Young Leaves

First published in Frogpond 21:3, Winter 1999, pages 37–39. This was the second of five “chain renku” I started in 1990. It took nearly five years to complete this renku, and it came back to me in early 1995 with all the pleasure of my discovering a message in a bottle that had spent its life crossing an ocean—several times. An earlier chain renku, “Windswept Walk,” took just over a year to finish, and was published in Frogpond in 1992. Its publication might well have encouraged the completion of this renku.

Like “Windswept Walk” before it, this renku was cast adrift by my sending the hokku to another poet (in this case, Elizabeth St Jacques), who sent it to the next poet, and so on, until 36 different poets had added their verses. To start, I had created a form with spaces for participants to record their verses, the date, their name, and their place of residence. The date of Mike Hind’s verse seems to be out of order, but was most likely recorded incorrectly, and the date of Dick Pettit’s verse also seems unlikely, given that it’s the same date as the previous verse and in the interim the renku would have had to travel more than 3,600 miles (by mail) between them. Seaton Findlay wrote a two-liner when a three-liner was called for, Marianne Bluger’s verse is a commentary on the renku itself (using the older term “renga”), and George Swede wrote a three-liner when a two-liner was due. But mostly the directions were followed, and the renku as a whole gains a lively energy from the various cultures it encountered. Such is the nature of casting this sort of renku off to the wind, letting it evolve as it would. The results provide an interesting array of voices, and the choices of who sent this renku to whom—and the dates (and occasional delays) involved—are every bit as interesting as the verses themselves. All in all, this renku is uneven in its quality, and perhaps less successful than “Windswept Walk,” but it contains some truly lovely individual verses, such as Yasuko Yasui’s “forgotten crayfish” and William Hart’s response verse, “the closing fist.”

Please also read my “Notes About Young Leaves” at the end.

moonlight breeze Michael Dylan Welch

young leaves Foster City, California

barely waving 15 June 1990

the gentle curve of my dream Elizabeth St Jacques

to faint lilac scent Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

21 June 1990

to the winding stream Ruby Spriggs

children running fast Ottawa, Ontario

and babbling 29 June 1990

barefoot Dorothy Howard

he goes on about tetanus Aylmer, Québec

27 July 1990

The sting of his words Pauline Gauthier

sharper Aylmer, Québec

under the full moon 16 October 1990

walking home alone Nano McConnell

two shadows Aylmer, Québec

5 November 1990

Ah the moon . . . Seaton Findlay

(peed on my foot) Ottawa, Ontario

4 September 1991

this renga game—sadly Marianne Bluger

passing it on Ottawa, Ontario

16 September 1991

that vigorous scrawl Rod Willmot

illegible now—is it Sherbrooke, Québec

“season word”? 25 February 1992

chalkdust LeRoy Gorman

then snow clouds Napanee, Ontario

30 September 1992

geese leaving Marco Fraticelli

gulls circling Pointe Claire, Québec

the schoolyard 8 October 1992

Christmas morning George Swede

each branch of the maple Toronto, Ontario

in a stocking of snow 6 February 1993

In the mucky puddle Peter Mortimer

the trapped moon North Shields, Tyne & Wear, England

remains free 15 February 1993

gusting towards tombstones David Cobb

willow pollen Braintree, Essex, England

20 February 1993

As a support for James Kirkup

the scarecrow without a face Encamp, Andorra

an old boneshaker 25 February 1993

Shepherd shaking his stick Makoto Tamaki

at a horsefly Encamp, Andorra

28 February 1993

a hard frost Brian Tasker

among new shoots— Frome, Somerset, England

the wind-tossed daffodils 4 March 1993

this too is spring— Jim Norton

rattle dead beech leaves Lamberhurst, Kent, England

22 March 1993

In the tree-top nest Tito (Stephen Gill)

the heron’s bill at eighty degrees— London, England

April Fool’s Day rain 1 April 1993

beneath dimpled water Susan Rowley

—still fish Ilford, Essex, England

14 April 1993

memory Annie Bachini

of eels wriggling London, England

even when dead 18 April 1993

A wooden bucket emptied out— Dick Pettit

darkness at the bottom. Ibri, Sultanate of Oman

18 April 1993 [date is probably incorrect]

Pale against blue sky Mike Hind

where night left a calling card Muscat, Sultanate of Oman

rim of daylight moon 13 April 1993 [date is incorrect]

watching the rain, knowing Colin Shadduck

it’s still raining Barnstaple, Devon, England

16 November 1993

A drop from a leaf Eriko Okamato

interrupted by children Osaka, Japan

falls in a puddle 26 November 1993

Being disappointed Yasuhiko Shigemoto

at the enjoyable swings Osaka, Japan

2 December 1993

some elderly men Robert Millard

huddled under a bare tree Osaka, Japan

hear laughing children 3 December 1993

into the spring day Peter Duppenthaler

the last camellia blossom—falls Nara, Japan

12 April 1994

forgotten crayfish Yasuko Yasui

in a moonlit tin can Takarazuka-shi, Japan

scratches—scratches 5 May 1994

the closing fist William Hart

holds, at last, one minnow Montrose, California

27 May 1994

seeing so many buds on Ikkoku Santo

the “Beauty under the moon” Osaka, Japan

my wife feels happy and encouraged 3 June 1994

she points out the light John O’Connor

of the Japanese stamps Christchurch, New Zealand

11 June 1994

mountain summit— Cyril Childs

a white-clad priest Lower Hutt, New Zealand

releases his prayers 15 June 1994

in the hills Jeanette Stace

the last of the mauve evening Wellington, New Zealand

21 June 1994

winter frosts here Barry Morrall

thinking of northern summer Wellington, New Zealand

an English garden 23 June 1994

Far from home— Alan Wells

the pine, the wind Wellington, New Zealand

19 January 1995

Notes About Young Leaves

The preceding kasen renku has a long and rather amazing history. The idea behind it was to have 36 different writers each contribute a single verse. I started five of these “chain renku,” as I called them, back in March and June of 1990. One of them, “Windswept Walk,” took just over a year to reach completion, and appeared in Frogpond 15:1 (Spring–Summer, 1992). That renku consisted of poems by thirty-four American and two Canadian writers, and won a Museum of Haiku Literature Award.

In contrast, “Young Leaves” was written almost entirely outside the United States. Just two verses came from California (including my starting verse), and the rest came from six other countries: eleven from Canada (six from Ontario and five from Québec), eight from England, two from Andorra, two from the Sultanate of Oman, six from Japan, and five from New Zealand. My estimate is that this renku travelled a total of 49,114 miles (78,950 kilometers) from mailbox to mailbox around the world—that’s more than two times around the world! I wouldn’t mind having all those frequent-flyer miles! And yet the renku’s original pieces of paper, much folded, stained, and road-weary, managed to make it back to me on 8 December 1996, a full five and a half years after I cast this particular piece of bread onto the water. For the record, alterations were made by the poets to four of the verses in the spring of 1998.

As I wrote in 1992 about the first chain renku to be completed, “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.” The same is particularly true of “Young Leaves,” because the distances between poets have been greater, and the time span for completion greater too. The verses in “Young Leaves” don’t always follow strict renku conventions, and sometimes depart from the three-line/two-line alternation. Yet this renku’s cornucopia of participants has produced many striking verses that I trust you will enjoy.

Three more of these chain renku remain unfinished. Perhaps they have been lost, or have fallen into neglect. If anyone reading this has participated in the other chain renku I started in 1990 (“Scent of Jasmine,” “Gathering Moths,” and “Her Wrinkled Hands”), please do keep them going—or send me news of their whereabouts. You can write to me at [address removed], Foster City, California, 94404, USA, or email me at I would enjoy hearing about these other renku, and would love to have them find their way home.

Meanwhile, “Young Leaves” has indeed wandered “far from home,” as Alan Wells suggests in his concluding verse. But now it has come home, and I hope you find the connections between the poets as enjoyable as the verses themselves and the links between them all.


I have redone the estimate for this renku’s total distance travelled. I used for great circle routes and for road miles in England, and came up with a lower total of 46,484 miles (74,805 kilometers). I’m sure none of the planes stuck strictly to great circle routes, so a ballpark estimate of 50,000 miles is probably pretty close. I wish I could have taken the trip personally!

—31 October 2009