School of Renga 

Jane Reichhold  



Lesson Eleven
Renga Varitions - all the rest

Admittedly this is a hard lesson for me to create. I feel we have so very much yet to learn about renga and there are so many opportunities for new ideas that it is hard for me to get enthusiastic for any of the new variations that have popped to life in the last 20 years..

It seems anyone who can spell r-e-n-k-u feels sufficiently educated to develope an new kind of renga.There is always a hope that a new form will catch on with writers and insure a place for the developer in the pantheon of Japanese genre poetry.


Probably the most popular one is rengay invented by Garry Gay of Windsor, California. While this form is often the introduction for many into renga, it is easy to do because it only has six stanza, it actually is not built on renga practices. The links are not written with any of the normal renga linkage. The only linkage in the form is the art of linking to the title. This is so simple, it is a series of six poems on a theme written by two people.

Many people really like the form and if it gives them pleasure and gets them to write I cannot grumble. However I am still smarting from my attempt to do a rengay with a guy in San Francisco and he broke off the effort "because I was using renga techniques between the links instead of only relating to the title."

With 2 partners (A & B), this is the pattern of alteration between 3 and 2 line links:
A-3 · B-2 · A-3 · B-3 · A-2 · B-3

With 3 partners (A & B & C), this is the pattern of alteration between 3 and 2 line links:
A-3 · B-2 · C-3 · A-2 · B-3 · C-2

The lines can have counted syllables as in haiku, or be flexible in short, long, short, or long, long lines, as in renga.

by Jim Wilson

The word "Shisan" means "Four-Three", meaning four sections, three verses each, for a total of twelve verses for this Renga/Renku form. There are a number of 12-verse forms, but I'm only going to cover the Shisan here.

Before going into the specifics, I'd like to recommend the Shisan to anyone first approaching Renga, particularly for those interested in writing a solo renga. It has several advantages that make it accessible to those trying out renga for the first time. First, it is short. I've found that one can write a Shisan in an hour, once one gets the hang of it. Second, the placement of the seasons follows the natural seasonal order. This is unusual in Renga, in fact the Shisan is the only Renga form I know of which follows the natural seasonal order. This means that you can easily follow the seasonal flow of the Shisan without having to think too much about it. Esthetically, I find the natural seasonal flow pleasing.

Here is a paraphrase from John Carley's presentation on the Shisan at Simply Haiku, December 2003:

The Shisan consists of four parts, each part comprising three verses. Each part contains one of the four seasons. The renku/renga begins in the season current at the time of composition and follows the natural calendar order. . . The customary fixed topics of 'moon', 'blossom', and 'love' each make an appearance in the poem, though their placement is not fixed. The Shisan respects the tonal and dynamic requirement of the 'jo-ha-kyu' movement; that is to say, introduction, development, quick close.

Comment: There are seven required topics in each shisan as follows:

1. Spring
2. Summer
3. Fall
4. Winter
5. Moon
6. Blossom
7. Love

At first this may seem confining as that leaves only five verses not specifeid. But one of the reasons that I think the Shisan is an excellent place for newcomers to start is that this framework provides the poet with a scaffolding and is a good way to learn how to negotiate the renga terrain.

Here's an example of a Shisan layout:

First Section: Verses 1 through 3

Verse 1: Since it is the month of April, and I'm in the U.S., the opening verse will be a Spring verse. The opening verse should be 'haiku-like'.

Verse 2: If Verse 1 does not have a 'blossom' verse, then I will need to place the blossom verse here. Any blossoming tree is agreeable (cherry, apple, plum, hawthorn, etc.)

If I opened with a blossom verse, then Verse 2 is a free topic.

Verse 3: Now I have to move away, take a new direction or turn, though it still needs to link to Verse 2. This moving away is what is known as "shift" and verse 3 will be the first verse to shift; it should significantly shift from Verse 1.

Second Section: Verses 4 through 6

One of these verses will have to be a Summer verse.

Third Section: Verses 7 through 9

One of these verses will have to be a Fall verse.

Fourth Section: Verses 10 through 12

One of these verses will have to be a winter verse.

Verse 12: The closing verse should be uplifting.

The moon, and the love verse can be placed anywhere that seems appropriate and follows the requriements of link and shift.

Suggestion: When writing a Shisan, I have found it helpful to plot out the topics by writing a list consisting of the numbers of the verses and then next to them the topics. This gives me a framework to lean on. Here's an example:

1. Spring/Blossom
2. Free Topic
3. Free Topic

4. Free Topic
5. Summer
6. Love Topic

7. Free Topic
8. Fall
9. Moon

10. Free Topic
11. Winter
12. Free Topic/Closing Verse

This is just an outline to help guide me in the writing, if an idea comes up while I'm actually writing the Shisan that doesn't follow the outline, I'll discard the outline. For example, if I came up with an excellent love verse for verse 4, then I would do that and make verse 6 a free topic. But the advantage of the outline is that it gives one a place to start so one isn't worrying about whether or not all the required topics will be covered.

Finally, for those new to renga, remember that the traditional syllabics of renga are: 5-7-5 then 7-7, repeated through the renga. Most westerners alternate 3-line and 2-line verses with syllabics left indeterminate.

I hope this is of some assistance.


The Junicho is extremely flexible. This schema is illustrative only; many more variants are possible.

The poem typically has a two spring verses, two autumn verses, one winter and one summer verse. The autumn verses are always grouped as a pair, spring likewise.

Moon and flower each appear once. They may appear in association with any season, but not in association with a non-season verse. Flower may be any type of bloom; it is not restricted to blossom.

A grouped pair of love verses appear somewhere in the middle of the poem.

suwi - whichever season is selected first the alternate season must be selected later.
wisu - ditto.
spau - ditto - both verses change together.
ausp - ditto - both verses change together.
nssu - where the hokku is set in summer authors may use summer for the wakiku
nswi - where the hokku is set in winter authors may use winter for the wakiku
ns - non season position.
fl - flower position
mn - moon position
lv - love position




The Junicho was first proposed by Master Shunjin Okamoto in the late 1980’s. Along with the twelve stanza Shisan--discussed in Simply Haiku vol. 1 # 6 (December 2003)--the Junicho is the shortest extant pattern for renku composition.

Junicho--meaning ‘twelve tone’--is a ‘single sheet’ poem that disregards the formal separations of the jo-ha-kyu movement. There is no set seasonal progression, though each season is represented and the poem would be expected to open with the season in which composition takes place. Spring and autumn carry their traditional greater weight, the poem overall dividing more or less equally between season and non-season verses. The typical distribution therefore is: winter - one, summer - one, spring - two, autumn - two, and non-season - six.

The Junicho allows for a single blossom verse; this may appear in any season and be any type of flower. The poem will likewise contain a single moon verse that may also appear in any season and be otherwise shorn of classical precedent. 'Love' will be represented by a pair or so of verses that may appear in any position.

The special compositional characteristics of hokku, wakiku, daisan and ageku are respected (as discussed in Simply Haiku vol. 2 #1, ‘Beginnings and Endings’) however the exclusions common to the opening movements of more traditional patterns of renku are lifted.

Seijo Okamoto, wife of the late Master Okamoto and herself president of the Haikai Kangikudo Renku Foundation, further observes that the Junicho must have literary value and a sense of stylishness: what Basho called "the unchanging and ever-changing" (fueki ryuko). Also, given that progression and diversity are the essence of renku, a wide variety of things in nature and the world of humans should appear.

With thanks to William J. Higginson and Tadashi Kondo

The Triparshva respects the jo-ha-kyu movement typical of the Kasen. It divides formally into three sides or movements. There are two seasons per side. Seasons do not straddle the side/movement boundaries.

Moon and blossom appear in association with their traditional season - autumn and spring respectively. Moon also appears a second time in association with winter, summer or spring.

A group of three or four love verses appear en bloc in the central region of the second side. The first of these should be call-for-love (koi no yobidashi) and the last end-of-love (koi banare).

Not all possible seasonal positions are shown above. There is particular flexibility in the early part of ha where the seasonal positions shown may be anticipated or delayed - subject to the conventions that differing seasons should be separated by at least one non-season verse, and that groups of seasonal verses pull up or spill en bloc.

suwi - whichever season appears in jo the other will appear in ha, reverting in kyu.
spwi - for a sequence begun in summer jo will contain a pair of spring verses or a single winter verse. Where spring is selected in jo winter will appear in ha, and vice versa.
spsu - for a sequence begun in winter jo will contain a pair of spring verses or a single summer verse. Where spring is selected in jo summer will appear in ha, and vice versa.
ns - non season position.
- blossom position.
mn - moon position.
lv - love position (approximate).


Side 1 - jo - preface
hokku au au mn sp sp bl su wi
wakiku au au sp sp su wi
daisan ns au ns sp ns ns
4 short ns ns ns ns ns ns
5 long suwi mn suwi suwi mn suwi mn spwi mn spsu mn
6 short ns ns ns ns spns spns
Side 2 - ha - development and intensification
7 long ns ns ns ns ns ns
8 short ns ns ns ns ns ns
9 long wisu ns wisu wisu nssp nssp
10 short wisu lv wisu wisu lv wisu lv wisp lv susp lv
11 long ns lv wisu mn ns lv ns lv ns lv ns lv
12 short ns lv ns lv ns lv ns lv ns lv ns lv
13 long ns lv ns lv ns lv ns ns lv ns lv
14 short au au lv au au au au
15 long au mn au au mn au mn au mn au mn
16 short au ns au au au au
Side 3 - kyu - finale
17 long ns ns ns ns ns ns
18 short suwi suwi suwi suwi wi su
19 long ns ns ns ns ns ns
20 short sp sp sp ns sp sp
21 long sp bl sp bl sp bl sp sp bl sp bl
ageku sp sp sp sp sp sp


The Nijuin adopts the jo-ha-kyu dynamic found in the Kasen. It divides formally into four sides.

The poem typically has three spring, three autumn, two winter and two summer verses. Seasons do not straddle the side/folio boundaries.

Love normally appears somewhere in the middle of each part of ha. Typically each appearance of love comprises a grouped pair. Alternatively a longer group including call-for-love (koi no yobidashi) and end-of-love (koi banare) may feature on a single side of ha only.

wisu - adjacent pairs must have the same season - whichever pair is selected first the alternate pair must be selected second.
suwi - adjacent pairs must have the same season - whichever pair is selected first the alternate pair must be selected second.
- non season
- blossom position.
[bl] - (spring only) - alternative positions - only one blossom verse per poem
mn - moon position
[mn] (autumn only) - where moon is not in the hokku it will appear in wakiku or daisan.
lv - love position


hokku au mn au sp [bl] sp su wi
wakiku au au [mn] sp [bl] sp su wi
daisan au au [mn] sp ns ns ns
4 short ns ns ns ns ns ns
Side 2 - ha part one - development
5 long ns ns wisu mn wisu mn au mn au mn
6 short ns lv ns lv wisu lv wisu au au
7 long ns lv ns lv ns lv ns lv au lv au lv
8 short ns ns lv ns ns lv ns lv ns lv
9 long suwi suwi ns ns lv ns ns
10 short suwi suwi ns ns ns ns
Side 3 - ha part two - intensification
11 long ns ns suwi suwi wi su
12 short ns ns suwi suwi wi mn su mn
13 long ns lv ns ns lv ns ns ns
14 short wisu lv wisu au lv au ns ns
15 long wisu mn wisu mn au mn au mn ns ns
16 short ns ns au au ns ns
Side 4 - kyu - finale
17 long ns ns ns ns ns ns
18 short sp sp ns sp sp sp
19 long sp bl sp bl sp sp bl sp bl sp bl
ageku sp sp sp sp sp sp



The Yotsumono is a four verse sequence for two voices. Poets alternate. The verses may be understood as hokku, wakiku, daisan and ageku. There are no tonal or topical exclusions

Season and fixed topic choices may be governed by mainstream renku conventions, or largely independent of them. Equally the sequence may rely largely or wholly on mukigo, or none.

In all cases uchikoshi no kirai (reversion to the last-but-one) and kannonbiraki (double doors) are avoided.

In order to ensure that the work remains non-thematic all discussion of a poem's meaning should be deferred until the piece is completed.

au - autumn position
sp - spring position
su - summer position
wi - winter position
- non-season position
- mukigo position
- mukigo or non-season position
- where the hokku is set in summer authors may use summer for the wakiku, in which case ageku will be non-season
nswi - where the hokku is set in winter authors may use winter for the wakiku, in which case ageku will will be non-season
snns - where hokku only takes summer or winter, ageku will take any other season
sn - any season (where a designated season has already occurred: any other season)
mn - moon position
bl - blossom position
[mn] - moon position (either/or) - only one moon verse per sequence
(mn) - optional moon position (only where season selected) - only one moon verse per sequence
[bl] - blossom position (either/or) - only one blossom verse per sequence
(fl) - optional flower position, (only where season selected) - only one flower verse per sequence
(fl/mn/rk) - optional topic position (either/or) - topic may be flower, moon or rock (per Rokku)


Yotsumono is an exercise devised by the present author. It extends the historic Mitsumono exercise elsewhere on these pages by the addition of ageku as a closing verse.

The structure of the resultant four verse sequence is similar to that of the Chinese Jueju (Wade-Giles: Chue Chu), known in Japanese as the Zekku. It may be that the Yotsumono comes to be viewed as having some merit as a distinct form in its own right.


Two poets take turns to compose a sequence comprising hokku, wakiku, daisan and ageku, the initial verses being shorn of such performative functions of greeting or augury as may be found in formal composition.

In order to guard against thematic development, all discussion of the meaning of, or intention behind, any aspect of a particular verse, the conceptual linkage between verses, or the overall direction of the poem is disbarred until completion of the text. By contrast active discussion of the phonics of the piece is encouraged.


This exercise demands an understanding of the particular compositional requirements of hokku, wakiku, daisan and ageku. Persons new to these terms should refer to the article 'Beginnings and Endings' elsewhere in Renku Reckoner. Please note the caveats in the section 'How' above.

Some aspects of the grammatical structure of English-language renku verses are discussed in the article 'Cut or Uncut?'.

The 'Yotsumono' button at left directs to a schematic guide. The article 'Common Types' contains a description and appraisal of the sequence.


Yotsumono reflects some aspects of the Chinese Jueju which is believed to have influenced the emergence of linked verse in Japan.

Known in Japanese as the Zekku, this ancient verse form comprises four short phrases or verses. The first, kiku, gives the setting of the poem. The second, shokku, amplifies the head verse whilst the third, tenku, turns away from the opening pair, the resultant juxtaposition revealing the unstated essence of the poem. A resolution to the tension generated by this break-and-turn is provided by the fourth verse, kekku, which provides closure to the whole, a quality described as 'the determination' (ketsu).

Yotsumono equates these functions to those of hokku, wakiku, daisan and ageku. Unlike the Zekku, the Yotsumono is however dialogic, being written typically between an alternating pair of voices. It is also avowedly anti-thematic although, as is noted below, a skillfully written poem will seem otherwise.

There are no tonal or topical exclusions in the Yotsumono. The poem should be swift moving. All types of uniformity are to be avoided. It may follow the more formal contemporary renku conventions regarding the seasons and their associated fixed topics, or adopt the freer approach typical of the Junicho and Rokku. Alternatively a Yotsumono may embrace the concept of seasonless mukigo, or choose to disregard these concerns altogether. Where formal kigo are used, or other emblematic key words and topics such as haikmakura, these should not alternate, appearing either consecutively, or with a two verse separation the first and last positions.

The Yotsumono requires the same absolute intolerance of uchikoshi no kirai (reversion to the last but one) that characterises the Rokku. This includes register, grammar and syntax as well as content. Further, Yotsumono extends these strictures to the relationship between hokku and ageku excepting those cases where ageku incorporates deliberate echoes of the hokku or wakiku for specific expressive purposes.

Whilst avoiding all contrivance and versification, great emphasis is placed on the poetics of utterance; the minor tropes which are automatically disbarred from much English-language haiku may be used sparingly. As with the Chinese and Japanese source poems, it is particularly important to achieve balanced and proportional cadences both within verses and between verses.

At no stage during the preparation or composition of a Yotsumono should participants discuss their aims, intentions or predispositions in respect of either the poem as a whole, the meaning of a particular verse, or the semantic aspects of inter-verse linkage. All critical analysis is to be welcomed. But in the case of the Yotsumono this should only ever occur after the poem has been completed, and the text signed off as definitive by the participants.

The purpose of this injunction is to ensure that the Yotsumono satisfies a minimum condition for renku: that it be non-thematic. It is an intriguing paradox of the form that a skillful determination, at ageku, will generate a post-facto semantic coherence across the span of the four verses that gives the impression of a conscious and preexisting purpose, of an ineluctability of flow.


Below are some yotsumono written by contemporary renku poets.
Lowering Sky  
lowering sky
she holds her soldier's
first letter home
the baby's hair
spun from spider silk
bunches twirl
away from the light
the shadow of a man
burnt into stone
Composed at Haiku Talk 2
4th to 7th May 2010

Sheila Windsor
John Carley

The Nights Draw In  
over a pint we
chat about the dead --
the nights draw in
the speech of ancestors
returns in starlight
dot by dot
a salamander
impregnating rain sticks
last year’s wattle pods
rattle in the wind
Composed via email
17th to 21st May 2010-05-21

Lorin Ford
John Carley
Early Dawn  
early dawn --
the cat's slow stretch
under the fish stall
salted sea bream
grin back at the poet
a restlessness
behind asylum doors
this full moon
the distances we travel
in a day
Composed on Haiku Talk 2
8th to 13th May 2010

Carole McRury
John Carley

Name of format Number
of stanzas
Number of kaishi
(writing sheets)
of sides
Originator Date of origin
Hyakuin[11] 100 4 8 unknown 12th century
Senku 1000 40 80 unknown
Gojûin 50 2 4 unknown
Yoyoshi 44 2 4 unknown
Kasen 36 2 4 Matsuo Basho 1670s]
Han-kasen (i.e. half-kasen) 18 1 2 Matsuio Basho 17th century
Shisan 12 2 4 Kaoru Kubota 1970's
Jūnichō 12 1 1 Shunjin Okamoto 1989[13]
Nijūin 20 2 4 Meiga Higashi 1980's
Triparshva[14] 22 1 3 Norman Darlington 2005

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Page and Materials Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2011.

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The above picture of Basho at a renga party was painted by Buson and added to the text of Basho's book Oku no Hosomichi - Narrow Road to the Far North. It was scanned from a facsimle scroll of the original work purchased at the Museum of Art in Tokyo, Japan.