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Renku Seminar

 WHC Renku Seminar
Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional" Renku in English
Session 1: A Beginning

Paul MacNeil


Susumu-san has invited me to give the basics, to entertain questions, to demonstrate and to perhaps popularize a unique poetic form, the linked-verse renku.

I shall speak of what I know. That is: what I have been taught, what I have researched, and, inevitably, what I have concluded.

I am humbled that he has confidence in me, but please let me remind you all of how he introduced me: [as] ichijitsu-no-cho someone more experienced than others but only by one day

I make absolutely no pretense to be a Master; I shall lead and guide where necessary. There will be many who have at least visited the WHC haikuforum who have far more expertise and experience than I. I will welcome their input; I am still learning.

What's in a name?

I am using the term 
renku and not renga. Many English-language writers prefer one or the other, some understand them as interchangeable. A translator of ancient Chinese and Japanese poetry, Sam Hamill of the USA, quotes Confucius in the Ta Hsueh:

All wisdom is rooted in learning to call things by the right name ...

I am very thankful that Susumu has asked me not to be too technical. I can sidestep a long explanation of the two words. I have had respected teachers favoring each. Basically renga is used today to describe Japanese linked verse from before the time of Basho (d. 1694). Sogi (d. 1502) was acknowledged as the renga Master of his time. Renga was represented in the great Court collections in the 12th and 13th Centuries. A shorter form, pairs of linked verse, exists from the 9th Century. Renga used the medieval court language, and much of the subject matter alluded to Chinese literature and classical waka of Japan. It was assumed that both players and readers had a high level of sophisticated scholarship. As Basho changed the importance of single verses, hokku (now called haiku), he also transformed linked verse. He called this different style "haikai no renga". He did not invent this "new" way, but certainly popularized it's use. It used a less rarified language, more commonly understood, with more easily accessible subjects from the real world. The term "renku" was not known to Basho (he referred tohaikai no renga), but is used for this today in Japan and by many in the West.


  • Renku is linked verse.
  • Renku is an art form.
  • Renku is a game.
  • Renku has rules.
  • Renku is not anarchic linking.
  • Renku has a flow, a pace, an overall effect.
  • Renku has no narrative.
  • Renku is a communal enterprise (some solo is done).
  • Renku is verse by individuals.
  • Renku is not serial haiku.
  • Renku begins with a haiku.
  • Renku makes good friends and companions.
  • Renku is fun.
  • Renku is habit forming.
  • Renku honors tradition.

    I love to write and even to read renku. I love most to write in person with a group of friends. I hope to proselytize for renku; I hope for some small success in that persuasion.

I have planned to show the group a finished short renku and to soon thereafter participate with two ladies I have invited to write ashisan renku (12 verses) for you. We hope to explain ourselves as we go. I plan on several guest "lecturers" or "interviewees" on various renku topics, and later on to show the composition of a kasen renku, 36 verses (the length popularized by Basho).

At all times please, I and we, as others join me, will welcome comment, question and friendly debate. I'll gladly give detailed citation of my sources, should anyone wish them. I have decided not to footnote everything or to quote extensively so as to be too close to the margins of copyright law. I'll paraphrase a lot and state my own summaries from sources.

A suggestion for anyone interested, and whose computer allows, is to set up a mail file folder for Renku Seminar. Some things I will refer back to -- if you wish to keep a record (all is archived too).

For those interested in some internet-available reading on renga/renku:


Hunt around a bit. I'll suggest other sources later.

I thank you for your attention to this first step. Another follows soon.

- Paul (MacNeil)


brief bio:

MacNEIL, PAUL: B. A., M. A., Amateur Naturalist, lives in Florida, USA. A widower, he is retired from retail business. Some of his images are from The Great North Woods particularly Maine and Ontario, Canada. His haiku, haibun, renku and tanka have been published variously by Modern Haiku, Acorn, Haiku Canada, and on the Internet at The Haiku Corner, The Heron's Nest, Poetry in the Light, and Reflections. He has been Editor's Choice at The Heron's Nest, and "honorably mentioned" at the Haiku North America '99 Contest. Paul's teenage daughter lets him use her computer. The yellow pads are his own.

Tue Feb 1, 2000
Originally posted to WHChaikuforum as the first essay-lesson in the Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional Renku in English".



WHC Renku Seminar
Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional" Renku in English
Session 2:  Defining Renku

Paul MacNeil


Definitions rarely capture a subject concisely without further extension of what a subject is and is not. Claiming no exception, I offer that renku is a sequence of linked verses without narrative. Not containable by one sentence, I continue: these verses are paired dialogues of writers (a hybrid of solo-renku is also done); renku is both collaboration and improvisation. Renku is written as a communal or group effort following a tradition quite unknown in the West. A haiku begins a renku. Unlike haiku which may be viewed as a writer's response to experience of the natural world and man's place in it, inner renku stanzas spring from reaction to another's verse, the hokku (beginning verse) or another inner verse. Further, such a stanza is governed, motivated if you will, by an intellectual and emotional swirl of possibilities for what would best benefit the work as a whole. After the hokku (and even that may be specialized in some way to renku), the individual whose turn it is, either by rotation or by assignment from a master, will write an individual expression but subjugate it to the communal work.

Like haiku, which are in themselves not in the Western tradition (except recently), renku can best be learned and then appreciated by writing them, and by reading them. Again, just as for haiku, skill in reading is a part of the Art of renku. There are good and bad renku, both original-to-English and, through the vagaries of translation, from Japanese as well. Renku may be for most an acquired taste. Perhaps the best readers of renku are those who have been writers themselves. Renku is composed in Japan today and also throughout the West -- piggybacking on the spread of haiku. Its antecedents have a much longer history than haiku by centuries. There is distinct tradition. Some call it "rules". Rules vary with the teacher, with the master. And they will vary with the language and the point of history recent or ancient. A teacher of mine, Christopher Herold from the State of Washington, USA, has said: "There are 'purists' who will adhere rigidly to the 'rules.' And there are freedom fighters who'll break them whenever it's convenient, and even when it's not, just on principle."

I'm afraid I have not yet defined renku. Lots of words, though. Renku has a lot to do with the seasons, although only about half of the stanzas will have a kigo. The "rules" indicate nearly an equal number of non-seasonal verses. Perhaps this is not much of a shock to those familiar with "modern" haiku in the West, but was a distinct freedom for those whose very definition of haiku was kigo inclusion. Basho, Master to us all, is quoted, my paraphrase, that a renku (haikai no renga) to be a renku must have all four seasons and love. Renku pays special attention to the symbolism of the moon, flower blossoms, and other types of change. Renku has a lot to do with love, and humanity. It is nearly half senryu.

In renku, partners engage in a conversation, a spontaneous one, beginning anew as each additional verse makes a pair. If the number of writers in the renku session is greater than two, a different writer-pair is formed as each subsequent verse is added.

Christopher Herold, a modern master in English, has written to me:

[renku] ... is the externalization of the haiku mind. It is a safe place where people can tell the truth, fantasize, vent anger (in a verse), get silly, passionate. ... a marvelous way to learn how to cooperate with one another on a communal project. [in renku] ... we become more attuned to the cycle of the seasons, to the subtleties of one another's mannerisms and ways of expressing ourselves.

Again from Master Basho is this common quotation/paraphrase. He admonished his students to break the rules, but first to know the rules. Hereafter, I'll try to get to more definition of the parts and to describe some of the "rules". Later on, a group will write renku in front of you so that you can watch us as we help one another comply with and break rules.

I refer again to the URL's I showed in the first edition of "Paul Talking" about renku. I do suggest for those who haven't to explore there.

Now, I append a finished renku for you to read. In the next session I shall explain some of it. Before that analysis or annotation read the renku and try to follow the seasons, love, perhaps appreciate the linking, the variety of the piece. Next time I'll show the form and rotation that underlies the work. Renku come in many lengths, this one is 12 stanzas and is called shisan. The most prevalent length is 36 (kasen), popularized and practiced by Basho and his students; there is current writing in 18 and 20 verses too. In the past days of renga, works were usually of 50 or 100 stanzas. You don't want to know about THOSE rules!

The following is shown with the permission of my partner in the renku, Ferris Gilli, for the educational purposes of the Haiku Forum. Any outside quotation should be done only with approval of the authors. As always, I (and Ferris) will appreciate your questions, help and comment.

- Paul (MacNeil)

The Fox Circles
an autumn shisan renku

by Ferris Gilli and Paul MacNeil
via internet, December 1 -- 16, 1999
rev. Jan/'00

yellow leaves--
the fox circles
a sunlit field

.................- fg

she tightens sterile lids
on jelly jars

.................- pwm

flurry by flurry
the hollow stump
fills with snow

.................- fg

from each mesa
the rhythm of Hopi chants

.................- fg

muscles ripple
the leopard spots
of a barmaid's dress

.................- pwm

nothing between us now
but the sheen of marbled silk

.................- fg

sharp rocks
stick out of the trough
of a wave

.................- pwm

blackberry blooms
thicker than the thorns

.................- fg

spring mist rises
above the porch rail
with the moon

.................- pwm

incense follows a priest
down the aisle

.................- pwm

the machete's glint
hacking a narrow path
for the film crew

.................- fg

different drones
of Saturday lawnmowers

.................- pwm


Tue Feb 4, 2000
Originally posted to WHChaikuforum as the second essay-lesson in the Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional Renku in English".



WHC Renku Seminar
Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional" Renku in English
Session 3:  A Fox Circles, writing a shisan renku

Paul MacNeil


Imagine this situation: You are seated at a table with a chess board and a box of chess pieces. A man comes by and says, "Oh, chess -- can I play a game with you?" Assenting, you start to put pieces on the board, but your new companion has put his on the wrong squares, in the wrong order. You straighten out that his pawns indeed go in the front row and switch the king and queen. You offer him the first move, he lifts a bishop and places it in the center of the board.

Or this at a duplicate bridge table: The game's director has matched you with another partnerless player for the session. You are seated at the first table and play begins. Your opponents ask what system you play -- you both reply "just standard bridge." You then proceed to win the evening [hey, I can dream can't I? -- it's my story].

In the first case, a game cannot be played. One player knows no rules. In the second, two strangers can compete because they do know a common tradition of the game. In these belabored bits of fiction, lies a lesson about renku. Given a common understanding, a chess game can happen with an infinite variety of plays; so too with bridge -- and renku.

In the first "installment" I made more than a dozen short declarative sentences, one after the other. One was that renku is a game. It is. The next was that renku is an art form. It can be. The game of linking a pair of verses is over 1,000 years old in Japan. Basho and others of his time began to elevate haikai no renga and its first verse hokku (haiku) to the levels of literature. In my own theory of aesthetics, this is or can be Art, capital "A." It is a game, but it generates words, spoken and written. A series of haiku-like stanzas are composed by individuals mindful of their obeisance to each other and tradition. Individual verses can be and are prized for originality and/or brilliance. But this is a very non-western concept. There is no competition, no "See me! I'm so clever! Top that!" mentality. The group, the resulting Art, the form, are each to the point. The sharing of minds and a goal are paramount. Renku links are channeled through the intellect, unlike haiku, but arise in the same haiku-mind.

When it is my turn to provide the next stanza, I will ask myself what this renku needs (attention to both rules and the flow of the work), and I will simultaneously react to the stimulus of the preceding verse. It is the preceding verse which is the universe for the creativity of the link and the subject of the my next verse. Many, and I will posit to you that most, of the best renku verses are haiku-like -- from personal experience of man and nature. Certainly fiction is written and haiku-like truth is tailored to fit the renku's group needs as well as the rules, but the better efforts can be an amalgam of intellection and emotion.

Alexis Rotella has editorialized for better, more serious artistic effort in English-language renku at the website:


A short excerpt from the Essay:

When we write haiku (or tanka or any other form of poetry), we usually approach it with some degree of reverence toward the form itself. In renga, however, we often lose our focus and produce a bunch of simplistic meanderings that, if published, is a big waste of paper (and in the long run, trees). -ar

Two others of my declarative sentences were that renku is not anarchic linking, and renku is not serial haiku.

Like the rules of chess or bridge, a renku form is known or adopted in advance. Real adepts (most in the West including me, are not such) might be able to meet and simply proceed with no agreement, no rotation of players. But it should be noted that Basho brought such a rotation to sessions that he mastered (and was paid for). Renku can be written with a master with full approval, dictating the type of verse needed next and imposing his/her will on the session. Renku can be anarchy, each player doing his or her own thing as may happen on Internet lists, or renku can be run as a democracy. I have written in a mastered session, played with anarchists, and most often been a democrat. Each verse is approved by each partner before progress is made to the next. This is how Ferris Gilli and I wrote "A Fox Circles" that I shared with you in the last installment. She and I helped each other at each step.

I invited Ferris to play after Thanksgiving (USA holiday) and to try to finish before the busyness of Christmas would intervene. We agreed to write the shortest of renku forms. Note: Rengay is a form of 6 haiku united by a common theme. Even though a rengay uses two- and three-line haiku they are still haiku, able to stand alone without the context of the whole. The shisan renku is 12 stanzas. The tradition from Japan that we have been taught is what guided Ferris and me. Shisan is quite different from kasen (36) that Basho taught and wrote. We'll come to kasen later in the seminar.

In this shisan method there are the usual alternations of three and two lines. Easy to remember: an odd number is always three lines. This form will have six "season" verses and six "no-season." It will have love, but only mentioned in two sequential verses. As is usual in all renku, it starts in the season the writers are in when they get together. Unlike other renku forms, the shisan goes once through the seasons and ends in natural order. Our autumn, then, ended in summer. Other renku forms always end in spring (more later). The elements of "season" that have come to be of most interest in the Japanese tradition are autumn and spring. These are the seasons of change, of birth and death. Each is represented in most kasen by more verses than winter or summer. In shisan, there are two spring, two autumn, and one each for winter and summer. As previously mentioned, other traditional symbols for Japanese poetic tradition are the moon and the blossom symbolizing the promise of spring (usually in Japanese tradition the flowering of cherry or plum). A shisan has one mention of a blossom and one of the moon (traditional kasen have two and three, respectively).

So, Ferris and I started in autumn. Before beginning we knew several things. The second verse would, by rule, also be autumn. And, we knew the last, #12, would be the single summer stanza. That is all that was precisely known about the verses. We had to get to a winter verse and two of spring sometime in #'s 3 through 11. We needed a moon verse in one of the season verses, and we needed a flower verse in one of the season verses. There should be six verses of seasons and six that are no-season. And --- ahhh, love too, sigh.

I know I said I'd not footnote, but some of these definitions and principles of shisan are derived from a lecture and a shisan-writing workshop I participated in at HNA '99 in Chicago. Both lecture and writing were presided over by yet another master in English, William J. Higginson, and by professor Tadashi Kondo. Dr. Kondo, a master in both languages, is a visiting professor at Harvard in these very topics.

Before Ferris and I started, I worked out a rotation of two writers for the shisan length, 12. The basic pattern of the hokku in three lines, followed by alternation of two and three, ending with two had to be maintained. With only two players, just taking turns will give all the three-liners to the first player "A." So, some switching off is needed to even it out and make it both fun and fair. Please see the website I have already praised to you by Jane Reichhold, another master in English writing. She has worked out kasen forms for two players -- and has the instances where a player goes twice in succession to get off the odd or even pattern.

In the shisan, A Fox Circles, with Ferris as "A," we had the pattern:

A, B, A, A, B, A, B, A, B, B, A, B.

We each switched, or "twisted," once. The whole shisan worked out this way:

1.) hokku, autumn
2.) autumn
3.) winter
4.) no season
5.) no season, love
6.) no season, love
7.) no season
8.) spring, blossom
9.) spring, moon
10.) no season
11.) no season
12.) summer

But as I have already said, what would happen next with verses three through 11 was decided one at a time by the player whose turn it was. We knew we had to get it all in, but not just when. A lot of uncertainty and creativity was possible.

Ferris set the hokku, a lovely haiku in three lines. The other verses are not written as haiku, but are supposed to accentuate the flow of the work. Master Basho taught that a haiku is "cut" and has an actual kireji, or in some cases an understood kireji. After the hokku, the verses of renku are not cut; in Japanese there is no sound beat(s) of any one of the 18 classic kireji. So too in English. I have said already that these renku verses are haiku-like but are not cut and are not free-standing out of the context of the renku.

This hokku has images of autumn; an interplay of color and action. Past the concreteness of the hokku, can also be read a faint hint at another level. The fox is circling, perhaps preparing to do something. The leaves are falling, perhaps as our words do in renku -- in the renku we are embarking on, preparing to do. I thought of these things as I read it. She may not have -- Ferris can chime in with her own ideas or opinion. In shisan there is no notion of the "pages" of a kasen (Jane, again, has a great section on the kasen's sections likened to a dinner party -- a beginning, middle and end). The shisan is so brief it just progresses. My second verse (and you can read these along with me from the last installment, URL's are below) takes the action indoors, to humanity (as opposed to the hokku's pure nature) expressed in the third person. Canning it is called, even though glass jars are used. An autumn activity, preserving the harvest. The subject is SHIFTED away from the preceding verse. It is LINKED to the previous in one obvious way, the turning of both the fox and the lid on the jar, and perhaps in a more subtle way to the colors of the sunlit field and fox, and to the feeling of the bright jam or jelly colors in the clear jars as the kitchen light or sunny window light hits it. This last, while possible to "see" is not necessary for a reader -- I practice that a reader or partner has to at least have a chance to find the link. And, of course either a master or, in the democratic method, the partners will approve the linking method as being to their taste before going on.

Next, for the 3rd verse, Ferris chose to go right to winter, and back outdoors and to all-nature. She introduces the weather. Did you find the link when you read this last week? It is the filling of the jars and the stump. I note that they are each roughly round things, too. A writer may create a link or several, and a partner may find others, so may a reader. This is a part of the delight.

Ferris next went to a non-seasonal verse, knowing that we needed six of them and had none so far. Still outdoors, she adds the element of people, the Hopi are a tribe of Native Americans in the SW of the USA. And, she has added an element of sound. This is variety -- and variety is to be prized. To link and shift. Variety, linking and shifting are essences of the play. Did you find the link she used? The chants may be filling the air, the sound, but mostly I found the rhythm of the flurries coming and coming again led to the rhythm of the chanting. See too, how the two-liners have slightly less information than the three's. Perhaps one element or action less. The two liners often flow the fastest to the new subject, the new direction. Note how right at this point we are hearing chants across perhaps a desert -- it may be night, we can see the land from a great distance -- the mesas in panorama. How far we have come from a kitchen just two verses back!  A contemporary Japanese master, Shinku Fukuda (in Western name order) said at the Yuki Teikei Renku website I suggested to you:

Shift from two before is the golden rule of renku. Do not forget!!!

This shisan was not done perfectly, I make no claim of that, especially my verses (pace Ferris). In #5 I return to a female in the third person, but at least it is a profession "barmaid" and not the general "she." A barmaid is coming and going bringing drinks, clearing. It is I who now start the "love" verses. A sexual verse in this case. The poet leers (and yes I experienced it at an airport lounge waiting for an arriving flight, ha!). The verse seems to be indoors, and the linkage is from the flavor or as the Japanese say the "scent" of the scene. The primitive to animal-ness and the muscles. Such a link continues the mood from one verse to the next. There may or may not be music at the bar -- the Hopi may be dancing -- all indefinite. Note now, how different the first 5 verses are grammatically, too. One has no verb, they all begin with different parts of speech. This is all intentional. Variety in all things. Variety is king. In #6 Ferris pairs the love verse as she must. In all types of renku, it is usual that no love verse is a single. In
shisan two in a row are standard -- in kasen it may be two to four. And as we shall see in kasen, love may be brought up twice in groups of two to four verses. Ferris's love stanza is another "hot" verse. It links through clothing, but more subtly as leering from afar becomes close experience, and perhaps the rippling of either the silk or the unmentioned bodies or the unmentioned verbs imaginable in her verse. This is a long way from the penultimate verse of Hopi chants across a desert night.

Next session, I'll finish A Fox Circles and I hope to reply to any questions or controversies I've raised so far.

- Paul (MacNeil)

Tue Feb 8, 2000
Originally posted to WHChaikuforum as the third essay-lesson in the Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional Renku in English".



WHC Renku Seminar
Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional" Renku in English
Q & A: 3a

Paul MacNeil

Cut haiku/Kiriji

A question was posed about the following the term cut verse or kiriji...


...Let me circle 'round it a bit.

For the works of Basho, and a great deal of Japanese haiku, a cut haiku is haiku.

It is part of the defining form and philosophy of what is haiku (and, what is not). Basho taught that usually a cutting word (in Japanese thekireji sometimes translated as caesura) will be needed to separate the parts of the haiku (Basho referred to hokku). He pointed out that in a minority of occasions a haiku is cut by the grammar or the wording and a cutting word isn't needed. An even smaller fraction of verses are not cut even when a cutting sound was used. In these cases, I would conclude that such verses were straight and probably simple sentences that lacked the "things" or parts that a kireji both separated AND joined.

I put it to you that it is in the space between, that space created by the break or cut, that haiku are found.

In discussing renku, I was taking pains to indicate what is not haiku. The inner verses of this linked style are mostly not haiku, i.e. they are not cut. The hokku (first verse), by tradition, is.

Broaching discussions of: What is a haiku? What are the definitions of haiku? is beyond the scope here and is part, indeed, of what Susumu-san is doing with us all here at the haikuforum. That, and, I'm definitely not wearing enough armor! Ha!

I would add this:

Basho's pupil Kyoriku, writing four years after his master's death, quotes him directly:

Ultimately, you should think of the hokku as something that combines. Those who are good at combining or bringing together two topics are superior poets.

I refer you to the essays and discussions as below. They are all found at Mark Alan Osterhaus's Haiku Indexwhich I showed in the first installment (1 Feb) of the Seminar.

See also other definitions there by the Russian haijin Alexei Andreyev, and the American, Paul David Mena -- and many others -- for definitions of haiku and indeed discussion of the cut and the structure of haiku.

And do read:

Another Definition of Haiku - Jane Reichhold
Fragment and Phrase Theory -Jane Reichhold

John Barlow, editor of the British Journal, Snapshots, points out ...

Japanese haiku are partly defined by their fragmentary nature, usually being composed of two parts of varying length. These two parts have distinct images which when juxtaposed create an emotional response from the reader. Many English language haiku are composed similarly, revolving around two images which often sharply contrast or complement each other. These two images are divided by a more or less natural caesura, usually at the end of the first or second line.

A.C. Missias is the editor of the USA journal, Acorn.

At the Perihelion magazine website she writes:

You have perhaps noted that haiku are generally broken into two asymmetrical parts, often corresponding to one and two of the (common) 3 lines. Indeed, good haiku are seldom written in a single sentence, but tend to take the form of either "setting and action" or a juxtaposition of two images. It is at the interface of these elements that resonances arise.

- Paul (MacNeil)

Wed Feb 9, 2000
Originally posted to WHChaikuforum's Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional Renku in English".



WHC Renku Seminar
Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional" Renku in English
Session 4:  A Mosaic in Words

Paul MacNeil


For this the 4th installment I shall try to discuss a few separate parts of what is the mosaic of English-language renku, yet is in a sense traditional. Following that is the completion of the demonstration shisan: A Fox Circles.

While we may sometimes read Japanese renku in translation, we write in English. What many players of this game try to do is to pay homage to the long tradition and practice from another culture.

For the 1997 Renku Contest of the Haiku Society of America (HSA), judges Jean Jorgensen and Christopher Herold commented in part:

There exists a wide variety of opinions as to what constitutes a true, well-wrought haiku, and there are elements of Japanese haiku-craft and tradition that do not readily translate into the English language. Most of the parameters peculiar to renku, on the other hand, are perfectly clear and, with concerted effort, can be adhered to regardless of the language employed. These parameters include such basics as avoiding repetition (both of subject matter and of grammatical construction), correctly positioning seasonal and non-seasonal elements (as well as moon and blossom stanzas), establishing sufficient linkage (thus avoiding derailment of readers' momentum), and making substantial shifts (thereby avoiding narrative, which narrows the scope, and thus the impact of the work. Most certainly these traditional requirements are clear, and are not affected by syntactical differences between languages.

Within these traditional guidelines it is only normal to expect subjects, methods of linking specific to our language, aspects of season and geography, and even the variety of flowering plants to reflect cultures different from classical or modern Japan.

It is the usual custom for the starting verse, the hokku, to be representative of the season when the renku is written or at least started. I add the latter clause because renku can be written at one sitting or gathering, and also over a period of time. I have written in person where a renku was completed in a day, and also where one kasen took a long weekend. In one instance a special Internet setup was created for practitioners around the world to write on-line simultaneously. We finished the middle of a kasen started in an e-mail method (East-West) It was later completed via e-mail again. I spent one computerless summer reverted to the less than tender mercies of the US Mails to work on a renku with two partners. As the saying went in the US after WWI: "How ya' going to keep 'em down on the farm, after they've see 'Paree'?" The returning soldiers, as from perhaps all wars, had widened horizons. So too with the advent of the Internet tool to write renku. I missed the computer.

We can have Internet partners writing in English from many parts of the world, from many geographies and cultures. As such, certain understanding of this disparity is needed, either as players play, or agreed to beforehand. I believe the issue of season, kigo words, can be fairly treated with some simple agreements. The saijiki (indices of season words) of Japan in older times were base upon the climate of Kyoto, the seat of the Court. Latitude-wise, this is also about in the middle of Japan. But spring in Hokkaido comes at a great remove from that in Okinawa. The difference was solved by the Royal authority of the capital. Even based in the northern hemisphere, I can indeed partner with someone in the Antipodes. They call spring and its idioms the same as I -- just half a year apart. What may confuse in this case is the naming of a month to substitute for kigo. What is needed for international renku is a little understanding. The same is true in N. America. Partners in Alaska and Saskatchewan have different ongoing experiences of the seasons than players in Pennsylvania or Florida. But what is shared is some notion of the change of seasons and that is what can be the subject of renku verses. Write of your own experience, but have an eye toward what is best for the group effort. Now, those on the Equator, say Singapore? -- well, flowers bloom all year, so I guess the season is dictated by how much rain is falling! Ahh well, no schema is perfect. Season-influenced verses account for only about half of renku, anyway. I studied the season count in four haiku no renga with Basho and another including Buson (all kasen length, 36 verses). The Buson work had 18, those led by Basho had 15, 16, 21, and 22 with kigo.

There are also matters of cultural differences among partners. Images from different life-histories can only enrich the variety that is so much the essence of renku. Either a master or the group as a whole in the democratic method I have discussed, can deal with a word or subject that may be too obscure, or that does not have a meaning cross-culturally. Others that are regional characteristics that can be deduced from context are fine and should only add to the whole. I have learned that one object in Britain is a "bin liner" that in the US is a "trash can liner." But I can readily see the point, and besides, "bin liner" is a lot easier to say.

To conclude discussion of the shisan (12 verses) renku begun last time, I again mention you can follow along from the full text in the 2nd Seminar installment:


The 7th verse follows the two love verses. A verse before or after "love" can, not must, either be a "lead in" or a "following love" verse. In this case, my image of rocks showing between waves is a very concrete one. It is non-seasonal, active, literal. But, as some readers have pointed out, Dr. Freud might have a field day with it. While it is not a love verse, it can be read as a contrast verse that follows on the love theme of physicality in the previous stanza. The link is the "between-ness" of the silk. It switches away from softness. The between of silk is now rocks between walls of water. This is a very dramatic shift, high action.

Ferris followed it with a clever linkage, a bringer of "Ahh" from some readers, but a subject that contrasts, should I say "sharply" with the previous verse. A strong shift. She has begun spring, and she has put the blossom verse here as well. This is a beautiful and quite unusual look at a flowering plant. The thorns that will later protect the fruit are covered by the profusion of blooms. I should mention here, that the "blossom" verse usual to Japanese renku is the cherry, sakura, and occasionally the plum blossom. Many who write traditional English-language renku follow that practice. Most writers who have been my partners have agreed to use a strong symbol of spring, a harbinger of change, one having the delicate impermanence of beauty, that may or may not be cherry or plum. Ferris has chosen the blackberry blossom with which she has some apparent familiarity. In person, I have never had the Japanese cherry experience. Fiction is certainly a part of renku if you wish, but it is easier for me to write of citrus groves, apple or peach orchards, trillium or crocus from my own life history.

I decided to follow in the second spring verse, #9, with a similar tone of quiet and beauty. It was required by the form for me to write another spring stanza, but I also decided to make this the one for the moon as well. It is usual in Japanese haiku and renku for an otherwise unattributed "moon" to be considered as an autumn kigo. I don't usually write this way since I see the moon in all seasons as we all do, but to avoid any confusion I made "spring" a part of the verse. "Mist" is a spring kigo, but mist can be seen in several weather conditions in different seasons in different geographies. I nailed it down as "spring mist." This verse will probably be read as night, the usual scene of moonrise, and is a quiet verse despite the movement of moon and mist. The link is not dramatically accessible. It is a word opposite. The thickness is contrasted to the thinness of spring mist. There is an element of linking with something being obscured by another.

Any renku form with only two players will necessitate that occasionally a writer goes twice in succession. I find that when I write the first I am totally focused on the previous verse. When it is again my turn to follow my own I try to recapture that creative mood as if I hadn't authored the first of this new pair of stanzas. The priest, and here it is either a Roman or Greek Catholic priest who swings the censer, creates a mist. A very different kind of mist from that of the 9th verse. The subject shift is to indoors, perhaps a huge cathedral, and here is introduced another of the human senses -- smell. So far in this shisan we have seen a lot, the most common of the senses, maybe felt the temperature of snow flurries, heard the Hopi chants, felt the silk while lovemaking, at least thought about the sharpness of touch, and now smelled incense. The 12th verse will also bring us a sound. Variety.

The creative Mrs. Gilli moves us in #11 from a church to a jungle, or at least a tropical scene. It is outdoors. A guide is perhaps cutting lianas, tree ferns, or tall grass. Here we have a tool, an object swinging as the priest swung the incense. We can also imagine the cameras, lights and recorders of the film crew. This is quite a dramatic shift (of subject). Yet the other link is clear. An aisle has become a path through the jungle.

For the 12th and last verse I almost put in a hammock, but in the end thought perhaps that you readers might imagine it instead. This is a sound verse with some action. The action is not right close in hand as a machete, but scattered around a USA neighborhood where oh so many householders are mowing the required patch of green grass. The link is the cutting of grass now by a suburban tool. I hope it is a quiet verse. If you like, picture me in the hammock, work done, sipping a tall, cool, adult beverage.

Next, I will be joined by two women to write a shisan renku in front of the group -- warts and all. I hope we can demonstrate how a few rules agreed to in advance, and the ongoing help and agreement from each team member, allow the creation of literature (Art if you will) without the pitfalls of anarchy. The only thing that I have done out of sight of the group, the Seminar, is to have proposed a hokku, and get its acceptance by each of my soon-to-be partners. Next: a winter shisan. As we three question and answer on the List, we may post several times a day to each other, or daily, or less often as family and professional duties allow. Of course we all will welcome your questions.

- Paul (MacNeil)


Tue Feb 14, 2000
Originally posted to WHChaikuforum as the fourth essay-lesson in the Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional Renku in English".



WHC Renku Seminar
Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional" Renku in English
Q & A: 4a

Paul MacNeil

A question was posed: "What is the meaning of link and shift in renku?"

...establishing sufficient linkage (thus avoiding derailment of readers' momentum), and making substantial shifts (thereby avoiding narrative, which narrows the scope, and thus the impact of the work. Most certainly these traditional requirements are clear, and are not affected by syntactical differences between languages.

[- Herold and Jorgensen]


It is an important question about two of the most important words in a renku vocabulary.

Renku is linked verse. By tradition a string or group of verses alternates. three and two lines long, beginning with three and ending with two. Think of it as a chain -- hence the word link. Each verse or stanza touches only two others (except the ends of the chain). Just how the words and images of one verse link to the one above can be accomplished in many ways. Later in the Seminar, some more detail will be covered as there are many types of links. In installment #2, I gave a sample renku, A Fox Circles, and in #'s 3 and 4 explained the links (among other points) for half of the renku at a time. With 12 verses, there are 11 different links, bonds between each successive pair of verses. Several kinds of technique to link were done.

Example, the first pair of verses, from #2:

yellow leaves--
the fox circles
a sunlit field

...............- fg

she tightens sterile lids
on jelly jars

...............- pwm

...the association between these two stanzas is something being turned. The fox is moving in circles; the jar lid is being tightened in a circle. Also the jar and lid are round -- a circle. This unites only these two verses. If done well, no other pair of stanzas in the renku will have the same link, round, twisting, or circling.

 as I have used it and the renku judges (Herold and Jorgensen, that you excerpted in your question) use it is to move away from one verse to a subject matter or situation that is different, unique. Two verses together may be a bit close, depending on the actual link, but after an intervening verse, no two links of the chain touch each other. The subject of the stanza will have shifted. Thus each verse will both link AND shift. Variety results. Originality and variety are to be prized in renku. In general, to jump, to leap, to be nimble as you shift is a goal.

Most cordially, - Paul (MacNeil)


Wed Feb 16, 2000
Originally posted to WHChaikuforum's Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional Renku in English".



WHC Renku Seminar
Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional" Renku in English
Session 5:  "A Shiny Icicle," The First Game Begins

Paul MacNeil


It is a long held custom that the most revered writer or senior master in a renku group is given the honor of going first. In a democratically aligned partnership, it can be the one who comes up with the best hokku, first-verse haiku, or we may take turns. It may fall to the one who suggested the session. Basho himself often asked others to take that first place. It is also customary for the host/hostess of the session to go second. Via the Internet? It can be anyone either first or second. Susumu-san, in his wonderful Glossary of Japanese Renku Terms, gets at a bit of this as he describes the rise of hokku as independent entities (definition #7). A friend has told me of the pressure on one who, by surprise, is asked by a renku session master to begin. This is one reason why players come to sessions armed with a collection of their original haiku, memorized, so as to be able to pick one if the master called on them. Then, with some pause, a facial expression of agony followed by beatific thoughtfulness, perhaps if a man -- stroking a beard, the chosen one declaims his or her verse. If it is not accepted by the master, the
crestfallen individual can make real expressions this time and fall back on another prepared at home -- and hope.

We shall divide the role of the master equally. I, myself, am certainly no higher than my partners, Peggy and Ferris. Each verse when shared is a proposed verse. It is not done with until each of the partners approves. This doesn't have to be a formal process, indeed, most partners in renku either are or soon become friends. A guideline for playing this non-Western "game" is to check your ego at the door. There is no one-upsmanship. We all will make mistakes, and each of us hopes that we or our partners will catch our mistakes in time for correction. In fact it is a duty of each member of the team to honestly scrutinize a proposed stanza for how it sits with "Tradition."

Once a verse is approved and covered by the next one, I am rarely in favor of any major editing. Other writers may disagree. Certainly small things such as switching articles or even clause order can be done with a reason. Major changes of adding to a verse that has already been replied to, or deleting from it should be avoided. As we will experience together later in the seminar, a kasen gets quite long, and it's harder and harder to stay clear of rule violations. Renku to 100, and they are done today, seem unimaginable to me. In renku there is a flow of the group's thinking. Images and their variety, the pulse and mood are all an organic thing -- a process in renku. A series of stimuli allow the creation of subsequent verses. They inspire them. In parallel, the presence of wording or subject matter in early verses precludes even going in certain directions. It is a tapestry. After the warp is blocked tight in a loom, it is hard to later pull and replace a yarn. Most of the time it will show as a defect. Back editing, rather than simultaneous suggestion, is harmful to the whole.

Let the game begin! (proclaimed with chalice raised, spilling nary a drop)

Winter Shisan for three partners: Paul MacNeil (A); Peggy Willis Lyles (B); Ferris Gilli (C)

a shiny icicle
on the sidewalk --
pieces end-to-end

1 - pm

the form:
verse# /Season /player A-C

1 winter A - hokku
2 B
3 C
4 B
5 A
6 C
7 B
8 A
9 C
10 A
11 autumn B
12 autumn C

Somewhere between 2 and 10 will be, in order, two springs together, then one summer verse. Within #'s 2-10 will be two love verses together. The one moon can light up any of the season verses (6 of them) including the hokku. One of the spring verses should be the sole flower verse.

Each partner gets 4 verses; 2 are three-liners. The rest is up to the partners as they write. The form was made with consideration that each writer may follow both of the others.


LYLES, PEGGY WILLIS: lives with her husband in Tucker, Georgia. They have a daughter, a son, and three grandchildren. She earned her B.A. from Columbia (S.C.) College and an M.A. in English from Tulane University; where she was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow for 1960-61. Peggy taught briefly at Sophie Newcomb College, High Point (N.C.) High School, High Point College, and the University of Georgia. She was Poetry Editor of a regional magazine Georgia Journal from 1980-85.

For more than twenty years her haiku have been widely published in the US and abroad. Her work is included in many anthologies, including The Haiku Handbook, 1985, and Haiku World, 1996, both edited by William J. Higginson; The Haiku Anthology, 2nd and 3rd editions, 1986 and 1999, edited by Cor van den Heuvel; Remember That Symphonies Also Take Place In Snails, edited by John and Joanne Judson, 1989; The Rise and Fall of Sparrows, edited by Alexis Rotella, 1990; Haiku Moment, edited by Bruce Ross, 1993; A Haiku Path, the Haiku Society of America, 1994; snow on the water, the Red Moon Anthology for 1998; the thin curve, the Red Moon Anthology for 1999; and the forthcoming Global Haiku, edited by George Swede and Randy Brooks. Her two miniature chapbooks are Red Leaves In the Air, High/Coo Press, 1979, and Still At The Edge, Swamp Press, 1980. She has won awards from Modern Haiku, the Museum of Haiku Literature, the Hawaii Education Association, Wind Chimes Press, the Henderson Contest, Brussels Sprout; Haiku Quarterly; Woodnotes; The Mainichi Daily News, the New Zealand Poetry Society, the 2nd Annual People's International Haiku Contest, the HPNC 1999 International Senryu Contest, and the Snapshot Press Haiku Calendar 2000 Competition.

You can read her work on-line at Poetry in the Light; the English-Language Haiku Web Site; The Heron's Nest; and Pinecone: the North Georgia Haiku Society.

She says, "I think of contemporary English language haiku as something we poets are creating together. I enjoy reading haiku as much as writing them and consider many haiku poets 'mentors at a distance.'"

GILLI, FERRIS: lives with her husband in Orlando, Florida. Ferris previously lived for two years in Paraguay and four years in Germany. When she is not bird watching or writing haiku, she writes novels, repots plants, and speaks long distance with her daughter.

Ferris Gilli earned first place in the 1998 Alabama Sakura Haiku Competition and fourth in 1999. Also in 1998 she won third prize in the Herb Barrett contest. She was among the ten winners of the 2nd Annual International People's Haiku Contest and won Honorable Mention in the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society East-West 99 Hokku Contest and in the 1999 Harold G. Henderson Awards. Ferris's haiku, tanka, haibun, and renku have appeared in Cicada, Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Acorn, Raw Nervz, Haiku Spirit, Presence, Tundra, and Lynx. Her work has been selected to appear in The Art of Haiku 2000; American Haibun & Haiga 1999; The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 1999; and Snapshots. Her poems can be seen online at Poetry in the Light, Reflections, Haiga Online, The Heron's Nest, Chaba, Pickings, and Templar Phoenix.

Peggy and Ferris, let us title our correspondence to each other for this shisan:

Renku Seminar, Icicle, # (verse # under discussion).

And, because it is short, let's show the whole form under the list of stanzas as it grows. Try not to send copies with ">" on each line. They get pretty dense by the time you get to 12 verses.

"Icicle" is a working title only. The partners will name it when done. Of course Peggy, Ferris and Paul will address each E-mail to the haiku forum. If others in the forum have a question as we go, we'll be glad to try to answer. Please do not post a verse to this renku -- this short one is limited to the trio described above.

It is now Peggy's turn. Go for it!

- Paul (MacNeil)


Tue Feb 17, 2000
Originally posted to WHChaikuforum as the fifth essay-lesson in the Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional Renku in English".



WHC Renku Seminar
Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional" Renku in English
Session 6:  A Shiny Icicle, Completed

Paul MacNeil


In this 6th installment of the Seminar on Traditional Renku in English I shall add a little review of the shisan (12 verse) just finished and start to discuss the most prevalent type of renku today, the kasen (36 verses). Stay tuned if you are interested in writing renku, for the kasen will have verses submitted by the group.

My partners Ferris Gilli, Peggy Willis Lyles and I have decided to keep the working title as the name: A Shiny Icicle. Titles of renku most often come from the hokku, the only haiku in the work. Occasionally, at least today in English, a name can be pulled from any verse. This is a matter for the group to decide. I began this Seminar with two 12-stanza renku for purposes of brevity and perhaps clarity. This is not to say that shisan is easier to write, or to write well. Tadashi Kondo makes a special point that the shisan is the MOST difficult length because it is so short. For the whole to succeed, there is no room for any verse to be less than sparkling.

Whereas in kasen, it is often expected for the flow and variety that not all verses will be dynamic, especially beautiful, or attention getting. The shisan, as we practiced it, is less fettered by an exact form. Yes there are "rules" but each writer whose turn it is usually has a great range of freedom. In a way, this is more difficult too. Here is the complete shisan for a last look. Plainly the hokku is the beginning and the ageku, #12, is an ending in fairly typical renku style. The inner ten verses are all of a piece. This differs from kasen as we shall see later. Read it over. I hope you will find a pulse and flow. A question most writers ask themselves each time it is their turn: "What does this renku need now?" Other questions: "What direction [not subjects] are my partners heading?" "How can I help?" "Is a change needed?" It is for you to judge how well we did. I was once writing an Internet renku with a well-known haijin and teacher with whom I was pleased to even share partnership. In a middle section verse, the first comment after my latest stanza was to the effect: "That is so original, how did you ever think of that? I would not have in a million years." I'm humble, but not so much that the compliment failed to please. If every verse was off-the-wall or zany, that too would be boring and need variety. But every now and then surprise and delight are what a writer can best hope for.

A Shiny Icicle
a winter shisan renku

by Paul MacNeil, Peggy Willis Lyles, and Ferris Gilli
via Internet, February and March 2000

a shiny icicle
on the sidewalk --
pieces end-to-end

...............- pm

slowly the old bridge opens
for a northbound boat

...............- pwl

in her bedroom
a lingering scent
of the first magnolia

...............- fg

circled by police dogs
a tarp near the plowed field

...............- pwl

chalk dust and equations
follow the professor
through a proof

...............- pm

his proposal with an emerald
in the fancy restaurant

...............- fg

leaving church
the bride's granddaughter
asks for an autograph

...............- pwl

just into the arbor
the coolness of shade

...............- pm

steady rhythm
as a woodpecker taps
in the forest depths

...............- fg

dancers shift with the piper
from ballad to reel

...............- pm

my stumble
where the scenic trail
turns to face the moon

...............- pwl

the stone wall snares gossamer
from the wind

...............- fg

the form and rotation as we started:
verses# /Season /player A-C
1 winter A -hokku
2 B
3 C
4 B
5 A
6 C
7 B
8 A
9 C
10 A
11 autumn B
12 autumn C

the seasons and verse types as written:
1 winter
2 no-season
3 spring
4 spring
5 no-season
6 no-season, love
7 no-season, love
8 summer
9 no-season
10 no season
11 autumn
12 autumn

The 36-stanza renku that Basho popularized already had, even in the 17th Century, custom and tradition about renku structure and subjects. To honor this, both Japanese and western writers follow some of the traditions. As Basho taught, a renku must have all four seasons and love. Further, some seasons are better represented than others, and some topics should be included, especially the moon and spring flowers.

In the days of calligraphy and fine, handmade papers, a kasen once written was memorialized and copied on two large sheets. The occasion and location of the session was noted and the players identified. The pieces of paper were written on both sides which have come to mean different parts of the whole piece. The Japanese refer to the first sheet, back and front; second sheet back and front. I shall call them pages one through four. Of the 36 verses, six are on page one, six on page four, while the middle pages are a dozen each. There are some slight differences between pages three and two, but the most obvious things to note are the opening and the closing, pages one and four. As with shisan, the kasen renku begins with the only haiku, the hokku. Always with renku the verses flow from three- to two-line stanzas, alternating. Fewer elements in the shorter verse help the flow from one subject to another.

The opening page serves to introduce the players and set the scene for the rest of the work. Page one has the hokku and a moon, usually an autumn moon. Page two will have a moon also, a group of love verses (a minimum of two) and, for the next-to-last verse, a blossoming spring symbol in a group of spring verses. This finishes the first sheet of paper in the Japanese style. Page three has the third moon reference and another grouping of love verses. The last page, six stanzas, has a closing spring group, with the next-to-last another flower. In Japanese writing this is still usually cherry blossoms or cherry petals. The last verse, #36, is special in the way the hokku is special. It will always be a spring verse and is supposed to leave the reader and players in an upbeat mood; a positive or forward-looking verse. A good summing up! Most renku readers will pay special heed to the hokku (beginning verse), the last verse (the ageku) and the quality/beauty of the moon and flower stanzas. In between? As we shall see there is a lot of room for playfulness, humor, seriousness, the awe of nature, the foibles of humans, love and grief.

To restate a few basic things touched on in earlier installments, there are rules and traditions to renku, but to experienced players they are a framework of conduct and creativity. Variety is king; there is no narrative. The topics of verses, the links between verses, the grammar of verses, the seasons, action or inaction, day or night, indoors or out, humans or no, humans in the first, second, third persons or in combination, work, play, love, sex, kids -- all is fair game in renku, and all is variety. Tradition has given us a form, a structure to use. Why call it "renku" unless one at least knows the tradition? Having a form to follow or just knowing a form is necessary to have all players up to the same task. It is also Variety in the grand sense to vary from the rules.

It is an ancient art form. It is stylized. Recreating that style of renku, following on, is a great part of the fun. Abner Doubleday's baseball still has four balls and three strikes, soccer (futbol, football) has an offsides rule to prevent chaos, music is written on a staff of 5 lines, and music's tuning note "A" is 440 cycles per second on any oscilloscope even if played by a beginning oboe student. The renku subjects we use in English are of our own culture, not from old Basho's or earlier. We can see the fields from an airplane window, play baseball or football/soccer, eat at McDonald's, go to the movies. And we can still see a heron in a rice field spear a frog.

Next time, I'll outline a kasen, part of which will be open to all players.

-Paul (MacNeil)


Mon, March 13, 2000
Originally posted to WHChaikuforum as the sixth essay-lesson in the Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional Renku in English".



WHC Renku Seminar
Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional" Renku in English
Session 7:  "A Kite Rises," a kasen renku begins (with finished renku below)

Paul MacNeil

In this installment, we will begin to write a kasen renku, 36 verses, and to discuss this form in more detail. I have set up a method whereby the members of Haiku Forum can participate as a "player" in the renku. I will give more information about this and provide a form and rotation near the end.

Patricia Donegan quotes Tadashi Kondo regarding renku:

... [it] makes art a communal dialogue rather than a mere monologue of one's own self-expression." Donegan herself wrote: "Such collaborative and improvisational art is an ongoing part of Japanese culture -- there is nothing quite like it in the East or West, there are similarities in the linked poetry of China and in the sonnet sequences of the West, but Japanese linked poetry differs by its set number of stanzas, strict rules, alternating authors, and its social function.

So, haiku forum-ites, leave your egos at the door and let us delve into the odd admixture of the individual and the communal that is renku.

As previously discussed, renku (haiku no renga of Basho's era) evolved from renga, a long tradition. That we write today in our language, English, but call it renku (or renga) is a statement that we follow a Japanese tradition. This is exactly analogous to the writing of haiku in English. Renku without a nod to "The Past" is a pleasant, linking, word game. Traditional Renku in English updates the subjects to those of our own milieu, perhaps simplifies the "rules" a bit, but is grounded in the Japanese model. The difference gained is to add the possibility of Art to a game. And further, with the development in the recent past of renku by postal mail, now supplanted by computer E-mail, and even on-line "live" renku sessions, the organization of renku has changed from the in-person day or evening sessions experienced by Basho and groups of followers, renku clubs and parties in the Japan of today, and similar renku gatherings in the west. There is a different style and certainly a different etiquette with an E-mail renku. I have discussed one shisan, 12 stanzas, written via Internet and we have demonstrated an on-line shisan method among equals. But, still, in order to experience the creative aspects, one must be grounded in renku tradition whether writing via computer or across a living room or patio deck from each other, glasses of tea, ale, or sake in hand.

Discussing shisan I previously used the metaphor of a chain. Each renku verse links to two others, as in chain links. Except both of the ends. The hokku, first verse, and the ageku, last verse, are the only singly attached parts. The body of the shisan is the inner 10 links. With kasen renku in 36 verses, tradition dictates three parts -- each longer than the end link of a chain. As discussed in the last installment (#6) these are shown on different pages or sides of the tradition papers (2). The first part of a kasen, comprising six verses, is called in Japanese the jo, or opening section. The inner part lasts for 24 verses is termed the "ha." The third part of a kasen, six verses, is the last page conclusion orkyu(u) in Japanese. Each of these three parts has very different characteristics from the others.

Analogy may best show these distinctions. Jane Reichhold (I recommended her web site to you before) refers readers to the three parts of a dinner party. First comes conversation among guests as they arrive and interaction with the host/hostess. This is followed by the longest part: the dinner table topics. Chit-chat and some serious topics are heard, but wide-ranging, perhaps nearly simultaneously. Variety will occur -- jokes, perhaps a political argument, catching up on family goings on of death, illness, weddings, births, etc. This mixed with sports, vacation trips can cover the whole gamut of experience in infinite combination. Then, the third phase of the dinner party, is the leave-taking. Conversations sum up, conclude, and quick goodbyes are exchanged. Last words are often optimistic in thanks and "see you soon's."

I might suggest a piece of music. In a baroque suite is the opening, perhaps at "grave" tempo, followed by a variety of dance forms (minuet, gigue, etc.) and a closing part, perhaps a coda. In a comic opera, there is the overture, the story, the predicament, followed at last by the denouement, the happy ending, the cast links arms and bows. The analogy to an opera is not perfect because, as has been discussed, renku has no plot, no narrative. But there are sequential elements and sections. Seasons are introduced and explored for two to four or so stanzas. Likewise with love.

Since we are about to begin a kasen, I'll examine the opening or jo more closely. The first six stanzas are perhaps more stylized than any other part of the work. As we have seen with the shisan, the first verse is a free-standing one, a haiku. This hokku is, by tradition, a season verse and is of the season the renku is written in. In the case of Internet renku, it is done in at least in the season when the piece was begun. Since it is now spring in the northern hemisphere where I am and two of the players also reside, our hokku will be spring as well. Our members from Down Under are asked to pose a half-year off. After the first three verses we will be in different seasons anyway -- rotating through all of them, some twice.

In the fifth installment I discussed the traditional place of the master in the role of writing the hokku. In an Internet session without a master, the first player can be chosen by the group or rotated if more than one renku has been done by a partnership. I have played both ways. The second verse is called the wakiku. It is supposed to be of the same time and place as the hokku in most ways. This is the place of the host of the session, the home-owner, or the organizer. The third verse, daisan or daisanku, is expected to push off from the hokku in subject and tone.

Overlying these considerations, the jo or first page (omote = first side of a paper) will avoid controversial or emotional subjects. All six stanzas are a bit quieter, less lively than what is anticipated to come in the second and third pages, the ha. Likewise the links will be a bit more plain, "square," and direct than what will follow later.

The first page is a feeling out, as Jane Reichhold puts it, a phase of getting to know you. Each verse is a statement of concrete elements, but also has another subtext. Mainly by tone and subject matter, the writer of the hokku will in some way compliment the host or the gathering. In computer renku perhaps the author will hint at the undertaking ahead. In a mastered session, the master might also make some allusion that is self-deprecatory. The author of the second verse, the wakiku, traditionally the host, will seek to compliment the honored guest and to also be self-deprecating personally or about his provision of the facilities. These can be very complicated verses to write.

This page is the most tied to seasons in a renku. At least the first two verses, usually three, are the season of the hokku. A traditional place of the first moon (of three moons in a kasen) is the fifth stanza. This also is set in a season, usually in a group of three or more autumn verses. Traditionally the first moon referred to is in autumn. If, one fourth of the time, the hokku is an autumn one, the moon will come in the first three verses, most often in the hokku or the third. Then, a different season will start a grouping in the fifth or sixth verse. Thus in many renku at least five of the first six verses are in one season or another -- and the seventh is usually a season, too. The whole work will have a balance of roughly equal season to non-season verses. The opening sequence is top-heavy.

Before introducing the players, the form, the hokku, and the procedure for your own participation, I'll let the words of Makoto Ueda, scholar and translator, offer some conclusion.

These and many other rules of composition are imposed upon each renku poet, making his task not at all an easy one; he has to be an individual and part of the team at the same time. Too original a verse is not commendable since it does not fit well with the rest of the verses, while too conforming a verse makes the poem monotonous.

I add a last word for you: za. Haruo Shirane defines it as:

The site of a linked-verse session and/or the participants of such a session. More broadly, it means the dialogue and communal sense that arises from linking verses together."

This then is the pleasure for me in paying homage to the Japanese Tradition and meeting the minds and sharing mutual creation of others. Let us have good za!

From the World Haiku Club's Haiku Forum, I have invited Cindy Zackowitz and John Crook to be two of my equal partners in writing a kasen renku on-line, in public. Neither has a lot of renku experience. I believe each has finished one in the past. For a fourth partner, I invite you, the readers of the List. This mixing of master and democracy has never been done before, to my knowledge. I hope it will work smoothly. In the form that follows below, there are four players listed as A, B, C, and D. The Haiku Forum will be player "D." I have asked Cindy to give the hokku, which you will see in a moment. I shall go second and John third.

The three of us will function as democratic partners, correcting and helping each other JUST as Ferris, Peggy and I did in "A Shiny Icicle." When it is player D's turn I will accept possible verses sent to me directly from the group at large. I will choose, master-like, one that is in accord with the tradition (rules) as I know it and offer it to John and Cindy for consideration. If it needs amending, it will be and then I'll announce to the List who was the partner in this instance. I may then go into some of the runners-up and give critique as time and space permit.

 In a 36-verse creation there will be nine times that D is up, when it is D's turn. As you will read below, D is the 4th player and has several important verses for the whole work including the ageku (last verse) and the first flower verse. D will get some love too. I'll give explicit directions when it is D's first turn, but I believe some will be: one entry per writer sent to me privately, and no limit on the number of different D verses that can be tried for. We could have nine different contributors, or someone could have more than one. Of course, I'll try to be fair, but this one aspect of this kasen is not a democracy. By definition, known to all, I must make an artistic choice and also one based on craft. All I have written in these seven installments will pertain to a verse being accepted. Link, shift, non-repetition, concordance with the form's season or other criteria, proper number of lines, lack of punctuation (or cuts -- these stanzas are not haiku), originality, the fit with the other verses to date, etc. will all be considered.

Introducing the two partners ...
short biographies:

Cindy Zackowitz was born in Fairbanks, Alaska and makes her home in Anchorage. When not working she is usually on a haiku walk. She also enjoys cross-stitch, photography, fishing, and watching her niece and nephew play ice hockey. Her first involvement in haiku was over the Internet.

One of her haiku was featured in the annual book series from Red Moon Press: Snow On The Water, The Red Moon Anthology of English Language Haiku 1998. Cindy's work can be found in print publications such as Modern Haiku, FROGPOND, Acorn, Tundra, and on the Internet at The Heron's Nest.

John Crook lives in England. Due to illness, he recently retired from teaching Mathematics at the University of Warwick. He is currently earning a crust or two designing web-sites from home. John was first introduced to haiku at Teachers' College over 30 years ago and used to teach something akin to haiku in Primary School, one of which he can remember:

The baby goldfinch
Fell from the tree and died
With a small life.

(Alison B, aged 8, 1970)

He re-discovered haiku on the internet in March last year. John is delighted but surprised that his work has been accepted and/or published by a number of haiku journals, including Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Acorn, Blithe Spirit, Still, Snapshots, Presence, and Haiku (in Croatia); in books, The Art of Haiku 2000 and the BHS anthology; on the net -- Temps Libre/Free Times and editor's choice in the The Heron's Nest; he has also been well placed in several competitions, including a prize in Snapshot's Calendar 2000. John is interested in haiku education and his web-site, Grains of Rice, http://www.haiku.org.uk/ is currently being used with children in Primary School. His hobbies are reading and activities associated with walking -- such as photography, bird watching and wild flowers.

The form with Cindy's hokku:

Renku form: spring kasen for four poets adapted by Paul MacNeil -- March, 1998

stanza/ # lines/ poets A--D/ season

page one

1 3 A hokku Sp

new grass
on the playing field -
a kite rises

1. cz

2 2 B wakiku Sp

3 3 C Sp optional

4 2 D

5 3 A moon Au

6 2 C Au

pages two and three

7 3 B Au

8 2 D love no season

9 3 B love no season

10 2 A love no season

11 3 C

12 2 D

13 3 B moon Su

14 2 C Su

15 3 D

16 2 A

17 3 D flower Sp

18 2 C Sp

19 3 A Sp

20 2 B

21 3 C love

22 2 A love

23 3 D Wi

24 2 B Wi

25 3 D

26 2 C

27 3 B

28 2 A

29 3 C moon Au

30 2 A Au

page four

31 3 D Au

32 2 B

33 3 A

34 2 B Sp optional

35 3 C flower Sp

36 2 D ageku Sp

notes to renku form for 4 poets:

Placement of special verses, season verses and love verses are based on texts of Jane Reichhold, Wm. J. Higginson, and Dhugal Lindsay. The interpolation is mine. It should be noted that a form such as this is a guideline. Experienced writers can and do change things slightly as the renku is written. The order of the four poets is my own invention, with advice from A.C. Missias, and is based on a premise that no poet should go twice in succession. Further consideration was made for each poet to have an equal number of stanzas, a roughly equal share of the special verses, and a roughly equal split of two- and three-line verses. This form also allows each poet to follow each of the other poets a roughly equal number of times -- hence the staggered rotation of poets. In at least two surviving kasen (At The Tub of Ashes, Even The Kite's Feathers) Basho used staggered rotations for four that he brought to the sessions. They are slightly different from one another, and show less even division among the participants than the one here. In a kasen for five (Withering Gusts) by the Basho Group, a staggered rotation was also used. None of the Basho rotations have the same writer going twice in succession.

In this rotation, a kasen for four works out this way: poet A has
only 8 times to follow.

A follows: B 3 times; Cx3; Dx2
B follows: Ax3; Cx2; Dx4
C follows: Ax3; Bx4; Dx2
D follows: Ax3; Bx2; Cx4

special verses:

A: hokku#1, moon#5
B: wakiku#2, moon#13
C: moon#29, flower#35
D: flower#17, ageku#36

love verses:

A: 10 , 22
B: 9
C: 21
D: 8

All poets have nine total verses each. Each poet A --> D has either 5 or 4 three-line verses, and 4 or 5 two-line verses.

- Paul

Fri, March 24, 2000
Originally posted to WHChaikuforum as the seventh essay-lesson in the Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional Renku in English".

A completed copy of the kasen, A Kite Rises, with some annotation:

"A Kite Rises"

A Traditional Spring Kasen Renga for 4
Cindy Zackowitz of Alaska, USA (cz)
Paul MacNeil of Florida, USA (pm)
John Crook of England, GB (jc)
and eight members of the World Haiku Club
Haiku Forum participating as the 4th player

via the Internet 24 March -- 25 May, 2000

**********page one**********

new grass
on the playing field --
a kite rises

1. cz [hokku,spring]

debris rims the mud puddle
behind first base

2. pm [wakiku,spring]

covered in dust
as we spring-clean
the garage

3. jc [spring]

from a box of photos
forgotten faces

4. Debi Bender [no-season]

a dragonfly rests
near both moons
in the cracked window

5. cz [autumn,moon]

toasting marshmallows
on the embers of a bonfire

6. jc [autumn]

**********page two**********

Salvation Army
kettles and bells
greet holiday shoppers

7. pm [autumn]

a bridesmaid winks
at the best man

8. Alison Williams [no-season,love]

you model
my cummerbund
but hang your slip

9. pm [no-season,love]

do-not-disturb sign
swings on the doorknob

10. cz [no-season,love]

down the road
searching for gas
at 3 am

11. jc [no-season]

her joyous shriek
through the bingo hall

12. Elizabeth St Jacques [no-season]

snake tracks
blurred by canyon heat
the pale moon

13. pm [summer,moon]

legs dangling
a heron circles the tree

14. jc [summer]

come to a stop
on the cellist

15. Joann Klontz [no-season]

archery quiver
bristled with arrows

16. cz [no-season]

he strokes his chin
as a grandson counts
cherry blossoms

17. Paul Conneally [spring,blossom]

laughter echoes
across the warm streets

18. jc [spring]

**********page three**********

yellow sky
at the end
of a long day

19. cz [spring]

I let loose the anchor chain
and taste salt spray

20. pm [no-season]

after the train
her goodbye tears held
in my handkerchief

21. jc [no-season,love]

an envelope
sealed with a kiss

22. cz [no-season,love]

snow flurries
slowly enclose
the bear den

23. Betty Kaplan [winter]

deep in the recliner
with a hot buttered rum

24. pm [winter]

from the pages
of a borrowed book
a hint of incense

25. Alison Williams [no-season]

dim figures
cross the city rubbish dump

26. jc [no-season]

marble statues
pitted by acid air
of Venetian merchants

27. pm [no-season]

shiny crutches
and a cast to match

28.cz [no-season]

all that remains
of the scarecrow tilts
towards the moon

29. jc [autumn,moon]

dry leaves caught
in the windmill's current

30 cz [autumn]

**********page four**********

candle flames
inside jack-o'-lanterns

31. Sue Mill [autumn]

TV hosts make small talk
between war and weather

32. pm [no-season]

she stops to untangle
the marionette's
frayed strings

33. cz [no-season]

a Gypsy woman
focuses her crystal ball

34. pm [no-season]

the colour
of plum blossom shines
out of the fog

35. jc [spring,blossom]

just-hatched tadpoles
dart into a shadow

36. Ferris Gilli [ageku,spring]



WHC Renku Seminar
Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional" Renku in English
Session 8:  Guest Speaker, Ferris Gilli "English Grammar: Variety in Renku"

Paul MacNeil


For the eighth installment of the first WHC Haikuforum Renku Seminar, I have sought to give you relief; to let you "hear" a voice other than mine on a renku subject. Throughout the Seminar, I have sung the praises of the notions: variety in all things, variety is king. I have asked Ferris Gilli to comment on the grammar of renku stanzas and its possible variability. Having read her piece several times, I am struck that her advice is widely applicable to English prose as well. Repetition of sentence order can be deadly dull in haibun or any piece of writing. An extension of this may also apply to haiku writing -- not necessarily as sentence structure, which often doesn't formally apply to haiku, but to the order of focus and variety across one's body of work.

Thank you, Ferris, for the care and effort you have shown to help us.
- Paul MacNeil


English Grammar: Variety in Renku

Ferris Gilli
Florida, US

Variety is vital to renku. You may be muttering to yourself, "Okay, I know that already-- how do I put it into practice?" The answer is, avoid repetition.

·         Verse Construction

Vary verse construction, so that the same type is not repeated twice in a row, and does not appear in clumps on the same page; there should not be an abundance of verses with the same structure throughout the renku.

·         Parts of Speech

Among the parts of speech that should be used only once in a renku are distinctive nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.

·         Present Participles

There should be no more than six or seven verses containing present participles within verbal phrases. Example with the present participle "hacking":

the machete's glint
hacking a narrow path
for the film crew

·         Gerunds

It's a good idea to use gerunds (verbal nouns such as singing, painting, etc.) sparingly, and avoid placing them near verses that contain present participles or gerunds.

·         Verbs

A verse may be a complete sentence with a subject and transitive verb; or the sentence may use a form of the verb "be," or may use a verb with passive voice; or it may use an intransitive verb, where there is action but no direct object. A sentence may use one verb or two, or the verse may not be a sentence at all, having no verb, and is simply an image, a subject with modifiers.

·         Beginnings

Beginnings of verses should vary, as should ENDINGS. There are many different ways to begin a renku verse, with articles, nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives, verbal phrases, prepositional phrases, subordinate clauses... The idea is to avoid clumps of verses that begin and/or end the same way. The same noun or verb ending (for example, '-tion' or '-ing') should not be repeated for at least five consecutive stanzas.

·         Phrases

Kinds of phrases should vary, as should their placement within sentences and non-sentences.

So, you've begun your first renku (a kasen no less), your partner's brilliant hokku is waiting to be capped by yourwakiku, and already you're wondering how in the world you can sustain variety of verse construction for the next thirty-five stanzas. A valid concern indeed, but let me reassure you-- it can be done, if you will think of English grammar as your best friend. Fortunately for those of us who write renku in English, English grammar by its very nature is our ally in the constant quest for variety.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines grammar, in part, as

(A) The study of how words and their component parts combine to form sentences, and

(B) The system of rules implicit in a language, viewed as a mechanism for generating all sentences possible in that language.

You may see already, just from the definition, how grammar will serve you: "...a mechanism for generating all sentences possible in that language." Therein lies Variety with a capital V, all that our language holds, because you will be using whole sentences and parts of sentences in your renku, and in their creation, drawing from a huge reservoir of parts of speech. It's quite wonderful how these sentences, fragments, phrases, and all their parts can be shuffled and reshuffled to sustain variety. The trick is to be constantly shuffling them in your mind as you write each verse. Will you use a complete sentence, and should it be simple, compound or complex-- or will sentence fragments do the job? Should the verse consist only of descriptive phrases? Is it too soon to use another participial phrase at the beginning? How about a verse with a pivotal second line, or a prepositional beginning? How can you construct this verse so that it doesn't begin with yet another "the" -- or "a" -- or "an"?

Sometimes it helps to have at hand examples of different verse structures.

·         Simple Sentences

·         With a subject and transitive verb in active voice (the subject does the action and has a direct object):

a machete
slashes tall bamboo
in the rain forest

thick kudzu
has blocked out the sun

·         With an intransitive verb; there is action but no direct object or

A bald eagle
flies in wide circles
above the runway

the boy runs
with the wind

·         With a verb in passive voice (the subject receives the action):

the sun
has been blocked out
by thick kudzu

all the bamboo
is destroyed by man

·         Setting plus simple sentence using a form of the verb "be":

first dawn --
the barbwire fence
is soft with fog

·         Simple sentence introduced by infinitive phrase:

to smell the rain
she opens a widow

·         Switching the order of lines:

she opens a window
to smell the rain

Complex Sentence

·         A subordinate clause (introduced by "when") begins the verse :

when I mention my old flame
he gives me that look

·         Switching the order of lines:

he gives me that look
when I mention my old flame

Sentence Fragments

·         Elliptical construction with understood subject and verb (I am):

alone in the dark
with your scent to guide me

·         Subject (first line) modified by participial phrase (second line):

gleam of ripe blackberries
dulled by road dust

·         Prepositional phrase as setting, followed by subject:

on the first day of sex ed.
all the downcast eyes

·         Prepositional phrase as setting, followed by a verbal phrase:

after school
racing home
ahead of the rain

Perhaps I can demonstrate how we get to know the possible faces of a renku verse. Let's begin with a spring hokku and wakiku for a kasen renku, already written and accepted by both partners (I will be player A):

mountain pasture-- (1)
a shepherd lingers
with the day

woven among fence vines (2)
the first twigs of a bird nest

So far, we have used the classic cut verse in the hokku: the setting and a hard cut, followed by subject and action-- in this case a complete sentence; and in the wakiku, we've used a verbal phrase in the first line followed by an inverted subject in the second line.

From now on, we must find ways of rearranging the grammatical furniture of sentences, and even throwing some of the furniture out, to avoid the hard-cut


 structure while maintaining variety. We will no doubt repeat the structure of the second verse somewhere down the line, but not right away. So, what is left for verse #3, and what would work best here? Let's play with structure a little and find out.

mountain pasture-- (1)
a shepherd lingers
with the day

woven among fence vines (2)
first twigs of a bird nest

For verse #3, I want to link to things woven together, moving together. These are the first warm days of spring. Outside my window the neighbor's children are blowing soap bubbles, and I have found my link. I could write this:

open window
colored soap bubbles blend
with loud giggles

but that uses the same structure as the hokku, and is a cut verse. Perhaps I could begin with a prepositional phrase and forget the verb:

through the window
soap bubbles
and loud giggles

But no, that is too similar in structure to #2, with an inverted subject. Back to the drawing board:

soap bubbles
drift into the house
with children's laughter

Now I have an uncut verse without a setting or deliberate juxtaposition; but it is only one removed from the hokku, which also contains a complete sentence. Hmm. Maybe I could revise the second line to a participial phrase:

soap bubbles (3)
drifting into the house
with children's laughter

I hope my partner will like that version.

So, I have now used the first present participle (drifting) in this renku. Another present participle should not be used for at least five more stanzas. My partner, having accepted my #3, drafts this link:

beneath layers of dirt
a flea-market table

But there's that inverted subject again, a bit too soon my partner thinks, so she revises:

the layers of dirt
on a flea-market table

Now we have simply a noun modified by prepositional phrases; no verb, no sentence. We also have our first verse that begins with the definite article "the."

mountain pasture-- (1)
a shepherd lingers
with the day

woven among fence vines (2)
first twigs of a bird nest

soap bubbles (3)
drifting into the house
with children's laughter

the layers of dirt (4)
on a flea-market table

My turn again-- maybe it's time for another complete sentence. And so it goes. . . draw, discard, shuffle, shuffle . . .


Mon, Apr. 10, 2000
Originally posted to WHChaikuforum as the eighth essay-lesson in the Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional Renku in English".



WHC Renku Seminar
Haikuforum Seminar on "Traditional" Renku in English
Session 9:  Guest Speaker, Christopher Herold "The Alchemy of Live Renku"

Paul MacNeil


With a ninth Installment to conclude this group of essays, I have again invited a "guest" essayist to speak with you about renku.

I offer continued thanks to Susumu-san and all members of the Seminar, including the 12-20 members, each time, whose verses were not selected in the kasen renku. Eight different renkuists were chosen for the nine open stanzas in the just-completed: "A Kite Rises" -- A Spring Kasen Renku. Those contributors: Debi Bender, Paul Conneally, Ferris Gilli, Betty Kaplan, Joann Klontz, Sue Mill, Elizabeth St. Jacques, and Alison Williams (2). A copy of our Internet, hybrid renku is appended here with season and love verses identified.

More special thanks is due my partners in the three renku shared with the Seminar: Peggy Willis Lyles, Ferris Gilli, Cindy Zackowitz, and John Crook. In person I have met only Ferris, but they are all friends, fine writers, and wonderful partners. Partners such as these are also my teachers.

I have learned something of renku from all my partners, this spring and over the years, but also from several teachers for whom I have used the term "modern masters." Those I have mentioned in the Seminar are: Tadashi Kondo, Jane Reichhold, Christopher Herold, and William J. Higginson. I again urge you to study their books and Internet presences. Since the Seminar last ended, Bill Higginson has a new website just about renku, [Renku.home]...

I conclude, as I started, with 15 declarative sentences:

Renku is linked verse.
Renku is an art form.
Renku is a game.
Renku has rules.
Renku is not anarchic linking.
Renku has a flow, a pace, an overall effect.
Renku has no narrative.
Renku is a communal enterprise.
Renku is verse by individuals.
Renku is not serial haiku.
Renku begins with a haiku.
Renku allows the making of good friends and companions.
Renku is fun.
Renku is habit forming.
Renku honors tradition.

I have spoken to each of these throughout. I hope my proselytizing has
been more successful than annoying.

- Paul MacNeil, 31 January -- 19 July, 2000

AND NOW ... the guest essay ...

The Alchemy of Live Renku

In Japan, historically, renku have almost always been composed face to face, up close and personal. In the West, where renku practice is still relatively new, composition is most often accomplished by way of the postal service or by e-mail. These long distance versions can be enjoyable and rewarding, but by far the most exhilarating and beneficial way to compose renku is to do it together, live. I can't imagine it ever being otherwise.

Process is everything; live renku parties have the immediacy of response and teamwork that is lacking in the postal methods of composition. The closest approximation to live renku can be had by meeting in a chat room on the world-wide-web for the purpose. The response time is relatively fast, but there's no physical proximity. The up-side is that people can participate from different countries, even different hemispheres, in the framework of the present moment. The down-side (other than not being able to party together) is that there is little in the way of current common experience upon which to base a poem. Snow may be falling in one location; the thermometer may be tipping 100º in another. One person may be connected from a cabin in the back woods of Maine, another from a posh condo on the French Riviera. The emphasis therefore, in these long distance renku, is on imaginative game playing and/or intellectual calisthenics. The full benefits of the process are unattainable.

Live renku are special. Sessions can be serious events, but far more often (at least in the West) they are festive occasions, complete with food and drink, discussion and conversation, laughter, and yes, tears. Most importantly, everyone is in the same geographical location, surrounded by the same meteorological, socio-political climate. Whatever distractions arise, arise for all in attendance. Poems unfold over the course of a few hours, perhaps an afternoon and evening. The flow is not impeded by lapses of days, weeks, or months during which life's daily challenges intervene, demanding our attention -- all while we wait for a single link to arrive in a letter or by e-mail. And even for those who may agree to meet and compose linked verse in a chat room, one poet will type faster than another, somebody's computer will crash, and someone else may get routinely bumped off-line at inopportune moments. Time zone difficulties may limit the length of a meeting. And who wants to be stuck in a chair facing a computer monitor, fingertips hovering above a keyboard? No possibility of body language, no strolling about a friend's home (hors d'oeuvres and wine in hand) admiring paintings, books or the view. No fascinating conversation with the group while poet C strives to focus on composing a moon verse. In short, no substitute for live performance.

The cocktail-party-style of live renku is not the only possibility however. There is also the type of meeting that includes everyone in the writing -- the candidates submitting for every stanza. This type of session is much quieter, much more intense. But the immediacy, and the communal effort to cooperate in creating a work of art is equally manifest. And when a particular verse choice is being made by the group (or the presiding master), the same excitement and anticipation is present. At those times of discussion and decision, so very much can be learned-about renku, each other, the world, and about ourselves.

Happily, live renku is on the rise, particularly during the past eight or nine years. I myself have had the great good fortune to participate often in meetings of the Marin Renku Group, quite possibly the first renku club outside of Japan, and most probably the longest running renku group of any writing in English today. The group began in 1988 and continues to write regularly today. I've also participated in many live renku sessions of the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society. Renku is only one facet of The Yuki Teikei Society, and the meetings are not regular, as are those of the Marin Group. Yuki Teikei renku are usually organized for special occasions as they arise.

The biggest difference between these groups is that each member of the Marin Group composes renku takes turns, then deciding, democratically, if a stanza is acceptable, or if the poet must try again. There's a strong feeling of close-knit friendship, and the atmosphere is decidedly party-like. On the other hand, the Yuki Teikei poets are free to make an attempt at every stanza, and it is up to the haiku master to choose from those whice the candidate's offered. The mood is most often formal and generally tends to be more serious. In the beginning, almost all of the poets in both groups were new to renku.

When the Yuki Teikei group first held renku sessions, Kiyoko Tokutomi was the master, but as years passed other poets acquired enough knowledge of the craft to assume responsibility. What joy! Several poets would meet at an appointed place for the purpose of composing a communal poem, a renku. The possibilities are unlimited-on the palette, the universe! Each poet mixes the colors of mood, dips an imaginary brush and adds a stroke of inspiration to the group canvas. There are rules and restrictions, plenty of them, but the ultimate rule is balanced expansion. It's what makes everything possible. All things become involved: politics, religion, music, grammar, conservatism and rebellion; mountains, beasts, flowers, and weather . . . all within the dynamics of the renku family on hand. The renku master (if one is designated) has a function similar to the conductor of an orchestra. The task: to expand the renku as much as possible within a given number of stanzas. This must be done in a balanced and interesting way, taking as much into consideration as can be without bogging down the process. Not just placing seasonal, or non-seasonal, or love sequences properly, or moon and blossom stanzas; not just minimizing repetition, or insuring that links are clear enough and shifts sufficiently dramatic; not just seeing that grammar is suitably varied.

The biggest job is that of harmonizing people. There is a spectrum of personalities present. John is a pissant, Martha a wee bit insecure; Larry is imaginative, Dave pragmatic, and Lisa can't get the tongue out of her cheek (no reference to particular poets intended). Levels of experience must be considered. Roy's a newcomer, Sarah has been writing renku for years and has even judged the Einbond Renku contest (again, the poets' names are fictitious). The crux of this work is to learn to cooperate as a group, getting everyone involved to the degree that each feels comfortable. It takes a discerning renku master (or experienced group) to accomplish this -- and to still create a classy poem to boot. Too much attention to the personalities present, and the renku (as an entity) will likely suffer. The renku form itself, as handed down over many years, is the very thing that provides us with these special opportunities to learn how to work together. Sacrifice it, for whatever reason, and the work ceases to be renku. It falls flat. But sacrifice the poets for a poem, and renku becomes a tyrant. Balance is the key.

The tai chi of renku: moving ahead while seeing to it that everyone and everything is balanced, including the pertinence of the poem to the poets involved as juxtaposed to the accessibility of the poem to others who aren't. Anything can come into play, but too much cleverness, too much intellect, being too specific or too vague, too poetic . . . too much anything, will unbalance the process of expansion and decrease the possibility of being drawn into the wonder of the renku universe. What I hope to have conveyed, with all of this, is that renku is a very special gift, one that is much needed in a world so full of misunderstanding and strife. By writing renku together we learn (through linking) to demonstrate our acceptance and understanding of what other people have to say and (by shifting) to express our own unique views in our own inimitable ways. Renku has the effect of guiding us humans toward accepting each other's differences and moving forward, together, in a positive and harmonious manner. This is true for all methods of renku writing, whether by mail, on the web, or in person. The postal varieties can put us in touch with people around the globe, something that live renku can do only with the presence of visiting poets. The in person variety has the unparalleled power of the present moment and place, of lifefulness, and interplay on all levels.

Renku is a most venerable and beneficial form of expression. While entertaining us, it provides a means to grow both individually and communally, as well as nurturing a healthy evolution of the human spirit. If you are interested in renku, or are writing by mail only, I highly recommend (if at all possible) finding or establishing a local group of poets who can get together regularly to practice. In my opinion it is by far the best way to realize and to appreciate what renku has to offer.

This essay was originally posted on Wednesday July 19, 2000, in the 9th installment of the first WHC Renku Seminar, led by Paul McNeil.


Biography of Christopher Herold

Christopher Herold has had his haiku, tanka and senryu routinely burned by a long list of editors throughout the world. His works have received numerous rejections, and he himself has been the the butt of many jokes circulated by judges for many international haiku competitions. In past years, Mr. Herold has been a favorite scapegoat for several well known haiku societies, and is held in extremely low esteem by the editors of most of the journals to which he subjects his poems. Herold has been banned from a multitude of Bay Area schools for his highly unorthodox teaching practices. Adults almost always leave his workshops in bewilderment. Herold has given exceedingly dull presentations at several international haiku conferences, the organizers of which have learned to divert him from the mainstream by calling upon him to guide meditations for their events. In this way, participants can go to sleep without distraction or any feelings of guilt. Herold's first three books, In Other Words, Coincidence, and Voices of Stone were ridiculed by reviewers, and are now black-listed by virtually all haiku societies. There's a movement afoot to prevent his fourth and fifth books, A Path in the Garden and In the Margins of the Sea from reaching bookshelves. You should familiarize yourselves with Mr. Herold's works as soon as possible so as to minimize the possibility of inadvertent subjection to it in the future.

Christopher Herold wrote his first haiku in 1968 during a training session at a Soto Zen Buddhist Monastery. He didn't know his poem was a haiku until the head monk read it and said "Nice haiku!" Since then his works, which include tanka, haibun, renku, and senryu, have been published in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies, often winning awards. Mr. Herold has judged many poetry contests, including service in 1993 as co-judge (with J. W. Hackett) for Japan Airline's World Haiku Contest for children. In 1997 and '98 he was co-judge for the Haiku Society of America's Lionel Einbond Renku Contest. In 1999, two renku written by Mr. Herold, along with is wife, Carol O'Dell, were awarded a tandem Grand Prize in the Einbond contest. Also that year he was appointed Renku Guide for the East-West '99 Renku, the second-ever live, on-line renku party.

Mr. Herold is a long time member of the Marin Renku Group, most probably the first group of renku poets outside of Japan to meet on a regular basis. He is a past president of the Haiku Poets of Northern California, and co-edited their quarterly journal, Woodnotes. He has been a guest editor for Two Autumns Press and the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society's magazine, The Geppo. Mr. Herold has taught haiku in schools and is regularly invited to present workshops for adults. His books include In Other Words, Coincidence (both out of print), and Voices of Stone (going into its fifth printing). A Path in the Garden, Mr. Herold's first collection of haiku since 1987, released by Katsura Press, is now available through the author. Another new collection, In the Margins of the Sea, is scheduled for release by Snapshot Press in Great Britain sometime in August of this year. Mr. Herold lives in Port Townsend, Washington with his family. Currently he edits an internationally acclaimed monthly journal of haiku called The Heron's Nest, published both in hard copy and via the Internet at:http://www.theheronsnest.com [now co-edited by Associate Editors Paul McNeil and Ferris Gilli].