2003, Volume 1, Number 6
by John Carley, Renku Editor
At only twelve
verses the Shisan is perhaps the most compact of all recognised
patterns for renku. Though the name is sometimes applied rather
loosely to any twelve verse piece of renku it more accurately describes
the pattern proposed by the late Kaoru Kubota, a noted renkujin
(renku poet). The Shisan 'A Princess is Born', included in this
issue, may be safely taken as indicative of the form as Tateshi
Tsukamoto, President of AIR (the Association for International Renku)
and a close personal friend of the originator, is numbered among
The word 'Shisan'
has several layers of meaning. At a primary level it may be read
as 'shi', meaning 'four', and 'san' meaning 'three'. When written
in Chinese characters 'shi' (or 'tamawari') may be taken as 'a gift
from a higher place', and 'san' (or 'bansankai') indicates a 'banquet'
or 'formal meal'. For all its compaction therefore the Shisan is
nonetheless an invitation to observe the finer points of compositional
The Shisan consists
of four folios: preface; development part one; development part
two; and rapid close. Each folio, comprising three verses, features
one of the four seasons. The poem begins in the season current at
the time of composition, and follows the natural calendar. Typically
spring and autumn might each be given two verses, winter and summer:
one. The customary fixed topics of 'moon', 'blossom' and 'love'
each make a single appearance, 'love' often extending over two verses.
Because of the wealth of precedent and association, 'moon' and 'blossom'
will tend to appear in their classic seasonal settings, autumn and
spring respectively, though this is not a requirement.
The Shisan respects
the tonal and dynamic requirements of the 'jo-ha-kyu' movement,
honours the status of hokku, wakiku, daisan and ageku, and generally
behaves in every way like its elder brothers and sisters.
A personal appraisal
of the Shisan pattern
When first presented
with the outlines of the form by Eiko Yachimoto of AIR (above) I
had serious doubts as to its feasibility; was it possible, was it
desirable, to compress the vast scope of the Kasen into such a short
There are conflicts.
It is extremely difficult to establish the calm tone of the preface
(jo) when all three constituent verses - hokku, wakiku and daisan
- have special compositional requirements of their own. This is
nowhere more apparent than for the third verse (daisan) which must
at once 'break-away' from the more tightly paired hokku and wakiku,
whilst conveying a sense of pause to mark the end of the preface.
The Shisan also
obliges both the first part of the development movement (ha) and
the 'rapid close' finale (kyu) to open with a short verse (tanku)
- a marked contrast to the normal practice of beginning each movement
with the, allegedly, more authoritative long verse (chouku).
too are altered. At first sight the adoption of the 'natural' calendar
may appear to be a simplification. In practice it becomes more difficult
to establish a clearly non-seasonal (zo) gap between seasonal runs
as there is a tendency to impute 'logical' chronological references
to the interstitial verses. Most crucially 'spring' is no longer
the automatic theme of the final sequence and the time honoured
pair of 'spring blossom' (hana no za) and ageku (final verse) can
no longer be relied upon to provide a graceful exit.
core dynamic of 'link and shift' is pushed to the edge. The desire
to include as many materials (sozai) and subjects (shudai) as possible
forces the linkage towards the tangential or, failing, cannot prevent
each folio from resembling a themed segment.
then, is certainly a challenge, but the difficulties should not
be overstated. The thirty six verses of the classical Kasen are
not of themselves a formula for success. Renku is poetry, not ratiocination,
and the taut demands of the Shisan are an invitation to sabaki and
participants (renjyu) alike to find exciting and creative solutions.
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