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The Renku Sessions: Imachi – Week 16




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.


Choice of Verse 15:

Many thanks to the ten authors who submitted some truly interesting ideas for this verse. This week’s choice of verse is going to be a bit of a surprise to everyone. Let me explain:

Last week, in setting a context for choice of verse, I spoke about having been rereading the renku columns in back issues of World Haiku Review and Simply Haiku—highly recommended if you’d like to deepen your understanding of English Language renku or just take a fun trip down memory lane.

I was especially interested in “Midsummer Darkness”, a kasen written online in 2003, by Eiko Yachimoto as sabaki and seven renju, including our own Carmen Sterba (WHR Dec 2003). With the poem itself, WHR published Eiko’s tomegaki (Introduction) and  kansô (comments) by participants. A passage in Johnye Strickland’s comment caught my eye:

[W]e have been permitted to watch her collect our degachi verses and put them in her sleeve, to later pull them out in places we never expected to find them. And to my continuing amazement, they seemed to fit well, and to take the kasen in totally different directions than I would have envisioned.

That delighted me because I’ve experienced that surprise when Eiko will suddenly pull two or three verses out of her sleeve and plunk them down in the renku. It’s a useful technique in online renku such as kasen, which can take so many weeks that energy flags, and Yuki Teikei renku leaders use it in live sessions when time is limited. But there are also other reasons. Every renku generates more ideas than find their way into the final poem. The renju each “pocket” their own unused verses to take home and perhaps edit into haiku, But what if a verse is just too good to let go, or if a chance to use it comes later in the poem? Hence the sabaki’s metaphorical sleeve.

What I like best about the sleeve is that, as Johnye indicated, a verse that would have meant one thing in the slot for which it had originally been proposed will take on a different resonance when used in a different slot.  In other words, the link isn’t just a hook you use to connect one verse to the next; it’s an important for creating meaning.

I have tucked away a few verses. While it’s increasingly likely that most won’t be used, one is an excellent fit for the current verse and I’m going to pull it out. It’s one by Betty Shropshire from much earlier in the renku, originally submitted for verse 4 following the blossom seat:

see how overnight
the apple orchard’s turned
all blossom

ma’am, just your license
and registration, please

In that context, it had an airy carefree quality, as if we’re out driving with the convertible top down, taking in the scenery of spring orchards, and sail obliviously into a speed trap. One thing I’ve learned about Betty during this renku is that she has a matchless instinct for conveying character with dialog.  This one tells an entire story in seven words. For slot 15 it will of course have to be edited to three lines, probably at one of the commas. For preserving the verse’s sharp sense of voice and the speaker’s character, my sense would be as follows:

on Forbidden Peak
a summer evening’s
rosy glow

around the birdbath
snails cooling their heels

just your license
and registration, please

Given all that’s gone on in our renku between then and now—winter, love, summer—the verse is layered quite differently now.  The verse is no longer about enjoying a drive in fine weather.–it’s about cooling your heels.  If you’ve ever been ticketed for speeding or driven past someone who’s been pulled over, waiting inside their car while the highway goes through procedures in deliberate slow motion. This adds  a tension to the verse that would not have been as evident in slot 4: the asymmetry of social power and control. Considering the news so often these days, I’m reminded that a routine traffic stop can be a life-threatening encounter for either party.

When Carol first posted the snails verse, I did a bit of research on the phrase “cooling their heels”.  In the 16th c. it seems to have meant simply to cool down one’s feet after walking,  An early 17th c. reference is to horses, apparently after a race, while a late 17th c  French dictionary gives our current meaning, to be kept waiting.  Carol’s verse to Betty’s nicely mirror this evolving definition, bringing a nice bit of wit to the start of our kyu. There’s another turn of phrase that the earlier slot did not have: We’re now in the“fast close” of jo-ha-kyu.  Will we get a speeding ticket, or be let go with a warning?

In slot 4 the speed trap would have been a scent link, whereas here it’s more what Kondo and Higginson describe as a link on meaning:  “the many ways that words may be related in adjacent stanzas. These can range from specific allusions and quotations to commonly associated words, such as “red hot” and “momma”, to actual puns.”

Thus we have humor, though humor with an edge.  How to link to the speed trap verse is the question.  On one hand, the kyu is when we are winding down our renku and should not be taking up controversial topics; on the other hand, our autumn verses are coming next. In the spirit of wabi-sabi,  perhaps we want a thoughtful mood as we enter this final season run. But let’s see where inspiration takes you.

Thank you very much, Betty, for a vivid piece of writing. Our renku now looks like this:


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

just your license
and registration, please
~Betty Shropshire


Call for Verse 16:

We are in our renku’s final phase, the kyu.  Kyu 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, layering is fine but we do not want something that needs research to decipher.

With verse 16 we also enter our final season run: autumn.  This will be a person verse, preferably indoors, while the next two will be non-person and outdoors.  Verse 17 will be our long-awaited moon seat; verse 18 the ageku.

Your maeku and uchikoshi for verse 16 are as follows:

around the birdbath
snails cooling their heels

just your license
and registration, please


Specifications for verse:

  • Two lines
  • Autumn
  • 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, mountain landscape, sunset, evening or time of day.
  • 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, and reminiscences (do crosscheck your saijiki for season compatibility, 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, 30 July, Eastern USA time.
  • The selected verse will be announced the following Thursday morning: 2 August, Eastern US time.


Happy writing!


This Post Has 79 Comments

  1. Oh, we did have some out-of-the-box thinking this time, didn’t we?
    Submissions for the week are closed now. See you on Thursday.

    1. Ooh, nice. I’m one who saves leaves.

      As a point of interest, check farther down on the thread to the exchange Paul and I had about leaves as autumn kigo. It’s one of those areas where our cultural associations differ from the classic saijiki.

  2. Just wondering, Linda…did you mean to change ‘a summer evening’s’ to ‘this summer evening’s’?

    1. No, actually–I have been playing around with various edits for pacing of the whole renku. I am not going to do any thing till the end, but apparently I copied the wrong version when I created the post. I’ll go change it back. Sorry for the confusion.

  3. Linda, what a blast from the past. I was nudged into Renku by Eiko Yachimoto and John Carley. I first met Eiko in person at AIR Association for International Renku. We became friends in Japan. I want to share my first verse in Midsummer Darkness.

    surveillance cameras
    along the chilly stone wall…………..carmen sterba

    This reminds me how important it is to write from real experience and also imagination. I was still living in Japan in 2003. This was a memory of the Summer Villa of the Emperor. I often took a walk on the Pacific Ocean beach where the villa stood. Sometimes, the security police would talk to me because they were bored and also because they enjoyed talking to a foreigner who spoke Japanese.

    1. Oh, I was hoping that a quote would prompt you to share a bit of memory! I’ve written with Eiko a few times (most recently a kasen online at Facebook) though never met face-to-face. I really, really enjoyed reading WHR’s documentation from Midsummer Darkness.

  4. well I’ve written verse the wrong line length and verses the wrong season.
    I blame the heatwave here in London!
    gramps polishes his medals
    for armistice day

  5. Betty, your verse is terrific! I think many of us have had this experience. I love how the policeman said ma’am. It seems to me that only a southerner or a former soldier would be that polite.

    1. Fortunately, I’ve only been the recipient of a few encounters but all were conducted with utmost courtesy. But that “Ma’am” just makes me feel old! 😉

    1. …or does it have to be ‘normal’ mushrooms to be an autumn kigo?
      This literally just happened as I was doing research for this verse – the site is called ‘Shroomery’ and I ended up spending ages reading through it about mushroom identification and cultivation! 🙂

      1. Good question. I don’t know the answer to that. Push the boundaries!
        My answer would be that the verse is not really about the autumn experience of mushroom hunting–you’re on a computer looking it up. But push the boundaries anyway.

  6. A very vivid verse, Betty. Allows the imagination to range wide! Congratulations.

    Verse 1:

    regretting already
    the grip of the grape

  7. I LOVE Betty’s verse. I can almost hear the speed cop’s monotone drawl. An inspired decision, Linda!

    1. 😄 There was that one time when I took a road trip with my youngest son in my miata…we both got tickets along the way!

    1. I’m also concerned that the whiskey verse is non-person. We had two non-person verses (Forbidden Peak/snails around the birdbath); then the maeku (speed trap) a person verse, so can’t go back to non-person.
      Of these two, the telescope is a person verse but we already have two verses with the names of seasons, which would be considered a “rule breaker” in some quarters (albeit one I’m prepared to defend). Naming a third season, autumn, though, we should not do.
      Not sure how I’d edit this. Referring to the equinox rather than night sky or stars is a good oblique way to prepare for the moon verse without pre-empting it, but how then do you specify fall rather than spring equinox? Interesting challenge.
      Get a person into the pumpkin carving tools verse and that should work.

      1. my tools
        his/her tools ?? my daughter’s

        I did not check for other pronouns, though

        1. That’s a thought.
          I love Agnes’ whiskey verse. It’s just the right tone but for the kannonbiraki, but I’m just not sure it can be turned into a person verse with out lessening the impact. And I think it packs its best punch in original form as a winter verse. How often do we see renku verses so whittled and twisted to fit a slot, that what was appealing in them was gone. Operation successful but the patient died. I’d rather a good idea go into the pocket still a living thing.
          Maybe people should freely post ideas but hold off actually reworking or editing until it’s clear which direction we’re going to go in. I probably should continue to point out real problems like kigo conflict, though. Sometimes those can be tweaked, sometimes not.

          1. I’m not too sure if you mean suggestions for the whiskey verse, but here is one suggestion. maybe a viewing through a glass or bottle of whiskey to suggest the maturing leaf colours, and then there’s that altered view after a few 🙂

  8. Oh Betty! Your verse comes from out of nowhere…like a hiding patrol car. Nicely done.
    the farmer’s cache of seeds
    saved from the harvest
    over coffee I notice
    an outlet’s surprise =o emoji
    cornucopia celebrates
    a daughter’s safe return

    1. Linda, does this succeed in implying a person and autumn??

      snifter of brandy warming
      the first chilly night of the year
      “over coffee i notice…”
      no autumn verse.

    1. Another difference of culture here, Agnes:Colored, falling and fallen leaves for us signify Autumn, but the saijiki divides differently. Yellow leaves–presumably the earliest to turn–are autumn kigo, but by the time red leaves are changing or leaves are actually dropping, the season references are winter. IOW Autumn is the transition season when things are beautiful; fallen leaves–or especially dead and decaying leaves–are definitely a kigo for winter.

      As a winter verse, this is really splendid. Wish we could use it.

        1. I’ve gone back and amplified my prevous response–can’t use it in that phrasing because “falling” is also too late. “Changing” or “turning” leaves?

          1. I’m also concerned that it’s a non-person verse. We had two non-person verses (Forbidden Peak/snails around the birdbath); then the maeku (speed trap) a person verse, so can’t go back to non-person.

      1. I’ve had a lot of past discussion over the kigo of leaves. I agree “decayed” is winter or even spring in a different context, but the Japanese relegation of colored, fallING or even fallen leaves (colored) seems out of step. Bill Higginson in his books and conversation followed the Japanese ideas but did agree it could be westernized.
        Sometimes the official saijiki from the Japanese court was based on an old, then famous Chinese poem . . .? Not upon the actual climate. [ “deer” being winter was another subject with Bill. The rut + hunting is autumn here but not for Kyoto [applying from Saipan to Hokkaido), and I see more in Spring when fauns are about with the does.] Linda, your task doing an International renku is a difficult one.
        In much of this country … leaves color up even in September, and definitely in October and November. People make tourist bus trips, profitable, in mid-October for “leaf viewing.” In Maine, trees are bare in November, but not in the South. So, since Kyoto is about at Virginia’s latitude (middle of the US, N to S)… where are we? If Thanksgiving and Halloween are autumn kigo for us in the US? I ask plaintively why not falling leaves . . .? Is Tasmania the reverse? I do not know. Etc., Etc. forever, ey?

        1. I do agree with you about “falling” leaves, Paul. Every fall I watch the willow and aspen leaves yellow, then the brilliance of maple and finally that dull leathery red of the oaks, and wonder about placement of the cutoff between fall and winter. When I was a child–when my children were young in New Jersey–leaf piles in the streets could be big enough to bury a car, and the town would haul them away with shovel loaders and dump trucks. The early phases of raking up of leaves was definitely an autumn sport, but by the last pickup in early December everyone was sick of them. And then yes cleaning all the leftovers out of the gutters in spring.
          A lesson I learned from Yuki Teikei is that kigo can be reseasoned. The art is in how you do it. Maybe letting the whiskey color the leaves rather than vice versa. There also remains the problem of person/non-person, and I’m also a tad uncomfortable about looking down into an old fashioned glass, with in water in a round birdbath in the leapover verse. Before long it comes down to, it was a splendid lamentation verse to begin with. Did we lose what was so attractive in the verse in the first place?

          1. PS another case of our widely divergent division of seasons: every year Yuki Teikei plans a meeting to celebrate Tanabata, the big autumn star festival. In July.

        2. Oops–and then there’s the “falling things” category in the hokku.

          1. Hi Linda
            In other sessions I have read suggestions by other poets to enhance a verse. Agnes’s verse certainly add a burst of colour that could divert ones attention. A gorgeous image.
            As we know producers of a given product brag- up their product. After reading the post by yourself and Paul MacNeil I was wondering if this would be of use while also avoiding falling things and introducing a human element for Agnes’s verse.
            our whiskey the colour
            of fall leaves
            just a though 🙂

  9. a box of candy
    ready by the door
    for Halloween
    the spider’s web
    catches nothing
    but morning dew

    1. whoops
      I’m not the sharpest tool in the box
      these should be 2 line verses:

      Halloween candy
      in a jar by the door
      nothing but morning dew
      in the spider’s web

      1. IMO the Halloween candy verse nails it in two lines.
        Second one is very nice but your problem is that this is one of those things where cultures collide. While we may associate spiders and cobwebs with Halloween, spider and spider web are summer kigo.

  10. Most delighted by your selection, Linda! And am in awe of how you manage the subtle workings of a renku as well as your wonderful background knowledge that is so helpful. Especially thank you for the compliment ! I am truly honored that you think so.
    And to everyone…it is a pleasure to read all your selections and to interact with such talented poets!
    Thank you, again!

    1. That’s a lovely image, but I’m afraid that my error with the snails verse (now corrected) has obscured a problem– “gathered” feels like a bit of kannonbiraki with the snails “around” the birdbath. What might be a good workaround?

  11. very clever verse Betty
    raking leaves for
    community service
    perhaps to close too ” the old oak so perhaps
    carving out pumpkins
    for community service

    1. LOL I like the “community service”. Interesting how the change from leaf raking to pumpkin carving changes the sense from traffic court penalty to something more positive like a town-wide volunteer project.

  12. Congratulations, Betty a smashing link, a delightful choice, Linda, nice to have a touch of humour.
    I see there has been a change to the uchikoshi, is this an error or has it been changed as a second though?

    1. AAGGHH! No change–that’s an error that got in there from some different versions I was trying out before you came up with your final one. Sometimes these things are hard to root out completely. I’ll go change it. Sorry.

      1. These things happen when we have a busy, busy life 🙂
        Thanks Linda, it would not have bothered me, but I just thought I’d ask…

  13. I love the humor in that verse link! Such a great choice. Always nice to come back from vacation to see how a renku has grown by leaps and links 🙂 I will think of some verses for this next round.

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