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The Renku Sessions: Imachi – Week 9


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 8:

On the discussion thread for verse 8, Chris Patchel queried “red tailed hawks”, since we have “blue sky” in the hokku and I have been saying in the call-for-verse instructions to avoid duplicating the hokku—including color.

To be honest, I had been preoccupied with avoiding some of the things I was seeing in other offers. For instance, many included “snow/snowy” or “north wind/cold wind”. Even though there was some really fine writing in these and good pairing, the more I read them plugged into the entire renku it became increasingly clear that any season references to winter in terms of snow or cold would trigger recursion to the melting icicles of the hokku. There was also a question on the verse 7 thread of whether having an orchard in the blossom verse meant that we could not entertain another tree.

Between these concerns, I had totally missed the color thing–which I had said don’t do. It may have been whatPaul MacNeil noted, that “blue” is an adjective modifying “skies” while “red tail” is the name of the bird species. I’ve been researching and found a couple of resources that offer some explanation:

1) John Stevenson and Christopher Herold, Judges commentary for 2007 Bernard Lionel Einbond Renku Competition, Haiku Society of America:

“Retrograde linkages.  No subsequent verse of a renku should repeat material from the hokku or even read as an obvious link or reference to material in the hokku. Care also needs to be used to avoid linking to the “leap over” verse (the one preceding the verse to which the poet is seeking to provide a link). The closing verse should not attempt to create a circle by harking back to the hokku.”

2) John E. Carley, excerpts from commentary on an imachi he was leading at the Darlington/Richards Renku Group, May, 2012  (quoted with permission from N. Darlington):

“There seems to be a widespread confusion between topic and category in respect of exclusions related to hokku repetitions. The historic practice bars a repeat of the same word, well, effectively the same kanji. So we wouldn’t be repeating ‘violet’, or ‘dog tooth violet’ (if that was a single kanji). In English we can boil this down to no repeat of a topic that is central to the hokku [my italics]. . . I can’t recall encountering, even in the narrowest interpretations of renga rules, a *category* exclusion specific to the hokku which would seek to disbar all animals once ‘dog’ was mentioned, or all parts of plants once ‘leaf’ was mentioned, for instance.”

JEC went on to cite examples of hokku repetition by Basho, then mused, “I know that certain very conservative figures such as Shinku Fukuda made a great deal of keeping the hokku sacrosanct but he seems to have limited his magnified attention to the first page, i.e. to the first six of a kasen in this respect.” For his own imachi, JEC concluded that “on gut instinct about variety” there is a difference between color used as adjective and noun, as part of a name.

I’ve been searching for whatever I might find on what William Higginson might have said on the subject but so far have found silence. So my take-away from the above short sample is that approaches differ without being mutually exclusive. It’s more a matter of prioritizing differently. If imachi were an historic form, or if we were preparing to enter a contest,  I would follow arch-traditional protocols.  But it’s not and we’re not.  What we have is “blue” as an adjective and “red” as part of a name, and no duplication of kanji/word. Finally–what had been foremost on my mind–the seasons, topics and imagery of both verses are quite different.

When the discussion first arose, Michael gallantly offered to swap in “sharp-shinned hawks”.  Many thanks, but I’ve consulted a colleague who’s a serious birder. He paused, considered, then explained the differences between these two genera of raptor in terms of body/wing design and hunting behavior. With that I decided it would weaken both verse and renku to change it when we don’t have to.  Red tailed hawks it is.


Choice of Verse 8:

I’m very pleased that this verse by Barbara A. Taylor will be our newest addition to the renku.  Here it is with the maeku:

red tailed hawks
ride out the winter
in a big oak

again, steep beach erosion
after lashing waves

The link is the verse’s link to line 2 of the maeku, whose verb is often used in that context although it could apply to anything “dangerous or harmful that cannot be stopped or avoided” (Merriam Webster).  In the maeku it was winter; now, via the linking, it has become the aftermath of a destructive storm at sea. In the saijiki, “typhoon” is a mid-autumn kigo (World Kigo Database), though regional season word lists in the US give us “hurricane”=summer (Chesapeake Bay Saijiki), and the surfing contest at “Mavericks Beach”=spring (Yuki Teikei Bay Area Saijiki).  On both coasts the big storms that wash out roads, houses and barrier islands can also strike in winter or any time of year.  Still,  hurricane, typhoon, cyclone, Pineapple Express, Nor’easter, no specific storm is named and “wind”–the generator of waves–is by itself non- seasonal.  Technically this too is a non-seasonal verse that takes its mood through letting the season of the maeku spill in while also changing it.

Poetics also figures in the linking. In the maeku there’s  assonance (“red/ride”,  “hawk/oak”); in this verse “again/after”, “steep beach” and “lashing waves”.  If you’ve been looking closely you may have noticed a subtle change from the original post. Even with five verses’ intermission, the duplication of the adjective “deep” from the wakiku was distracting. the author has ingeniously offered an edit that preserves the force of the original.

Many thanks to Barbara and to all twelve of you who submitted. Here is our 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

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


Call for Verse 9:

Pun intended or not, we’ve had a bit of a “renku wave” through these last three verses, what with that dark thread that runs through them.  It’s time now, however, to trim course and mood.  With an eye to the three love verses coming up soon, I’m going to set a few conditions–call them challenges–for verse 9.   Love in renku is strictly human love and we will probably have three person verses for those slots.  Given that verse 7 and 8 are non-person, it would be good good to have a third non-person verse in #9 to keep things balanced and not trigger an overly long person run in the love verses (ah, the things sabakis have to think of!).  Also, we’ve been outdoors for the past two verses and it’s time to come inside again. Does it feel like jumping through hoops?  Yes, sometimes renku means that we have to write to specifications while still writing from the heart and maintaining the quality of life that every good verse needs.  Here in summary are the requirements for verse 9.

  • 3 lines, uncut
  • non-season
  • non-person
  • indoor setting
  • If you’re so inspired, topic categories not yet covered that might fit this slot include place names,  food, clothing, beverage, science/tools, vehicle or travel, religion, or dream/memory.
  • However, no birds, trees, weather or other imagery that might regress to the uchikoshi.
  • For the time being, no references to the categories of music, art or literary reference please–we’re still in avoidance range of the boy sousaphone player.
  • 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–anything that pertains to the topic category of “dwelling”.


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, 11 June, Eastern USA time.
  • The selected verse will be announced the following Thursday morning: 14 June, Eastern US time.


Happy writing!


This Post Has 80 Comments

  1. Oh, I love all the possibilities people were tossing into the ring. Submissions are closed now–see you Thursday!

    1. SpongeBob SquarePants
      and his action-figure friends
      left on the sofa
      and his action-figure friends
      left on the sofa

  2. in the darkness
    of the kitchen cupboard
    use-by dates expire
    box-set viewing
    leaves a dent
    in the sofa
    just 10 minutes
    for the spaghetti
    to be al-dente

    1. Ooh–that first one is enigmatic. Interesting to picture the third one as the lead-in to a love series, too.

      1. thanks Linda
        on reflection I think the ‘kitchen cupboard’ one links more to the red-tailed hawks, and so is a backward step and we want to move forwards!

    1. Nice link to the lashing waves–I’m thinking of a seaman’s church.

  3. *
    in the kitten’s
    empty water bowl
    fish of every colour
    the slow cooker
    full of beans
    set to low

      1. Also, baby animals are a spring season reference.
        Nice imagery in the bean pot.

  4. Durham Cathedral
    a detailed replica
    made of legos

    But is it ‘art’ ? (Never thought I’d ponder that question for a renku link)

    Curiosity Rover
    a detailed replica
    made of legos

    1. Oh, yeah! Did you ever play with a fractal-generating app? When had a Windows-based computer my favorite was one called Tierazon.

      1. Sadly, no. I just remember being blown away years ago by the images while first reading about the coastline paradox (think it was in Scientific American) though I probably was a bit stoned at the time! 🙊 I did have them as screensavers.

  5. again, steep beach erosion
    after lashing waves
    collected after Isabel
    Maryland’s state fossil
    on the mantel

    1. Back in the stone age I went to elementary school in Maryland and still remember art projects about Black Eyed Susan and Baltimore Oriole. No such thing as state fossils back then.

  6. Great verse Barbara. Thank you Linda for choosing my verse and for the insightful process you applied in the selection
    And now just for fun
    Cleveland throws in
    the towel for a second
    straight year

  7. Barbara, great verse and something all too often seen on our coasts.

    Verse 1:

    bucket and spade
    left behind
    in the railway carriage

    Verse 2:

    a necklace of shells
    on a table
    in the harbourside cafe

    Verse 3:

    next to the bed
    a glass of wine
    and a leather whip

    1. Nicely envisioned, all of them, Pauline. And each would open nicely to a love verse.

    1. Oh Wow–I thought the worst dumps were in Nigeria. Guiyu looks like one of Dante’s circles of hell.

  8. on the cooker
    lumps of meet begin
    to sputter

    under the icon
    a forgotten candle
    still smoking

    1. Oops–one of those forgotten candles set a fire in my parents-in-law’s house.

  9. Perfect, Barbara—Congratulations!
    Offering these
    . . .
    prayer candles
    burnt down
    to smoke
    model train
    tin-rumbling over
    over a toy gorge
    scattered in bits and gears
    of a dismantled clock

    1. The toy train is an ingenious way to include landscape erosion in the context of an indoor scene!

  10. again, steep beach erosion
    after lashing waves
    ~Barbara A. Taylor
    by the toothpaste
    a new miracle cure
    for baldness

    1. Sorry, for some reason I didn’t read the last paragraph for what is off limits 🙁
      I think I will bow out gracefully, for a while.

  11. cocktails on the
    coffee table untouched
    as the cloth dampens

    Chincoteague oysters
    don’t taste the same
    when farmed

    no more smokey
    rooms during
    a recent caucus

    on the workbench
    a brand new grinder
    by the blunt axe

    rhinestone jacket
    still in the closet
    after the rodeo

    at Musso and Frank’s
    an unbussed table
    with dishes of jalepeños

    1. Good ones, Paul.

      WordPress comments doesn’t recognize double spaces. I’ve gone through your post an inserted markers to separate the verses.

      1. I couldn’t guess what ‘unbussed’ means. It took a while, but once I’d found ‘busser’ it became clear.
        “The duties of bussers fall under the heading of busing or bussing, an Americanism of unknown origin.[13]”

  12. g’day all,

    Thank you, Linda, for liking my verse, am pleased to be part of this renku.

    Thanks Marion, Lorin, Mary.
    Fun to see where we wander next…

    Peace and Love

  13. I’m glad this is a non-animal verse (since every verse I attempted to write seemed to link back to BOTH the previous verses). The word ‘erosion’ seems strange to me though since storm damage is immediate rather than gradual?
    erode: 1. to eat into or away; destroy by slow consumption or disintegration

    1. yes, Chris, ‘erosion’ commonly indicates something that happens over time and yet ‘erosion’ is also used for the (what shall I say for now? “changes”?) to beaches and foreshores that happen overnight, too. Things are constantly and slowly eroding, but surely that process can speed up under special circumstances? The change, the damage, the erosion of a beach is immediately apparent in cases like this, anyway.
      Is there another word for it? There might be, but I don’t know it.

    2. Reading further down that Nat. Geographic piece (above) :
      “Global warming, the current period of climate change, is speeding erosion. The change in climate has been linked to more frequent and severe storms. Storm surges following hurricanes and typhoons can erode kilometers of coastline and coastal habitat.
      Cyclones would have to be included along with hurricanes and typhoons. I think the only reason Nat, Geo. doesn’t is that it’s written primarily for a USA readership, despite that it’s also distributed elsewhere.
      “The only difference between a hurricane, a cyclone, and a typhoon is the location where the storm occurs. Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are all the same weather phenomenon; we just use different names for these storms in different places.”

    3. Some years ago when. I lived in New Jersey, I recall a resident of one of the coastal communities telling me about a storm surge that washed away the barrier dune and created a new channel to the back bay. The people stood up on a relatively safe hill and watched the land as it disappeared.

      Now that I’m in California, where land comes down to the sea in steep cliffs, it’s a matter of the winter storms with their rains, winds and high waves that sap the base of the cliffs like a castle wll and set off landslides. Houses, the coastal road and in the case of Big Sur even whole mountainsides come sliding down.

    4. From Britannica online:
      “A narrow and somewhat limiting definition of erosion excludes the transport of eroded material by natural agencies, but the exclusion of the transport phenomenon makes the distinction between erosion and weathering very vague. Erosion, therefore, includes the transportation of eroded or weathered material from the point of degradation (such as the side of a mountain or other landform) but not the deposition of material at a new site.”
      To me, the link is with “ride out”. Erode is only one part of the process of erosion. In looking at roadside cuts, it’s fun to ponder the processes of nature. The canyons where I volunteer are formed from flash flood action….for example, in1954, 30″ of rain fell in the Pecos river watershed…a wall of water 85′ roared down the river, crested at 91′ washing away bridges, and houses farther downstream on the Rio Grande. As I explore the canyons and see the huge boulders and rock shelters gouged out eons ago, I am continually awed by it all. 4″ will cause flash flooding….otherwise, the canyon floor is most often bare of any water at all. Most people have no idea and ask if they were formed by glaciers because of the U- shape instead of a V-shape caused by a river or stream continually downcutting (as long as there is a gradient).


    5. Thanks for the ‘erosion’ replies. I guess I’ll gradually cave the broader use of the term ; )

  14. again, steep beach erosion
    after lashing waves
    Very nice link, Barbara! Congratulations. I’m taken back to our Cyclone Marcus and its aftermath, in March this year.
    The amusing thing is that a friend of mine up North is named Marcus, too. High time he had a cyclone named after him. 🙂

  15. John Carley’s readily accessible essay, ‘Introduction to Renku’ supports the two quotations in Linda’s ‘Preface’ in her main post, above. It’s well worth reading and bookmarking as a reference.
    Scroll down to ‘Link, Shift and Separation’
    “There is a lot of misunderstanding about repetition in renku. In English the term most frequently seen is ‘backlink’. Unfortunately this gives the impression that, rather than having forward momentum, renku spends all its time looking over its shoulder; and proposes that the generative force of renku is governed by a sole aesthetic principle – that to create good poetry it is sufficient to avoid all and any repetition.

    In contemporary renku there are three basic principles which counteract repetition: uchikoshi (more properly kannonbiraki); sarikirai; and torinne. . . .”
    “Torinne, in the modern sense, is more subjective than any strict category type of rule such as sarikirai. Its action is not limited by a designated proximity. If an added verse strongly recalls another verse from anywhere in the poem the accusation of ‘distant reincarnation’ can be levelled. But torinne does not operate at single word/idea level. It is applied to the complex of the verse’s meaning and/or phrasing.
    Beyond these three broad principles there is one convention worth mentioning which does resemble the simplistic notion of ‘backlink’. Many renga masters will disbar all and any repetition of core semantic elements which have appeared in the hokku. In English…. well, if we have ‘lighthouse’ in the hokku we might want to question ‘streetlight’ anywhere else as both contain the element ‘light’.

    Renku is not the search for novelty at any cost. Our overriding concern in respect of repetition has to be directed not at word level, but at stanza level, and ultimately in the context of stanza-to-stanza relationships.” – John E. Carley

  16. What a dazzling verse, Barbara. Congratulations!
    I’m putting my verses all in one posting (hope that’s ok):
    red tailed hawks
    ride out the winter
    in a big oak
    again, steep beach erosion
    after lashing waves
    stitched piece by piece
    from discarded dresses
    a dusty quilt on the chair
    the stillness
    of an empty rocking chair
    covered in a quilt
    stillness and silence drift
    through empty rooms
    as another year passes
    a vacant room
    with only a cuckoo clock
    to mark time passing
    not even a cuckoo clock
    to mark passing time
    in the empty room
    Linda, I wasn’t certain if cuckoo clock broke the rule against “no more birds.” Since it’s man-made, I am hoping it might link to the hawk and move on. Your advice is always most welcome. 🙂

    1. There isn’t a “rule” against more birds, just that it’s not the best use of a short renku’s verses to be duplicating topics/categories when there are still a lot more out there that we haven’t included yet.

      Your real problem, though, is that you’re not linking to the hawks–you’re linking to the waves and the beach erosion. The hawks in the oak are your uchikochi–the leapover verse–so anything that links to that verse is verboten for the time being. Without “cuckoo” the verse links very well.

      1. Well, a bit of a correction to that: “the passing time” regresses to “ride out the winter”, which is also about passing time. But the clock in the empty room still looks like the basis of a good idea to me.

      1. Pleased you like this one, Mary 🙂 Barbara’s references to rocks and waves made me think of The Giant’s Causeway further up the coast from here!

  17. Well done, Barbara. I love the drama in your verse.
    chalked on the board
    as plat du jour

        1. LOL I’m imagining the innuendo of “dreamboats” as a call-to-love verse.

    1. I like the rhyme in the second two lines, but unfortunately this verse is not our moon verse.

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