There are quite a few forms used in renku composition and each form
has reasons for its existence. Haku Asanuma wanted to invent a form
that would combine the merits of several forms, new and old, with
maximum flexibility in its total length.
As we all know we rarely have the luxury of composing a renku
of a hundred verses, as the aristocrats of ancient Japan used
to. In the Rokku you can decide how long to continue, depending
on the time available to the renju. For that purpose each and
every folio consists of six verses (or rokku, thus 'rock') and
once you decide to conclude your renku at the folio you are working
on, you must write a blossom verse to usher in the ageku, or very
You might wonder why Haku should make such a big deal about grouping
six verses. My first question was how can one structure and design
an entire poem without deciding the number of verses at the start.
I now understand that he wanted to breathe fresh life into the
ad lib spirit which has run right through the long tradition of
renga and renku. In fact he borrows this emphasis from a new renku
form called shishinoko.
The Rokku’s stanza-like structure is drawn from another
form: the sonnet. No doubt this form was made by a Japanese who
adores the tradition of English poetry.
So that Rokku can qualify as a renku form, Haku tells us to avoid
uchikoshi at all costs throughout the poem. He even bans writing
three spring or autumn verses in succession, because the third
verse in the same season can only hinder the forward progression
of the renku movement.
The life of renku, he firmly believes, breathes both in link
and shift and in jo-ha-kyu. In the first folio of the
Rokku —in jo (introduction)— the poets should
write in a mild and formal manner, in the same way that many taboos
must be observed in writing the first folio of a kasen. The first
folio of the Rokku is dedicated to the tradition of kasen, hence
the moon appears in the fifth verse. The subsequent folios represent
ha, or dramatic tempo, with the final folio representing
kyu, or fast tempo. This strong emphasis on jo-ha-kyu
is derived from the form called hi-kaishi, invented by
There are two charming points in the Rokku:
1. In addition to the designated blossom and moon positions, there
is a mandatory ‘stone’ position, which may appear
anywhere in the poem. (Rokku -> Rock -> Stone)
2. One folio can be written
ignoring the well-known traditional meter of five-seven-five and
seven-seven onji. When you write in Japanese this both confuses
and liberates poets!
Now let me begin to talk about our Rokku, by quoting
a verse from Narrow Road
To the Deep North:
The rains of early summer,
Have they left untouched
The bright Golden Hall?
(translated by Toshiharu Oseko)
Our hokku and waki pair reminded me of the Basho verse above.
We could even say:
sheltered by an oak
we do renku
Thinking back, there is a clear distinction between my days while
we were composing and these days since it ended. We were magpies
and I neither got wet nor felt frozen. Ron and Sheila housed us
in the bright Golden Hall.
Would you call our first folio mild? The Old Mother Goose world
of the daisan keeps us safely within tradition and the humorous
link to it observes the level of lightness required for this first
folio. Links and shifts to the slender moon and a smile are mild
enough to keep readers’ brain responses smooth.
In the second and third folios we venture into the complications
of human life, guided by a frog and sprouts! When John wrote our
stone position beautifully right in the center of this Rock, I
remembered our walk along the hedge of a Yorkshire village. With
the help of music, dream and fragrance, we were able to create
a renku wave (most important in my opinion) and touched the theme
of death, making the most of the moon position.
How do you like our one-liner folio? There must be many other
solutions for writing this free verse section in the English language.
I hoped that writing in one line would give poets fresh air and
would entertain readers by its stark visual difference. I know
why Haku included this special folio. He knows renku poets well.
We get so used to so-called “planned harmony” that
we become too comfortable with it. We must prevent this from happening.
Unless renku is poetry, it cannot have power over the thing we
call reality, and we are merely wasting our precious time linking
one verse to another. Although we collaborate, this must not mean
that we cede our direct poetic voice. Having this special free-verse
folio helps us stop and think about these important issues.
Our final folio is mild again, as it is supposed to be. The links
and shifts here are just as smooth and kind as they are in our
first folio. And yet we hear a deeper resonance between verses,
and I see Hortensia’s blooming peonies casting their dainty
light back across the entire length of our Rock.
I sincerely invite our renju to read our Rokku once again. It
is poetry and here our collaboration was based on our
pride as poets. My heart is filled with gratitude that John, Sheila,
Ron and Hortensia so graciously trusted me as sabaki to complete
Readers, please enjoy the first English language Rokku Renku.
April 24, 2008
in this issue of Simply Haiku:
October Rain, the first English-language Rokku Renku