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Winter 2007, vol 5 no 4


Laughter Rising : Tomegaki

The Many Faces of Renku - Eiko Yachimoto

Through the composition of this kasen I have learned, as if for the first time, that renku has many faces. Consider these examples.

1. Renku, as an art of grasping time:

Lara’s theme
the ambience
of social turmoil

the UN approves peace keepers
for Darfur

shrouded in snow
at the edge of the forest
a herd of deer

The past, the present and the eternity of four seasons are presented in one renku flow of three images; one from the Russian Revolution, another from a heated African scene, and the last from a quiet winter forest.

A rather unpopular requirement of renku is awareness of the seasons, including the distribution of season words. This, in fact, signifies that renku is a unique art letting one relive the flow of one’s lifetime. The jo-ha-kyu of renku coincides with the difference in how we grasp time depending on our age. Don’t we all agree that time never flew when we were a young child? In other words, renku is an art to educate us how to live and die and how to live again.

We are like salmon. The first six verses of a kasen are supposed to be clear, pure and mild, like the origin of a meandering river. When we approach the last stage, we acutely sense the fast flow of time and become conscious of our origin. Is our kasen successful is this regard?

“A pearl in the shell” certainly encourages us to rise up and live another life once again.

2. Renku, as an art of anarchistic imagination

thud, on the thatched roof
a persimmon

bonfire night
youth beg
a penny for the guy (that will be thrown into fire. We hear the thud.)

Odysseus waits
inside the horse (this hero is in a huge horse made of wood, to be probably burned later)

crossing state lines
the gun moll
blows a bubble (Don’t hold your breath so long, why don’t you relax?)

Nothing can restrict the wings of your imagination triggered by language. One’s word, once uttered, draws dynamic lines totally unexpected by the utterer. And how much joy does this chaotic exuberance bring to everyone. A good conversationalist is familiar with such dynamism, but when you link to the previous verse, the depth and the width of your reaction surprises even yourself, because a hidden corner of your soul is so distinctly illuminated by the previous verse that the muse in you awakens in spite of you. I would presuppose that we are humans because we write renku.

3. Renku as grand showcase of a tiny haiku

“Tiny and powerful, a haiku is an independent poem.” I do not object, even though the starting verse of renku , i.e., a hokku was renamed as haiku by Shiki. What will happen when you place a haiku in a renku flow?


finger prints and wrinkles
“De imitatione

sun salutation
stiff but earnest

in the lee
of the cherry
a pink whirlwind

froggy went a-courting’
and he did ride, um-hmm


Our blossom verse above is such a jewel. Placed in this renku flow the charm of this simple haiku gains momentum. One can breathe in and breathe out a pink whirlwind.

4. Renku as sanctuary where Grace works

spring lullaby
new mother checks
twin name tags again

Mount St. Helens,
I bow as we fly past you

sidewalk puddle
reflecting a buttermilk sky
and a wishing star

tanabata streamers with
gold and silver grains of sand

through the bamboo gate
evening glories offered
on a fan

“all mimsy were the borogroves”
love, we collapse giggling

Twin babies of the first verse give birth to twin Helens, one a lofty mountain, the other, a beautiful goddess. And they see their own reflection in each other’s eyes, just as one sees the reflection of the sky in the puddle. It takes only minimal brain energy to read through the verses here. Such must be the time when we are endowed with grace.

Let me be precise. Charged with the poetic energy amassed through the first three verses, a star festival night arrives which, in turn, brings forward one courting scene from the Tales of Genji. Then comes a high light verse with quotation from Alice in Wonderland. Those intellectual court ladies of the Heian period, such as Seishonagon (author of the Pillow Book) or Murasaki Shikibu (author of the Tales of Genji) loved all kinds of word-play. The quotation from Alice charmingly animates them in those twelve layered courtly kimonos across the millenium time frame and vast space.

Renku is an art deep-rooted in the essence of language, i.e., the capacity to nourish the human soul regardless of nationality.

From my international renju, I have learned the secrets of culture, which can hardly be learned otherwise. This time I learned the legend behind the dogwood, and this will stay with me for the rest of my life. I had read some impressive haiku on dogwood, but I now realize that my understanding was limited because I did not know that the cross Jesus Christ had to carry and had to die on, was believed to be made of dogwood.

I want to emphasize the great renku power with which one can learn the unsaid parts of a different culture in the most natural situation as a partner of communal poetry.

Dear readers, please read our kasen and enjoy as many faces.

With best wishes, Eiko Yachimoto
4 October 2007


Related articles in this issue of Simply Haiku:
Kasen : Laughter Rising


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