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The Renku Sessions: Imachi – Week 8


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 for verse 7:

Sixteen writers submitted to this slot, but despite the number of offers, I had difficulty in selecting this time. A lot of the offers accessed their winter season references in terms of snow, frozen things or cold wind, which worked fine with the maeku and uchikoshi but as I looked them over I began to see regression  to the icicles in the hokku.  We don’t have any animals thus far, so I really appreciated the writers who also sensed the need for an animal in this slot.  We now have a fine menagerie of geese, raptors, owls, crow, raven, ducks, gulls, plovers, sapsuckers, bison, deer, wolf, foxes, beaver, ermine, lemmings, horse, neo-natal lamb, feral cats  monarch butterflies. . . A lot of really nice verses here too.

A few questions came up about whether topics or words once used were off limits for the duration. This always seems to happen around this point in a renku as the imagery of previous stanzas works its way in and grabs our brains.   I responded to some on the  Verse 7 comments thread but it may be better to reiterate here. Apologies that this will long, but the questions are legitimate and deserve response.

The concerns aired on the Verse 7 comments thread were 1) about a morpheme duplication of “day” in “Earth Day” and “Friday”, and 2) whether having an apple orchard already means that we can’t have any more trees in the renku.  It’s called “backlinking” and John Carley was adamantly vocal in pointing out that there is no such rule.  A whole section in Renku Reckoner is devoted to it.

What renku does require is variety and forward momentum.   One handy tool that helps with variety is a topics chart. In their “Link & Shift” article on Renku Home,  Tadashi Kondo and William Higginson reproduced topic charts from two Japanese renku clubs (Higginson also created an expanded chart based on these though unfortunately it’s unpublished).  Another handy tool is the Persistence/Avoidance (kukazu/sarikirai) table. Carley reproduced one in Renku Reckoner (p. 113) that’s adapted from a 17th c. treatise. It can also be found in Herbert Jonsson’s “Haikai Poetics, Buson, Kito and the Interpretation of Renku Poetry” (scroll through to p. 38). This chart categorizes  subject matter with an eye to its importance and lists how long a topic such as “falling things (snow, rain etc)” may be sustained in a run of verses, or how long before it can recur. The interval is generally two or three verses. A few words of wisdom:

Norman Darlington: “Even in a short renku (12-20 stanzas), at least one item from each group should appear. . . If a given item appears more than once, it should show a very different aspect each time [my italics].”

Tadashi Kondo and William H. Higginson: “In making renku it is crucial to have a sense of balance between link and shift. Shift is the bones that supports the structure of a renku, while link is the flesh and blood that gives it the quality of life . . . Certainly it is more fun to find ways to link stanzas than to worry about violations of ever-expanding compendiums of rules. Seeing the imperative to shifting as an encouragement to variety helps to avoid a negative, rule-bound approach.”

Using topic and intermission as a measure to examine “Earth Day” vs “Friday”, or “orchard” vs “pine”, “oak”, “aspen” or trees in general, the pairs are often not in the same topic category.  Their meanings and function in context are quite different and, moreover, in both pairs of apparent duplication we have the requisite three intervening verses between them. Other sabakis might decide differently, but with a mind to the above sources who have influenced me, I see no problem.  It might be a warning signal about more variety, but the goal is forward momentum and the nature of the submissions that are coming in indicate we’re doing well.


Choice of Verse 7:

I found myself focusing on the verses with animals, particularly those that linked to the school shooter by featuring a wounded or dying animal. There’s a topic category for emotions, in particular pity,  These verses would  definitely have brought in an emotion we don’t yet have in the renku, and some of them would have linked in nicely.  They will, however, remain the road not taken.  My eye was caught this by this one by Michael Henry Lee:

red tailed hawks
ride out the winter
in a big bare oak

For those who don’t live within this bird’s native range in North America, these are large, fierce, beautiful birds,  and a common sight roosting on trees or power poles along the interstate highways, where the grass verges provide lots of prey. On that level it links to the school shooter, but like any good symbol it’s also a multi-layered link. I’m reminded how “hawk” and “chicken hawk” figure in our political vocabulary, which in turn leads me to war, nationalism and our whole debate on guns. However, there’s an entirely different cluster of associations about red tailed hawks that is evoked by the second line “ride out the winter”. When I was a child, in the DDT  age, they were no where to be seen. I’m constantly in awe of how populations have rebounded, though they are still at risk from rodent poisons and apparently red tails constitute half of all bird deaths from wind turbines. For me, thus,  Michael’s verse is about resilience–riding out the winter. Isn’t that a much needed consolation in the times we’re in?

It will be our one winter verse, so good that it is decisive in its depiction of the season–no less than three kigo, one on each line (hawk, name of season, bare tree). I’m going to ask the author’s permission to cut back the third kigo because our spring blossom verse is essentially about bare trees bursting into bloom. Although there are ample verses between them, that “different aspect”  Norman spoke about is important. Simply cutting “bare” will, I think, do the trick.  It preserves the verse’s wonderful “hawk/oak” assonance and gives us a bit of a  renku wave.

red tailed hawks
ride out the winter
in a big oak


Here it is then, plugged into the renku to date:

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


Call for verse 8:  Two lines, non-season

Specifications for Verse 8:

  • Two lines, uncut
  • Non-seasonal
  • Non-person
  • Link to verse 7; shift away from verse 6
  • Topics and materials we have not yet placed include place names, literary references, religion, science/technology, reminiscences / nostalgic images, or dreams.
  • Verse 8 should NOT include imagery from the uchikoshi: human presence, current events, calamity, school or learning, gun-related imagery or death.
  • Anything in the hokku is off limits till the end of the renku. This means no icicles or cold things, no dripping or falling things, single rows of things, sky, color blue, sun, roof or other parts of a building.


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, 4 June, Eastern USA time.
  • The selected verse will be announced the following Thursday morning: 7 June, Eastern US time.


Happy writing!


This Post Has 71 Comments

  1. Thank you, everyone. Judt got in under the wire and submissions are closed.

    See you Thursday!

  2. Thank you, Michael, for a great image to link to.


    Verse 1:

    “tyger tyger burning bright”
    in the Sumatran jungle

    Verse 2:

    leaping flames
    in the forest

    and for fun —

    Verse 3:

    male baboon
    moons female

      1. Pauline, I think your first verse is very cleaver as a dream image ( or should that be a nightmare image) and has a deep meaning in relation to conservation. I like it , and I hope others, in this instance, see the same image I see.
        It’s line two that take line one in a different direction, for me anyway.

        1. True– There’s a punch packed into these two lines: animal, science and literary reference topics. Throughout many of the submissions this time there’s an undercurrent of ecological theme.

    1. That is a delightful verse, Marion. Unfortunately, I’ve dug in to the World Kigo Database and to Fay Aoyagi’s blog and find that hermit crab (yadokari) is a spring kigo.

    1. maybe should say:
      spurred on by some 6th sense
      platypus feels around

          1. And, National Geographic’s video on that link referred to it as a 6th sense so went by that.

        1. “. . . its primary sense organ is the bill, equipped with receptors sensitive to pressure, and with electro-receptors. The precise way in which the Platypus uses the bill to detect prey is still unknown, ”
          “Platypuses are active all year round, but mostly during twilight and in the night. ”

  3. Congrats, Michael.


    red-tailed hawks
    ride out the winter
    in a big oak


    again, deep beach erosion
    after lashing waves


    rising with the thermals
    eyes glued to the ground


    a frisky Irish Setter
    settles under shade

    1. This one resonates. I’m mile from the mother of all strike-slip faults–the San Andreas. I look out the window at a mountain range that is moving northward, bringing Los Angeles up to us at the rate of 1.7 cm a year.

  4. red-tailed hawks
    ride out the winter
    in a big oak
    twitching paws
    as the dog dreams

    1. Thank you, Paul. As a current topic, the earth is certainly acting up these days, isn’t it? Since you posted this a volcano has also erupted in Guatemala.

    1. I hope it survives. Thank you, Vasile. This verse is a reminder that renku should include verses other than shasei description, too.

      1. Happy reading. I really love that book. The one problem with it is that the print version it isn’t indexed so not searchable. I keep a bookmark for the online version at Google Books that I use when I need to search it.

  5. red-tailed hawks
    ride out the winter
    in a big oak
    smudge marks on the glass
    mummified menagerie
    pondering hieroglyphics
    In in the Valley of the Kings

    1. Sorry noticed a typing error in my submission:
      pondering hieroglyphics
      in the Valley of the Kings

    2. Valley of the Kings would make a good nostalgia topic, though in a non-person verse you would have to avoid “pondering” which centers the verse on someone who is doing the looking.

  6. Linda, do dreams and flight (without mentioning humans specifically) still adhere to the “non-human” rubric??
    tiniest of feathers
    clings to the sundial
    that long ago first flight
    a giant leap to tomorrow
    once in a while a sweet dream
    of Snoopy and Woodstock

    1. I would say that your first one is non-person–pure nature–and BTW it’s lovely. Not quite sure what to call the other two–there’s allusion to human in them so I think that even though the focus is flight/dream I might classify them as human. We really do need one more purely nature verse in this slot.

      1. Trying for pure nature
        red-tailed hawks
        ride out the winter
        in a big oak
        Michel Henry Lee
        tiniest of feathers
        clings to the sundial
        rocky crag aerie
        frees new wings
        silent predawn darkness
        but for bats swooping home

  7. Michael, provocative direction you’ve taken the renku. Congratulations.

    1. Sharp shinned hawks would do and we could go there, but wait until I respond more thoroughly to Chris’s question, which I’ll do in next week’s post.

  8. Wow, this new information (‘no such rule’ against backlinking) has me feeling a bit lost. It’s ok to have multiple colors as well?
    (I did read the section from Renku Reckoner, but it’s going to take awhile to process what he’s getting at there).

    1. It does take a lot of processing, but this is where the real joy and poetry of renku comes in.

      Re colors, though–the color “blue” is in the hokku” so we would not want to name a color for the rest of the renku. How else could you get color into your verse without naming it?

      1. Oops–missed that. I was so focused on the tree thing. Well, lets see if it looks bothersome when we get finished. There will always be some adjustments to be made.

        1. Nice verse, Michael. I must admit, I didn’t see red, Linda. I wonder if this is because “red-tailed hawk” (I believe it to be hyphenated) is a name of bird species rather than referring to a colour, as it isn’t really red but brown with a reddish hue?

          1. Right. I think that’s why it didn’t register with me. I’ve been researching and have come up with some food for thought on this issue. I’ll lay it all out carefully for all to see in next week’s post.

          2. Yes, Marion … red-tailed hawk is the established name of the bird. Common in N. America, subspecies found further south, but it is a “New World” bird. It is a large hawk. As to it being a color? … up to the leader. –flower for example: “black-eyed Susan” but not “red rose.” These 2 verses are separated by others which might be a plus. Still and all, to say the word is to say the word… if one wants to be very strict. But variety is to be prized. An interesting question.

          3. “Still and all, to say the word is to say the word…” – Paul
            Interesting…my husband is color blind. Reds/greens…no difference for him which was brought home to me one beautiful fall day. Don’t think it ever really registered before.

          4. Thank you for that response, Paul. It’s in line with what Carley has said. By your leave I’ll collate your comment into the resources I’m gathering for the Thursday post.

      2. Chris:

        I’m back from having done some research in to the matter.All is too complicated to get into on a comments thread because of the formatting restrictions. I’ll gather the resources and lay them out on next week’s post.

    2. I read John Carley’s chapters, “The Three R’s” and “On Backlink,” and found them very helpful (and entertaining). They largely confirmed my current understanding, but also made it a more flexible.
      It goes without saying that it’s the sabaki who makes those calls. I’m glad it’s not me ; )

      1. Chris, I think everyone should in fact try being sabaki, maybe in a small group of friends offline. One of my early experiences–with training wheels–was a junicho with Agnes Savich–she got John Carley to advise us.
        Renku can be such a new concept that I understand fear of “the rules”, but as one of my teacher colleagues at school tells students, “Perfection is the enemy of the good.” The ultimate goal is to write a poem that people will want to read–with “flesh and blood” and a “quality of life” as Bill Higginson put it.
        But let’s continue to talk about this. It’s an important discussion.

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