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The Renku Sessions: Imachi – Week 15




Welcome to another Renku session. I am Linda Papanicolaou. The renku I am leading this time is an Imachi, an 18-verse form from Renku Masters Shunjin and Seijo Okamoto (“Waiting for the Moon,” 1984). Like Junicho, the other form they gave us, Imachi is a single-sheet renku though it develops in a more traditional jo-ha-kyu structure and depends more on the flow of passages of verse in its linking.

A thorough discussion may be found in John E. Carley’s Renku Reckoner, pp. 51-56, online at Google Books. The section includes a discussion, a selection of seasonal schemata, and a lovely example, “Between the Jagged Rocks”, by JEC and Norman Darlington.


Preface to a choice of verse 14:

Thirteen participants posted some great idea for this slot. Many thanks to all of you. There was a lot of good thinking and many verses that would have worked well.

During the weeks this renku has been in progress, I’ve been inspired to go back and read the renku archives of some favorite haiku journals of the past: the old World Haiku Review and Simply Haiku. WHR has articles by our own Paul MacNeil, who was Renku Editor; also John Carley, Raphael De Grutola, Chris Herold and Eiko Yachimoto;  at SH the renku section appeared quarterly from Dec. 2003 through Winter 2009, with Renku Editors John Carley and then Moi Richards.

I was particularly interested in Eiko’s tomegaki (sabaki’s introduction) for a kasen titled “Midsummer Darkness” (WHR, Dec. 2003), and another she wrote for ”Daisy State” (SH, Spring 2007). In both she describes her aims to being sabaki in an online renku,  one of which is that all participants enjoy and profit from the experience.

I’ve also gone back to John Stevenson’s wrap-up post on  “Pilgrim’s Pride“, the i THF renku, in which he talked about the realities of  leaing a renku session when the participating group is fluid.  I’m pleased that we continue to have new participants joining, disappointed that a few formerly regular participants have disappeared. Unfortunately there are always more participants than there are verses to be filled.

Even so,  the sabaki is still responsible to create what Eiko described as “the invisible communal zone called ‘za’ that renku requires “.  My own process has been to choose verses that link with layering and depth, while keeping the bigger picture in mind of winding up with a poem of artistic merit and readability, and also trying to make sure that everyone who has been present and continues to participate will be placed.

This week’s tough choice is that my short list came down to two verses, both of which had compelling reasons to be included.  Both authors have participated in every thread. For the verses in question, when I made suggestions both authors gamely reworked and reposted. I know that sometimes sabakis have critiqued their finalists before revealing which they’ve chosen. Comparative critique can be an excellent learning experience. Still, my day job as teacher of 12-14 year olds is at odds with such practice,  so up till I’ve only discussed the chosen verse when I announce it.  In current circumstances, however, I’d like to honor both contending verses and lay out the explanation for my ultimate decision.


Choosing Verse 14:

Here are both verses, each with the maeku and uchikoshi:

to imitate the love manual
we bend in strange new ways

on Forbidden Peak
this summer evening’s
rosy glow

eyeing rough-skinned newt
old garter first to blink

to imitate the love manual
we bend in strange new ways

on Forbidden Peak
this summer evening’s
rosy glow

around the birdbath
snails cooling their heels

Both are fine verses — animal topics that recast the maeku from erotic analogy to the broader, simple canvas of a landscape image. In both cases, our gaze travels from the vastness of a mountain range down to a foreground vignette of tiny animals going about their lives. With that ruddy mountainscape as background, I’m reminded of 19th c. landscape paintings by Durand, Church or Bierstadt. In the Eight Manners of classic renku linking, this is called “place”  (sono ba)  linking. One could find modern analogies to cinematic “zoom” or “rack shot” as discussed by Allan Burns, “Haiku and Cinematic Technique” (Frogpond 30/3, Fall 2007 — alas not online).

Both verses charmingly employ colloquial language: a garter snake with the folksy nickname “old garter”; snails cooling their heels.  From here on, though, both differ greatly in their use of season  and relationship to the maeku. The Japanese Fire-bellied newt  (imori 井守 (いもり; Cynops pyrrhogaster ) is a summer kigo in the saijiki;  on the other hand, Yuki Teikei’s Bay Area Saijiki lists the California newt (Taricha torosa) as winter. How should we season the Rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa)? Not at all, maybe, since snakes are a common signifier of summer.  I have learned here that Rough-skinned newts are toxic. One has enough tetrodotoxin in its skin to kill several humans. Its only predator is a garter snake whose immunity evolves to match the every higher toxin levels of the newt. In this Darwinian face-off,  old garter stands down –“blinks”– which is another colloquialism has since snakes don’t have eyelids.

The snails verse is quieter. In the saijiki there are two kinds of snails: the aquatic mud or pond snail is a spring kigo; garden snail is summer; these obviously the latter.  The maeku has told us it’s an hour when the sun has set the horizon, the day’s heat subsiding and they’re gathering around a garden birdbath.  “Cool” in fact is another summer kigo, though it’s not bad to have two kigo if they reinforce rather than detract. Those of us who don’t like snails may also see a darker aspect to the painting.  Snails, after all, are garden pests that devour leaves or whole young plants and leave their slime trails everywhere. An art historical comparison might be to Dutch 17th c. still life paintings, in which bugs and snails chewing up the flowers symbolize mortality and the transience of beauty. Still, with that maeku landscape vista in the background, the scene has a quasi-spiritual sense of calmness, a reminder that even destructive creatures have their place in the scheme of things.

In renku, not only immediate link/shift context matters but what a verse will bring to what’s already there and how it will set up for what must come next. Both these verses are layered, link well, shift strongly, and bring diversity. The newt verse has definite energy but qualify this: While it can be taken as a “just-so” story, I had to research to tease out the full meaning. It would need annotation. If this were a kasen ha–or even back farther in our own ha–it would not be a problem.  But we are at the threshold of our kyu, preparing to end the renku, and this verse would need annotation. I worry that this would put the breaks on forward momentum.

There’s also a matter of  personal preference. Even in a one-side renku I like some subtle articulation from jo to ha and ha to kyu. With the newt verse, transition to kyu would be abrupt though it could be done. The snail verse, with its simple, transparent use of  language and imagery, is already pretty much in kyu mode and would give us a needed cool-down for what has been a lively ha. It’s also a good opening for a non-season person verse to come next.

Mind you, there is no right or wrong here. Other renku leaders might well have chosen differently. For us, verse 14 will be the snails around the birdbath. My warmest thanks to its author Carole Jones, and to Betty Shropshire, author of the newt verse. Good writing, both.

Here is our renku so far:


a row of icicles
blue sky and sunshine
dripping from the eaves
~Simon Hanson

on Earth Day, deep breaths
for the scent of it
~Lorin Ford

see how overnight
the apple orchard’s turned
all blossom
~Polona Oblak

opening my journal
to a blank page
~Maureen Virchau

the boy carrying
the sousaphone
almost disappears
~Paul MacNeil

Friday school shooter
with his father’s gun
~Pauline O’Carolan

red tailed hawks
ride out the winter
in a big oak
~Michael Henry Lee

again, steep beach erosion
after lashing waves
~Barbara A. Taylor

chalked on the board
as plat du jour
~ Marion Clarke

at a table the couple
whispers in French
~Carmen Sterba

the Beckhams
laugh off rumours
of impending divorce
~Andrew Shimield

to imitate the love manual
we bend in strange new ways
~Paul MacNeil

on Forbidden Peak
a summer evening’s
rosy glow
~Judt Shrode

around the birdbath
snails cooling their heels
~Carol Jones


Call for Verse 15:

For the final four verses we are in the kyu. Jo-ha-kyu  is often likened to a party, the jo representing arrival and greeting of guests, the ha as a party in full swing, and the kyu as evening ending and guests departing. Eiko Yachimoto makes a different analogy that I love:

[R]enku is a unique art letting one relive the flow of one’s lifetime. The jo-ha-kyu of renku coincides with the difference in how we grasp time depending on our age. Don’t we all agree that time never flew when we were a young child? In other words, renku is an art to educate us how to live and die and how to live again.

We are like salmon. The first six verses of a kasen are supposed to be clear, pure and mild, like the origin of a meandering river. When we approach the last stage, we acutely sense the fast flow of time and become conscious of our origin. (Tomegaki for “Laughter Rising”, SH Winter 2007).

In the kyu, which means “fast close”, the use of language and the linking should be simple and straightforward. We’re finished now with proper names, edgy or unpleasant topics such as politics, current events, death or illness.  Nor should we have things that would draw a reader’s attention out of the poem — in other words nothing that needs research to understand.

The four stanzas of our kyu will be one last non-season verse (#15), followed by three autumn verses (#s 16-18), with #17 our moon seat and #18 the ageku.

Specifications for verse 15:

  • Three lines
  • Non season
  • Person verse
  • Indoors or indeterminate
  • Link to the maeku, shift from the uchikoshi.
  • Topics to be avoided for this slot include anything related to love.
  • Anything in the hokku is off limits for the duration of the renku.
  • Topics we don’t yet have that might be useful for this slot include tea coffee or alcoholic beverages, farming, commerce, industry, science, tools, vehicles and reminiscences (do crosscheck your saijiki to make sure you haven’t accidentally got a season reference, though).
  • Check your offers for repetition of topics, aspects or significant words from earlier in the renku—this is not necessarily a blanket proscription, but if you can find a different way to get your meaning across, so much the better.


Registering your verse offers:

  • Use the ‘‘Leave a reply’ box down at the bottom of this thread to submit your offers.
  • Please hold revisions or corrections to a minimum, but if you must do so, use the “Reply” link on your own post rather than initiate a new submission.
  • Post your submissions before midnight Monday, 23 July, Eastern USA time.
  • The selected verse will be announced the following Thursday morning: 26 July, Eastern US time.


Happy writing!


This Post Has 51 Comments

  1. We certainly have some interesting offers this time. It’s now the hour and submissions are closed. See you Thursday!

  2. .
    dear john
    the writing’s
    on the wall
    six feet under
    the monarch’s wingtips
    point south
    on a blackguard’s breath
    the ribs
    of a trojan horse

    1. “Dear John” is end-of-love, and we have finished with our Love verses. “SIx feet under” reminds me of the Duke of Edinburgh, and I’m still trying to figure out what “on a blackguard’s breath” reminds me of. I’m wondering if these point out of the renku more than we want for the kyu. Your verses are always so interesting, but I think these would all have been best as ha verses.

  3. Verse 3:

    did you know
    that slugs like to eat mould
    in the shower?

  4. around the birdbath
    snails cooling their heels
    ~Carol Jones
    pre-flight mimosa
    for those in first class
    a platinum experience

  5. the DJ
    mixes it big time
    at the all night rave
    the planets paths
    revealed by
    the orrery

  6. Verse 2:

    communing in silence
    the men in the garden shed
    drink home brew

  7. Two wonderful verses discussed this week, and congratulations to Carol and Betty. Thank you, Linda, for the invaluable explanation.

    Verse 1:

    as I wait for the taxi
    I look in the mirror
    and raise another glass for the road

  8. Both such interesting verses! This renku business is a fascinating process!
    curling into sleep
    the baby lulled
    by grandma’s hush-a-bye

  9. Congratulations, Carol!
    Thanks Linda, for your choice reasonings.


    around the birdbath
    snails cooling their heels

    tap dancers celebrate
    with overflowing Guinness
    into the wee hours

  10. Linda, thank you for showing us your careful thinking behind this choice. Both selections were outstanding…congratulations to both Carol and Betty. I’m in awe of these wonderful poets with all the offerings each week. This is a wonderful Renku to watch grow. ?

    1. Thanks, Paul. I’ve enjoyed going back over your old feature in WHR. I was in WHC at the time but strictly WHCMultimedia–not yet doing renku back then.

  11. love those snails Carol
    watching sitcoms
    when things seemed
    so much clearer
    a garden
    full of silence
    the Beatles
    not the insects
    the band

  12. What a great post, Linda – so informative. I certainly don’t envy you, having to choose between the two verses.

    Well done to Carol. I like how the reader goes from the peak of a mountain to a lowly, commonplace snail. I’ve never heard of snails ‘cooling of their heels’ – but it made me smile. :)


    1. Many thanks, Marion.
      It was all the empty snail shells around and in the garden birdbath that helped with the final amendment of the verse,
      As the weather is so hot I could imagine each of these little lovelies cooling the tip of their foot while looking up for the birds. The immortal words of the late, great, Steve Irwin came to mind, danger! danger!
      Obviously they were enjoying their selves too much :)

      1. Hahaha. Thanks for that, Carol. Whenever I see a snail from now on I will wonder whether it’s the left or right foot I’m looking at ! :) :) :)

  13. Many thanks Linda for such a wonderful explanation of both Betty Shropshire’s verse and mine.
    I’m so pleased to be included in this renku session.
    A hearty handshake, Betty.
    :) :)

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