Before renku there was waka. In eighth-century Japan, back when the country was called Yamato and the capital was in Nara, waka was the most popular type of poetry: a five-phrase form. It didn't rhyme but had a definite sound pattern of 5-7-5-7-7 Japanese phonemes (a, i, u, e, o, ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, etc.).
For the next several centuries, noble men and ladies of the imperial court (that later moved to Kyoto) LOVED it!