View the Site

HENKŌ launched at Powell Street Festival 2012.

HENKŌ takes the renga – a Japanese collaborative poem – and opens it to 21st century possibilities.

HENKŌ participation is open to all website visitors. This means you.

The renga is a collaborative form that has existed in Japan for many hundreds of years. Although the content and form of the renga vary widely, a common structure is based on alternates a 5/7/5 syllable stanza (which formed the basis of the haiku) with a 7/7 syllable stanza. The poem passes from person to person; each participant writes a stanza that responds to the previous stanza and the poem as a whole. The result is a poetic conversation, one that changes as it passes from hand to hand.


Some of the first HENKŌ participants recorded their contributions to the poem. This recording played at Chapel Arts during the launch of HENKŌ at the 2012 Powell Street Festival.


HENKŌ was commissioned by Powell Street Festival for its 2012 event. For 36 years, Powell Street Festival has celebrated Japanese-Canadian arts, culture and heritage, and is Vancouver’s longest running community arts festival. The two-day festival takes place every BC Day long weekend (the first weekend in August) at Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Powell Street was once the heart of Vancouver’s Japantown before the internment of Japanese Canadians by the federal government during WWII.

Henkō (change) is the proposed theme of this renga – specifically how Powell Street and the festival have changed. Thousands of people have attended the festival in its 36 year history. Some saw the Japanese-Canadian experience evolve through the redress movement of the 1970s and 80s. Some beat the taiko drum. Some come for the takoyaki. This poem seeks to spark conversation: between the invited artists and the volunteers who make the festival happen; between the picnickers and the current residents of the neighbourhood – and anyone who has found a way to Powell Street (especially you!)


HENKŌ was commissioned by Powell Street Festival Society for its 2012 festival and initiated by Sachiko Murakami (Toronto, Canada • powellstreethenko [at] gmail.com). Sachiko is the author of the poetry collections The Invisibility Exhibit and Rebuild, and the initiator of Project Rebuild, an online collaborative poetry project. HENKŌ was built by Starkaður Barkarson (Iceland).