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The Renku Sessions: Triparshva—Call for verse 21


Welcome to the third Renku Session. I’m Linda Papanicolaou, and I’ll be leading this journey in collaborative poetry. Triparshva is a 22-verse form developed by Norman Darlington in 2005. It’s a good form for composing online because it moves more quickly than the 36-verse kasen, while also following the jo-ha-kyu (beginning-development-rapid closure) pattern of traditional renku. So whether you’re new to renku, or simply want to keep your skills honed, you’re especially encouraged to join us.

Selection of Verse 20:

Welcome back to a number of people who had placed verses earlier in the renku. Somehow this time it seemed harder than usual to choose, especially since there were some wonderful offers with those much-desired mammals or amphibians, but also some non-animal ideas such as the homeless man, that had a lovely spring feel. Many thanks to those of you who went back and tweaked or rewrote as I tried out how various things would work.  Thanks in particular to Agnes, who gamely rewrote two different verses and now is going to find that we’ll be placing the border collie in a form that’s pretty much as she originally submitted it.

If you read that part of the thread, you’ll remember her first post, “the border collie herds/
freshly shorn ewes to pasture” was quickly followed by a suggestion to remove “to pasture” if that conflicted with avoidance of plants.  I didn’t feel it did, though I did think her instincts were right that the dog and the sheep imagery were enough for a two-line verse. Shorn of its final two words, however, the verse seemed kind of weak so I asked the author to try  some variants to up the energy level, and moved on to think of other offers as she posted alternatives.  It was a while before I realized that this was in fact a really fine verse, almost as-is: what it needed was simply to complete the editing by adjusting the line break. Accordingly, here it is, with maeku and uchikoshi (note: I’ve also just tweaked Marion’s verse with an edit she’d suggested):

jackets warming
by the wood burning stove

a peal of bells
from across town
announces early Mass
~Marion Clarke

the border collie
herds freshly shorn ewes
~Agnes Eva Savich

I love that dog.  If you’ve seen a border collie in action, you know how frenetically tireless they are: a burst of energy to round us up and propel us through the last two verses. Even even though their destination “pasture” is not in the final version, it’s still there by implication. After the spring shearing, shepherd and sheep will be moving to their high pastures. It links to the maeku as a simple yet wonderful analogy to church bells gathering the parish’s own flock.

Specifications for verse 21:

This will be the second verse of our spring run, the “blossom verse”.  It’s a very important verse in renku.  Traditionally, just saying “blossom” means by default cherry blossoms. In traditional renku the verse must be about cherry blossoms, though a more relaxed interpretation would allow for a wider range of spring-flowering fruit trees: plum, peach, pear, apricot, apple or hawthorn.  In short form renku such as shisan or junicho, the equivalent of the blossom verse may fall in another season and thus it becomes a “flower” verse.  We will be doing a blossom, not a flower verse, but we’ll allow for the wider range of trees. If you’d like to browse some of the many specific kigo associated with blossoms, you’ll find them on the WKD’s pages for cherry and plum blossoms, and in the “500 Season Words” list at Renku Home.

Here is the maeku and uchikoshi for our blossom verse:

a peal of bells
from across town
announces early Mass

the border collie
herds freshly shorn ewes

The requirements are as follows:

  • This will be a three-line verse, spring, centering on a spring-blossoming tree of your choice (plum, peach, pear, apricot, apple or hawthorn).
  • Link to the maeku, shift from the uchikoshi.
  • We’ve just had three non-person verses so this should be a person verse.
  • We’re in the “quiet close” phase of the kyu. Keep the language simple and avoid information that might send readers out of the renku.


How to Submit:

All verse positions in this renku will be degachi. Please post your offers in the Comments section below. Let’s have an upper limit of 3 per participant.

The call for this verse will remain open until Monday, November 9, 2015 at midnight (EDT). At that time I’ll collect everyone’s ideas, consider each, choose the one that best serves the renku, and post a call for the next verse on Thursday.

Useful links and resources:

  • If you’re just joining us, please take a moment to review my Introduction to Triparshva post.
  • NEW: A full copy of the schema for the renku may be found at the bottom of the introductory page. I am filling in the verses as they are placed.
  • For the archive of previous calls and submissions, click here.


The Renku so far:

Side 1: jo

a bowl of cherries
sitting on each white plate
someone’s name
~Lynne Rees /su

under a canvas tent
the snap of a breeze
~Barbara Kaufmann /su

passersby stop
to applaud a subway
saxophone player
~Karen Cesar / ns

sweet reminiscences
of our bygone days
~Barbara A. Taylor / ns

yet again
the moon lights the loggerhead
as she digs
~Paul MacNeil / sp mn

with the twittering
morning mist clears away
~Maria Tomczak

Side 2: Ha

from the mountain top
Puyallup natives trace
their lands below
~Carmen Sterba / ns

who left the doors open
to Valhalla?
~Polona Oblak/ ns

rusty roofing iron
as a letterbox
~Sandra Simpson / ns

#smitten #diamond #yes
~Christopher Patchel / wi lv

at the Marquise
a clandestine romp
in neon flicker
~Judt Shrode / ns lv

his better half chambers
another round just because
~Betty Shropshire / ns lv

after a while
the life boat for refugees
floating hardly
~Vasile Moldovan / ns

the first pawlonia leaf
to touch the soil
~Maureen Virchau / au

how the setting moon
fills the garden
with darkness
~Gabriel Sawicki / au mn

I stagger through cricket songs
impaired by Gandalf Grog
~Patrick Sweeney / au

Side 3: Kyu

all the kids
cross off their days
with chunky crayons
~Beth McFarland / ns

jackets warming
by the wood burning stove
~Joel / w

a peal of bells
from across town
announces early Mass
~Marion Clarke / ns

the border collie
herds freshly shorn ewes
~Agnes Eva Savich / sp

This Post Has 48 Comments

  1. Hi Linda…I really don’t know anything about this…just trying to learn. I’m a bit confused about cherry blossoms being OK here with the bowl of cherries in the hokku…?

    1. So sorry…just saw your list didn’t include cherry. Embarrassed! I guess it was because cherry came up in your answer to my other question. I just need to be quiet

      1. No, no embarrassment. I’m as far away from the hokku as you are and even though I just saw that bowl of cherries while thinking about final tweaking, it didn’t connect.
        No such thing as too many eyes!

    2. That’s a good point, Jude. I think that different renku schools may differ in their response. I have seen JEC remark (sarcastically) that there are schools of thought that not one syllable from the hokku appear anywhere else in the renku, which I take to mean that he advocated a more flexible approach. The blossom verse is so important, I would feel it’s okay to have “blossom” which by default means cherry, but I would want not to see the word “cherry” repeated. Even better, go with one of those other species of blossom. Plum is an early bloomer so maybe best to avoid it so as not to give a sense of time flowing backward from the spring shearing, but the others should be good. Todd has gone with apple.

  2. the fool
    always finds a perfect one
    apple blossom


    little boy
    and three-legged grandfather
    apple-blossom path


    tax accountant
    closes his ledger to view
    apple blossoms

    1. That’s charming, Liz, and it links nicely. It is on the short side–as many syllables and actually fewer stresses than the border collie, which should be the short verse. It would be interesting to try some variations that are more built out, more, too–if that can be done without losing the innocence of this version.

        1. First two lines lovely. Can you work in the blossoms without using a preposition of place like “under”–trying to avoid those since we’ve had a lot.
          PS “apple” is a nice blossom choice for this image.

    2. Better yet, if you read my discussion with Betty, you may have seen what I said about the renku having collected too many verses built out with prepositional phrases. We managed to shake the habit with verse 20 and I’d like to avoid going back to those constructions at least for this verse. Can it be done?

      1. But a glitch: As Judt has just reminded me, we have “cherries” and a color (“white”) in the hokku, so a bit of fancy footwork may be needed to show those blossoms while also staying clear of the hokku.

    1. Thanks for an offer, Christa. I do see you were working it as a 5/7/5 but I wonder could let that go and look through the imagery you’ve assembled. “Buds faintly pink” is nice–a neat twist referring to blossoms without actually saying the word, too.
      Line 2 is a problem for two reasons–“promising” feels to me to be kannonbiraki with “announcing” in the leapover verse; also, in this part of the renku we want to stay in the here and now and not be looking towards another season.
      Line 3 is interesting as you’ve introduced a second spring kigo–late frost or returning cold. Double kigo can be done–it’s just a matter of whether we want a mood like this right as we’re coming to closure.
      Could I suggest a writing exercise that might generate some more good ideas? Start with that first line “buds faintly pink” and then write as many variations as you can, just staying in the moment. We need a person verse for this one, so who do you see near that budding tree?

      1. Another glitch: As Judt has just reminded me, in addition to cherries, we have a color (“white”) in the hokku, so a bit of fancy footwork may be needed to convey the color of those blossoms while also staying clear of the hokku.

  3. so many
    immortal blossoms
    un the painter’s canvases


    let’s take a short vac
    to listen to the symphony
    of cherry blossoms


    blossom near blossom
    in the cherry orchard
    true ikebana

  4. Thanks for choosing the verse, the pair of images of the bells pealing across town and the shorn sheep streaming with the collie was a very “Sound of Music/ the hills are alive” kind of scene in my head. They’re freshly shorn to mark the spring season, it’s just an adjective describing their state. I’m not focusing on their wool or having a farmer actively removing it or anything like that. Nor was the jacket (a typically lighter unlined garment than a coat, unless it’s specified as a ski jacket or wool jacket, meant to ward off early chill) meant to hint at sheep in any way.
    If we start looking at obscure ‘scents’ then you could sniff out all kinds of unintended connections;
    a lifeboat ‘floating’ like the moon appears to float in the sky; Sunday mass referring back to calendar days; the warming of the jackets related to the warming effects of alcohol; and on and on. I do hope the collie and his spring ewes get to continue to flock under the sound of the bells.

    1. From Wikipedia:

      “Sheep are shorn in all seasons, depending on the climate, management requirements and the availability of a woolclasser and shearers. Ewes are normally shorn prior to lambing, but consideration is typically made as to the welfare of the lambs by not shearing during cold climate winters. ”
      “The medieval English wool trade was one of the most important factors in the English economy. The main sheep-shearing was an annual midsummer (June) event in medieval England culminating in the sheep-shearing feast.”

      Additionally, different breeds can have their lambs in the winter, early spring, or year around…human intervention plays a role in some cases, as does the loss of their coat.
      In effect, ‘freshly shorn” is not solely a spring activity and historically, it wasn’t. The ewe must be mature in order to produce offspring which may or may not, occur in the spring.
      Also, it is the adjective by which your verse was determined to be spring oriented…saying just an adjective demeans the renku mindset,in my opinion, where every word matters. Likewise, scent links are not obscure but vital to the understanding of link and shift. But whatever the Sabiki decides…

      1. Good points all again, Betty, though the saijiki has lots of kigo–stars, moon, deer etc. that are actually present year round; what determines seasonality is when we are most aware of them. I haven’t had much contact with sheep farming but I do associate shearing with spring, fortified in Agnes’ case by stipulating “ewes” as opposed to a mixed flock–indicating this was a flock preparing for lambing. To my surprise, my own reseearch showed that shearing would be early spring before the weather warms up. Evidently ewes can take crisp spring temperatures quite well and you want to do it in time for them to regrow a good coat before winter. So, while not unequivocal, I take it as an early spring season reference.
        Also, a weaker season reference such as this one can be fortified by a strong season reference in the next verse to pull it firmly into line. That will certainly be the case here as our next verse is blossom.
        We can of course continue to talk about this, and we may legitimately agree to differ in the end as it’s a situation of grays rather than black and white, but perhaps we also ought to start thinking about the blossom verse, too. Jim Kacian has written me that the annual fund campaign is going to start as we’re finishing up and he’ll be announcing the next renku. So we do have to keep our schedule.
        IE, blossom verse offerings by this coming Monday.

  5. You are very welcome, Linda, for the thoughts, alternates, and for starting a new thread. I’ll start another here, as well. Just because. 😀
    Yes, the original verse is the best. What fantastic imagery. And yes, Betty’s transgender verse was brilliant. Yes, yes.
    Thanks for sharing the link. I will read it when I have time to fully concentrate.
    And thanks for sharing your experience with border collies. They are fascinating and beautiful creatures.
    Take care, and I hope you will find a suitable conclusion. My hope is that the original verse can remain, but I understand if the renku simply calls for an alternative.

    1. Agreed. Thank you, Betty! Your enthusiasm is remarkable. And thank you, Joel. It certainly has been an educational exploration of ideas. 🙂

      1. Thanks, Maureen and Linda. For the most part, I have really enjoyed the renku process and your considerable patience, Linda but will refrain from anymore input as I do get tired of hyperbole with respect to any inquiry surrounding scent link and my response to Agnes, reflects that angst so I need to bow out. BTW, am finding the dissertation most interesting…grateful for the link.

    1. My apologies. I don’t think that is a sufficient spring reference. I was hoping to find a way to keep the word “freshly” in the verse.
      Thoughts of a border collie chasing soap bubbles now. 😀

      1. That would be a sight. My introduction to border collies was years ago, with the neighbor’s dog. She’d position herself on a hill between two roads and spend all day running back and forth, herding cars on both. I’ve read that they will herd ants if there’s nothing else available.

  6. Congrats, Agnes. What a beautiful verse. Great imagery and multi-layered, as well. 🙂
    Linda, I thought of the possibility of “sun-warmed” lambs, but that repeats the “warming” in Joel’s verse, of course. I also don’t know if that is a proper reference to the warmth of spring. If it is one, maybe the use of “drying” rather than “warming” could eliminate that issue.
    jackets drying
    by the wood burning stove
    the border collie
    herds sun-warmed ewes
    But maybe the inherent warmth in each verse is a problematic link even without the repetition of specific wording.
    Another thought is to use “muddied” in reference to “spring mud” although I am not sure if it is necessary to specify the season in order for it to be an official reference to spring.
    jackets warming
    by the wood burning stove
    the border collie
    herds muddied ewes
    As far as the issue of kannonbiraki as was recognized in the case of Sandra’s “letterbox” and Betty’s transgender verse with their theme of transformation, I do not personally recognize it as a problem with the verses in question.
    If Joel’s verse read:
    the school children
    remove their woolen coats
    I could see a link with:
    the border collie
    herds freshly shorn ewes
    With the verses as they read now, I do not see a problem. Of course, that is my personal perspective, as well as my limited perspective.
    On a final note, I think the original verses are superior. I am just offering my thoughts in case the renku calls for alterations.
    Thank you for all your time and consideration as sabaki. Your work is sincerely appreciated. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts, Maureen. And for the alternate ideas. I had been wondering if pulling “mud” over from Agnes’ other pasture verse would work to swap in a different season reference but I agree that the original verse has a freshness of vision that will likely disappear in any more editing.
      Regarding Betty’s transgender verse, I still think it was a brilliant piece of writing in its original form but as I recall there were other reasons of regression that I tweaked the wording that damaged it and created the kannonbiraki.
      Renku is in some ways like a puzzle that may have multiple solutions but whatever solution you find the pieces have to fit together adroitly, following “rules” but still keeping the thing alive as poetry. There’s also such a thing as a “renku wave”, which I was also going to talk about a bit when we got to the end. Chris Drake talks about it in the preface to Renku Reckoner (p. 11), making analogies to music. I won’t transcribe more; you can read his words in the original here:

      (Thank you also for starting a new comment thread rather than replying on any of the previous, whose columns are getting narrower and narrower 😀 I’m not fond of the way WordPress formats threads–they should study how Facebook manages discussion layout, which is much clearer).

  7. Linda…The 500 Essential Season Words appears to say (but I’m not certain) that in a renku the word “blossom” must be used with all except cherry. Is that the case? As opposed to, for example, using the word “petal/s,” which implies “blossom”.

    1. No, the word “blossom” by default refers to cherry. If you want you can say the full term, “cherry blossoms”, or just “blossom”. If you want plum, apricot, apple, etc, you specify “plum” or “plum blossom”, “apple blossom,” etc.

  8. Betty – your question about the link is like my question on the previous verse. I’m also learning about how the link works and in several places have failed to see it at all – maybe I’m not imaginative enough. For me to make the connection you suggest I would have to assume up front that the jackets were wool – I wouldn’t naturally do that because my jackets were never wool – too expensive and it gives me a rash! 🙂 Plus my verse suggests to me winter while Agnes’ verse moves me toward spring and the wool being used for something different than jackets – maybe yarn for afghans. But I’m really just learning…

    1. That was my thought, Joel–the jackets and wood stove are a winter image and sheep shearing is spring, so for me there’s a sense of forward movement rather than kannonbiraki. But I’d like to hear how others read it.
      As we discuss, I’m trying to think of some alternative solutions. Problem is that for mixed reasons there would be some real problems in placing most if not all of the other submissions.

      1. That one takes place in winter and one in spring necessarily implies progression? I guess I am misunderstanding those scent links altogether in JC’s essay. What about the scent links with respect to echoing and/or reflection? I mean that’s how I could understand Polona’s red flag to my verse earlier in the renku.

        1. Which JEC essay?
          Unfortunately I cleaned out the verse 12 thread when we swapped in your replacement verse so I can’t recall what Polona said about the transgender verse and its relationship to Chris’s #winterwedding verse.
          Scent linking (of which “echo” is one kind) pertains to the relationship between successive verses. Progression/regression is about a verse’s relationship to its uchikoshi: “The basic idea of progression is not to have a similar category of experience or topic appear in alternating verses, avoiding a throwback or “regression” in any three consecutive stanzas.” (Kondo & Higginson).

          For me, Joel’s topic was clothing, the freshly-shorn ewes are animal, and the experiences depicted are quite different. Had the jackets been specified as wool, that would definitely been a problem. On the other side, the reference to spring shearing is the season reference so it’s not easy to remove it. I’ve been looking and have found nothing that can replace it and still retain the freshness of the verse as submitted.
          Notice that I’ve prefaced this “for me”. In no way am I saying that I’m right and you’re off. I’m listening to you very carefully and I’m hoping that other participants will chime in and tell me if I’m missing something.
          I’m also willing to err on the side of caution we can do so while also getting a good strong verse in the slot. There are, however, two other constraints that I haven’t mentioned but have figured strongly in my decision to go with the border collie and ewes:
          1) If you look back over the renku, we have a rather–even overly–long string of verses with adverbial and prepositional phrases. That was my fault for letting so many build up and I’ll have to try to edit where I can later–but in any case almost every verse submitted for the verse 20 slot had one or more prepositional phrases in it–if not other problems such as season. With “to pasture” gone, there are no prepositions in the border collie/ewes verse. Its straightforward language brings a much-needed strength.
          2) Further restricting the field: We started this renku with far more participants than verses available to place them, so I’ve been tracking the people who submit on an Excel spreadsheet and quietly working to get everyone in who’s been faithfully participating. I’m deeply grateful to everyone who’s already placed but still participating because these additional offers provide a lot more context and help me gauge what the renku wants. But with three verses to go there are two people who have been very regular participants who haven’t yet gotten their verses in. So basically I’m looking for their verses for the next two slots.
          If we’re going to back up and swap again so be it, but however the #20 slot gets settled, the verse should meet eligibility on these other two points also.

          1. Here is the essay. My link for it doesn’t show up in red so I copied and pasted it below.
            The objection raised for my verse was with respect to Sandra’s ‘repurposed’ verse …the leap over verse and not the immediately preceding one of Christopher Patchel’s. Hers dealt with inanimate object (a roof) while mine was of a human nature but I did see how the idea of something being repurposed was implied in mine despite the different subject matter altogether.
            Yeah, removing that thread in hindsight diminishes the learning aspect of why or why not a verse should be used. My initial reason for withdrawing it was the repetition of a pronoun so didn’t feel that it moved the renku forward because of that. Lorin heavily objected to your edit as it changed the emotional quality and although I agreed, I acquiesced to the change. Then Polona brought up the repurposed backlink issue and one that I had to flesh out on my own because we didn’t go into it deeper there and chose to move on. She was absolutely right but I am still pondering which scent link category is breeched.

            Likewise, another potential verse entry of mine in that thread was hotly discussed. It had a mirror in it. For you, even though silver was not expressly stated it would have somehow linked back to Valhalla’s roof…gold…again, not stated but implied and one that I was completely clueless about because you brought up metals as having been used already but I only saw rust. So, I have to go digging deeper to finally get the drift.

            So, here with the ‘freshly shorn ewes’, their coats have been removed. The quality of a coat is still being used although in a different manner from the jackets warming. Help me here because it doesn’t feel like a complete thematic shift in topic.

            I understand your plight. You have a big job and I don’t want to complicate but to understand better this most intriguing form of poetry. I wish others would weigh in.

            “VOLUME 2, ISSUE 1 – MARCH 2002

            WHCessay – John E. Carley on Renku

            A Brief Introduction to Renku Composition

            John E. Carley
            The Pennines, UK

            As a genre, Japanese linked verse is referred to as renga. Renku is the name generally reserved for linked verse composed in accordance with the principles advanced by the great master Basho.

            Renku sequences are normally written by two or more persons at a single sitting, poets taking turns to compose individual verses, an arrangement referred to as hizaokori. Occasionally verses are selected by degachi – competitive submission, whereby all participating poets compose a stanza, but only one is chosen for inclusion.Sequences are identified by length:

            junicho and shisan both containing 12 stanzas;

            jusanbutsu 13;

            shishi 16 stanzas;

            hankasen – half-kasen – 18;

            nijuin 20 stanzas;

            kasen 36 stanzas; and

            hyakuin 100.

            An Illustration of Structure – the Kasen

            A renku sequence is not simply a succession or assemblage of verses. There are underlying structures designed to “orchestrate” the piece. In the kasen, as written by Basho, renku reached heights that have remained unsurpassed. A kasen renku is a thirty-six stanza sequence comprising two eighteen stanza folios. Each folio is itself divided into two sections, the “front” and the “back”. The first folio front, sho-ori no omote, contains six stanzas, and the first folio back, sho-ori no ura, twelve stanzas. These proportions are mirrored in the second folio. Thus the second folio front, nagori no omote, contains twelve stanzas, and the second folio back,nagori no ura, six stanzas.

            The overall dynamic structure of the kasen renku is described by the expression, jo-ha-kyû, where

            jo may be understood as “prologue”,

            ha as “development” and

            kyû: “conclusion”.

            The phases of this dynamic structure are coterminous with the folio divisions. Therefore, the prologue, jo, comprises the six stanzas of sho-ori no omote: the first folio front. The development phase, ha, constitutes the body of the poem and comprises both the twelve stanzas of the first folio back: sho-ori no ura; and the twelve stanzas of the second folio front: nagori no omote. The six stanzas of the second folio back, nagori no ura, form kyu: the poem’s conclusion.

            In musical terms, the dynamics of the kasen might be described as:

            larghetto, for the prologue – jo

            con brio for the development – ha

            and in rapid diminuendo for the closure – kyu.

            Link and Shift

            The basic compositional relationship between successive verses in the kasen, as in all renku, is governed by two key principles: “link” – tsukeai, and “shift” – tenji.

            tsukeai – link: describes the degree and nature of the connection between any given stanza and that which immediately precedes it.

            tenji – shift: is perhaps less immediately intuitive, requiring that a verse bear no resemblance whatsoever to the last stanza but one.

            The renku poet must therefore consider not just the current stanza (the tsukeku) upon which he or she is engaged, with its thematic connection to the preceding stanza (the maeku), but also ensure that there is a comprehensive move away from the thematic content of the stanza before that (the uchikoshi or “leap-over” verse). To paraphrase George Orwell, the concept might be given thus: Maeku…good. Uchikosh…bad. Appropriately enough, inadvertent repetition of a theme, which has already appeared, is called “regression”.

            …….tsukeku (tsukeai >) maeku…..current links to preceding

            ……….ttsukeku (tenji <) uchikoshi…..but shifts from last-but-one

            Tsukeai – Link

            Basho identified three broad categories of linkage between adjacent stanzas: by word – kotoba-zuke; by content – kokoro-zuke; and by scent – nioi-zuke.

            kotoba-zuke – "linkage by word": draws together all the various ways in which a link might be word-driven, or based on verbal reasoning: reference, allusion, association, punning, etc. Basho considered this technique to be typical of classical antiquity

            kokoro-zuke – "linkage by content": describes any direct relationship in the physical universe: material, spatial, or temporal. Direct, narrative, or logical progressions would also be included in this category.

            nioi-zuke – "linkage by scent": was Basho's profound contribution to the theory and practice of tsukeai. It introduced a hither to fore unrealised degree of subtlety. Earlier poets had proposed that the association between stanzas might be based on emotion, but this had amounted to little more than narrative progression. Basho vastly extended this notion to include all states of mind and being. Further, he proposed that a stanza might be regarded as an entelechy, a complete world, into which reader or renkujin might enter, and so find linkage purely through empathy.

            Subsequent poets and scholars have sought to refine the definition of Basho’s abstract style of linkage. Four terms describe what is in effect a sliding scale of coincidence:

            scent – nioi: in this specialised sense the most tenuous and indirect of feelings.

            echo – hibiki: some part of an object or event finds expression in another.

            reflection – utsuri: the general quality of an object or event is reflected in another.

            run-on – hashiri: the quality of an object or event is transferred directly to another.

            Three others are also commonly identified:

            rank – kurai: considerations of caste or class constitute the link.

            nostalgia – omokage: a relationship based on general cultural iconography, but not direct literary of historical allusion.

            setting – keiki: an action set in the ambit of the preceding stanza, or an environment realised from an action expressed in the preceding stanza.

            Tenji – Shift

            Though any verse links to the one that immediately precedes it, it marks a wholesale shift from the verse before that. At its simplest the principle of "shift" ensures that a renku sequence is non-linear, adopts a broad canvas, and cannot be used for the purposes of narrative or polemics. At it’s most complex, metaphysical arguments may be advanced which consider the poem to generate a synthetic universe, a mandala of existential symbolism, or some sort of cosmic exegesis akin to divination. Certainly it is significant that the poem is a collective, rather than individual, manifestation.

            In order to ensure the maximum diversity of subject, and minimise the risk of regression, it is common for thesabiki – the "conductor" of a renku session – to refer to a pre-existing schema or list of topics to be treated. No particular order is imposed, but once a topic is "ticked off", it will not be referred to again. Though the schema varies from school-to-school and style-to-style, the practice is of great antiquity, drawing on the earliest traditions of classical linked verse and, ultimately, on its Chinese counterparts.

            The concept of shift does not, however, imply "diversity at any cost". The renku sequence is a single poem, not a collection of random thoughts. So whilst a succession of anodyne sentiments is clearly to be avoided, brutalism or sheer cacophony are also undesirable.

            A Questionable Practice

            When typesetting a poem, in order to emphasise "link and shift", the stanzas of a sequence are sometimes reproduced twice: AB BC CD… WX XY YZ. Whilst this approach might be superficially attractive it should be noted that it does not accord with the Japanese tradition. More seriously it risks introducing the expectation that there should be a high degree of direct run-on between stanzas. Most damagingly it seriously distorts and interrupts the overall "musical" movement of a piece.

            The Narrative Perspective

            Some core observations on the nature of shift, and the avoidance of regression, were made by the poet Hokushi, one of Basho's disciples. Hokushi divided the narrative perspective of renku into two broad categories: "place" (or "non-person"), – ba; and "person" (or "emotion") – ninjo:

            ba – place: describes any stanza in which people do not figure directly, and which is constructed in an impersonal voice.

            ninjo – person: is itself broken down in to three categories.

            ji – self: employs a first person perspective.

            ta – other: introduces the third person narrative voice.

            ji-ta-han – mixed company (literally ‘self-and-others): is a verse which switches from one to the other.

            It was Hokushi’s contention that, as well as considerations of content, no verse in any given trio, current/preceding/last-but-one, should employ the same narrative perspective.

            Hokushi's proposal in relation to 'person' verses might be most simply conveyed in English as the declension of the verb (stated or implied):

            ji – self: first person singular or plural, I – we

            ta – other: third person singular or plural, he – she – they

            ji-ta-han – self-and-others: second person singular or plural, you. Or, and more commonly, a rhetorical construction implying direct authorial statement: 'how sad to see the beggar sing'

            Prohibitions and Rules

            In Basho’s day the variety of content and execution was ensured by a set of strictures and injunctions inherited from the wider corpus of traditional linked verse.

            sashiai – prohibitions: were often phonetic, designed to prevent gross repetitions, mimicry, and other forms of compositional inelegance.

            shikimoku – rules: governed the position of key topics, both their order (and dedicated number of verses) – kukazu, and the intervals between their first appearance and re-emergence – sarikirai.

            A simplified example may be drawn from the traditional kasen: Three topics, "moon", "blossom" and "love" are considered absolutely essential. Moon would be expected to feature in the fifth stanza. Two, or perhaps three, stanzas dedicated to love would appear in the ninth, tenth and eleventh positions. Moon would re-emerge in the thirteenth or fourteenth stanza. Verse seventeen would be expected to feature blossom, ideally cherry blossom. Love would again seek to be requited in stanzas twenty-one, two and three. Moon might be expected to take her bow in stanza twenty-nine. And blossom, unfaded, grace the penultimate stanza: thirty-five.

            An Honour

            The generic name for a verse in renku is a hiraku

            Contemporary renkujin call the long verse (in Japanese 575) choku.

            Contemporary renkujin call the long verse (in Japanese 575) chouku.

            The short verse (in Japanese 77) is a tanku.

            However, a consequence of "link and shift" is that certain verses have unique dynamic properties. The first verse, the hokku, is of necessity entirely original. It was from this verse that the haiku originated. The second verse, wakiku, links naturally to its preceding verse, the hokku, but has no last-but-one verse to shift from. The third verse, daisan, is the first of the sequence which can, and must, exhibit both link and shift. Conversely the last verse, ageku, must draw the sequence to a close without generating any "loose ends" or leaving the poem in suspense. These special requirements meant that the honour of completing these verses would be reserved for the highest ranking persons present. Ideally those persons would also be the most skilled poets.

            The Beautiful Silence

            Clearly the intricacies of this poetic form reward study. But the true genius of the successful renkujin lies not in the ability to abide by the rules of composition, nor yet in the skill with which individual stanzas are crafted, but rather in the creation of "that deep silence charged with life" which must be felt between the verses. Renku is a collaborative art-form, yet, as ever, the greatest power of suggestion lies in that which is left unsaid."

          2. For me another “shift” or progression is the aspect or idea of “place.” One is inside some kind of building while the other is outside probably in a pasture. That’s a big shift. Also there is the shift or progression of “diversity.” Even though wool might link them the diversity between sheep and people (implied) creates a shift for me.

  9. It’s a lovely verse (and maybe it’s just me) but I am drawn back to those winter coats having been removed in Joel’s verse with these freshly shorn ewes.

    1. Hmm. I guess I am so accustomed to Goretex now that I didn’t think of the wool as creating a problem. I’ll have to mull on this a bit because I’m still not sure I see kannonbiraki–I’m reminded of something John Stevenson said on one of the thread of the first renku, that everything is connected in one way or another but not everything is a link. Also, something Norman Darlington has said, that what’s important is the feeling of forward momentum, as opposed to feeling that the two verses in question are bracketing the verse between them.
      Each person’s reading may differ, I suppose. Does anyone else see it as kannonbiraki? If so, we’d have to backtrack as I’m not sure this one could be fixed with a tweak.
      Thanks for your watchful eye, Betty.

      1. Of course, everything is ultimately connected…but that seems to be a ‘cop out’ and I feel a bit frustrated when getting that response. Just trying to understand these “scent” links (which I find fascinating) and when and where they apply. If my read is off that’s great but I am trying hard to understand these renku nuances while in this learning format…hence my inquiry.

          1. A follow-up re your remark that you’re trying to understand scent linking, Betty: As you recall, at the beginning of our venture I was introducing a lot of theory and resources as each thread came up. Linking was to be one topic for discussion but then I decided to hold back and talk about it at the end, when we could look back and see examples in the renku itself.
            Since you asked, though, you can get started by reading the “Link and Shift” article at Renku Home. Kondo and Higginson explain and give examples of scent linking.
            If you’re up for a 400 page dissertation, Herbert Jonsson goes into the history of linking leading up to and after Basho. Heavy going and so not the place to begin, but it’s very thorough, and the bonus is a lot of beautiful old master renku verses.
            I’ll still plan on talking about different kinds of linking when we get to the end of our own renku.


          2. Hi Linda…Thanks, I have read the Kondo and Higginson article before but didn’t bookmark it. Will tackle the other one…should be interesting!

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