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Renku: Beginnings and Endings

The special characteristics of hokku, wakiku, daisan and ageku.

There are many and varied patterns for, and approaches to, the composition of a renku sequence. Common to all is the particular emphasis placed on the opening trio of verses - hokku, wakiku and daisan - and on the closing verse - ageku.

Hokku

The hokku is the head verse, the font from which the sequence springs. Its composition is considered an honour and would traditionally be reserved for the most practised poet present or offered as a mark of respect to a particularly worthy guest.

The hokku is obliged to mark the season in which the composition takes place. It may also serve as a greeting to the assembled company, a celebration of the place or circumstances of composition, or a comment on the prospects for the renku session itself. Though the seasonal reference will tend to be unambiguous, any such performative function might be more indirectly expressed.

Classically the hokku is a 'cut' verse, employing the technique of juxtaposition or combination called, in the Japanese, 'toriawase'. The two 'parts' of the stanza are articulated or intensified by the presence of a 'cutting word' (kireji) - the resulting verse being in all aspects 'self-sufficient' or 'stand alone'.

The hokku is therefore the precursor to the later 'haiku'. Importantly, it is the only stanza in a renku sequence which may usefully be considered as 'like a haiku'.

Wakiku

Wakiku means 'flanking' or 'buttressing' verse. Its function is to closely support, amplify and compliment the hokku. The wakiku will therefore take the same season as the hokku, perhaps panning back to show the wider backdrop against which the action of the hokku is set, or centring on some detail of the preceding scene so as to provide further depth and credence.

The proximity between the hokku and wakiku may approach that of the upper and lower sections of a tanka (kami-no-ku, shimo-no-ku) effectively yielding a single verse. Even where the relationship is less strict the wakiku is so constructed as to provide a sense of 'closure' or 'completion'. Open-ended syntax or external direction are therefore to be avoided.

Daisan

The third verse - daisan - is, by contrast, the 'break away' verse. Whereas hokku and wakiku might read as a unit, with the arrival of daisan, the sequence begins to unfold.

Linkage between daisan and wakiku (3rd and 2nd) will tend to be more free than that between wakiku and hokku ( 2nd and 1st) whilst tone, setting and narrative perspective can all be expected to differ markedly from the initial pair.

Whereas the wakiku offers closure, both sense and syntax of daisan are expected to open outwards - to be both germinal and unfinished, suggestive of multiple possibilities.

Ageku

The final verse of a renku sequence is the ageku, a name which implies not just an ending but also the fulfilment of anticipation: 'at last'. In classical renku the ageku will take the same season as the preceding verse (spring blossom), though in recent variants it may be any season, or none.

Whatever the seasonal aspect the ageku has a performative function mirroring that of the hokku - this time combining elements of summary, salutation and augury.

In order to have the freedom to meet these demands the ageku may be largely exempted from the more rigorous demands of link, shift, and variety that condition the content and execution of all other verses of the sequence (hokku excepted).

The composition of the ageku is therefore, like that of the hokku, a special honour. The same poet would not be expected to figure in both, an exclusion which generally includes the wakiku, and may also extend to daisan.

John Carley, Rossendale, UK. 02.01.04


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