, Pennsylvania

1 June 1991

both cats M. M. Nichols

beside the big glass vase New York, New York

the chrysanthemums 14 June 1991

gathered in a white apron Lequita Vance

seed for next spring’s planting Carmel, California

23 June 1991

Notes About Windswept Walk

The idea for “Windswept Walk,” a kasen renku, was to send the haiku to a poet friend, who in turn would send it to another poet, until thirty-six different writers had added their links. I first thought of this in the spring of 1990, and in March and June I sent out five “chain renku,” as I dubbed them. Windswept Walk is the third of the five such renku I started. The other four have yet to make it home [one other one later did]. I do not know if this is the first time such a renku has been completed. If so, it is unique in the history of English haiku.

The idea also came up that I could send my link to two different people, who in turn would each send their links to two other people (thus making four renku), and so on. But a not-so-quick calculation reveals that, by the 36th link, a total of 36,359,738,368 different renku would exist if everyone participated according to the rules (the number of renku would double as each link is added). This mind-numbing possibility would rather tax the population of the entire world, let alone the haiku community. And guess whose mailbox they would all eventually tumble into?

Anyway, as indicated, I sent my haiku to Adele Kenny on June 6, 1990 (the verse was actually first written on March 26). Over the months, “Windswept Walk” crisscrossed the country numerous times. Then, on July 2, 1991, a full year after its life began, I received the completed renku in the mail from Lequita Vance. What a joy to receive! Indeed, it has been one of the most exciting pieces of haiku mail I have ever opened, for several reasons. First, a seed sown long before had finally germinated—and had flowered profusely. Second, I found the links to be very enjoyable. Third, the list of participants reads like a who’s who of haiku. And fourth, I found it especially interesting to see who sent the renku to whom, when they sent it, and where the recipients live. In fact, it would be interesting to see how many miles it logged as it found its way from poet to poet, from friend to friend. If only it had accumulated frequent-flyer mileage!

In closing, I would like to thank everyone for participating. Since I started four other chain renku, I would also encourage those involved to keep them going. Even if they’re not finished yet, I’d like to hear of their whereabouts (write to me at [address removed, then in Foster City, California]). The reading of a renku is usually enhanced by searching for the link or connection used by participating poets as they add their verses. This renku has the further enhancement of its unwritten links between people. Consequently, I would like to dedicate “Windswept Walk” to the memory of Charlie Dickson, who participated but never saw the finished product. As you read, you will no doubt see the variety of connections between the poems and the participants, and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did that warm summer afternoon last July.

See also John Carley’s comments on “Windswept Walk.”