Follow This! Renku Games 2


Renku/Linked Verse Column     

byPaul MacNeil, Renku Editor

FOLLOW THIS ! Comleted Games 1 & 2
Reader Participation With Renku Verses

Let us play an updated way of a very old Japanese poetry game, “tan-renga” or “tanrenga” (short renga).

In the first Issue of The Review, I gave a short history and definition of “tan-renga” : Click here to read it.

The assignment, which was not Mission Impossible, was accepted by some players.  The actual third verse in the sequences of the two renku I used for the games is shown below together with the proposed next stanzas by you the readers.  This is not a contest; there are no winners or losers.  From time to time in these games I shall make comments in an editorial way, but these are after all opinions.  As a renku ideally branches out into many aspects of man and nature (theoretically all aspects are fair game) it is very interesting to see some of the directions that my original partner(s) took and the variety of roads traveled by you the players in these games.

GAME # 1

Open Water,  a  winter kasen renku

written via Internet from February — May, 2000
by Cindy Zackowitz, Ferris Gilli, A. C. Missias, Paul MacNeil

a prickly blanket under us
as the fireworks begin

14. acm…………………….. (a summer verse)

many spears
in the flanks of beasts
on the cave wall

15. pwm…………………….. (no season)

The original 16th verse was by Cindy Zackowitz

a cell phone rings
during Hamlet’s soliloquy

16 cz

Cindy linked several ways and definitely changed directions as she shifted subject matter.  From the prehistoric to the modern, but still both stanzas 15 and 16 are performances, art for the public as it were.  It was also import for her success as a stanza to follow the Golden Rule and be far away from the penultimate verse, #14 in this case.  A very vivid and unique stanza.

Put briefly, this was the set of rules/guidelines I asked contributors to use:


Two lines, no season, indoors is preferable, humans possible, but not in first person, and not a plural human reference. Do not reuse any of the major words or topics from either of these stanzas.

again in our bedroom corner
the big black spider

16. Elizabeth St. Jacques

Another vivid verse and good linking technique.  The prehistoric cave of perhaps Lascaux in France has become a bedroom… both with occasional creepy-crawlers!  As an aside, were I playing this renku I would ask her to consider another room in which to set this stanza.  “Bedroom” is close to the blanket of the 14th verse, but another solution such as closet or den would work well.

the clean white shirt
of a steakhouse waiter

16. Alison Williams

Alison links very well through the topic of the cave paintings, the hunt for game – meat. Updating to modern times we now send a waiter for our chunk of meat.  And – we can even request which cut and how it will be cooked.  Full shift, this is also amusing.  Has a great light touch about it.

irretrievable barbed words
hurl across the darkness

16. Kirsty Karkow

Kirsty in a close type of linkage has actually achieved three points of association. This is clever and is welcomed in renku. All things to be in moderation and do recall: “Variety is King.”  She links with the darkness (of the cave), the barbs that the spears may have, and the verb to “hurl.”  Yet, the shift is complete from #15.  As her partner in this renku (theoretically) I would ask about the “darkness.”  The scene of #14 – watching fireworks – must also be at night, hence “darkness” may be too close.

steam of rabbit stew escapes
Grandma’s iron pot

16. Debra Woolard Bender

Debi has achieved a full shift from both the other verses and links to the wild game, meat as object. She has an intriguing twist that I noticed with “escape.” Not the rabbit, but the perilous ordeal celebrated in the Cro-Magnon painting. The successful hunt was the depiction, but game got away, and hunters could also be injured.

Here then were five very different directions taken in the expansion of the renku. Two were about food, the meat of the hunt, but they too are quite different one from another. We started in a cave with the primitive pigments drawn to memorialize a triumphant hunt of a culture long passed. And move to what?

Shakespeare and telephones, to a restaurant, to a harsh set of words between lovers(?), to spiders, to the ambiance of Grandma’s kitchen – what a wide set of possibilities the next verse, a #17, would have taken.

GAME # 2

Echoes of Sparrows, a winter kasen renku
written via Internet from  February — June 1999
by A. C. Missias, Paul MacNeil, Ferris Gilli
winter sun
echoes of sparrows fill
the stone courtyard

1 (acm)  winter-hokku

from spruce to spruce
branch-loads of snow

2 (pm)  winter- wakiku

The actual #3 of this renku was written by Ferris Gilli:

last farmhouse
waiting for the mailman
a thermos of soup


3 lines, winter optional or no-season, some humanity likely, inside setting preferred.

This #3 verse, the “daisan” should push off, be a different time and place from the first two and especially from the penultimate stanza, #1 the hokku.  The “wakiku,” (second verse) while still shifting, is intended to be quite close to the hokku in time and place. As this is the “jo” or opening verses, page one, there should be no: religion (or magical fiction), past remembrance (or old age or sickness), love,  proper names, or alcohol.  In other words, for this first page (1-6) nothing too exciting, controversial, shocking, or unpleasant. Please use none of the keywords from either of the previous two verses, and do try to vary the sentence structure.  This #3 could begin with an adjective as the hokku did, but best not.  It should not begin with a preposition as the #2, “wakiku,” did.

a knife
sinks through
the soft pink icing

3. Alison Williams

Alison chose, as the “rules” allowed to not make a winter verse.  Her link is indirect, but available to the reader. As the gravity pulls the snow down, so too does the knife progress into the cake. The icing, whatever color, is also shown to us as similar to the snow on the tree. This subtlety is very good. This stanza pushes off nicely from the scene of the renku’s beginning. It has nothing at all in common with the opening hokku.

thick clouds
long rolls of thunder
shake the forest floor

3. Kirsty Karkow

This verse has changed to a summer image . . . thunder unless otherwise specified is of summer. She has moved away from the first verse, but not enough from the second.  This is still outdoors and of a forest. Her links of “shake” with the tumbling snow and forest to the spruce trees are fine as they stand if this were in another section of a renku. This one had either to be winter or have no season.  In kasen renku (36 verses) the seasons of spring and fall are mentioned in groups of three or four stanzas together. Winter and summer are always present, but may be only one or two together. At the opening if in winter two are usual and three are optional.  Rules, rules, rules. They do control the flow of seasons and allow the expansion of topics and types of linking. As I wrote in the Renku Seminar, it is analogous to playing bridge or chess. Rules to learn seem at first overwhelming.  With some level of mastery, and one can play chess, bridge, or renku at many skill levels, it becomes a game and not a contest “against” the rules.

bonfire cinders
float upwards
into whiteness

3. Debra Woolard Bender

I think of a bonfire as a summer activity, kids at camp — that sort of thing, but William J. Higginson’s saijiki lists it as an autumn kigo. Of course, burning the remnants of the harvest is traditional, and is done symbolically at colleges before “the big game.” So, this entry also seems to be too seasonal, and not winter (which would have been fine). Debi linked to snow with the whiteness, and has also linked with a reverse of a word’s meaning ( a good technique for occasional use in renku): upwards from the downward motion of the snow in #2. The kigo question aside, this entry shifts very well away from both the previous verses.

back to the laundry
cobwebs sway in the draft
from the door

3. Laurene Post

Well, I see in Haiku World (saijiki) that both cobwebs and spiders are summer images. I think the context here with laundry, a laundry room often in the basement or whatever, that this verse is a non-seasonal one. Spiders and their webs are special to summer in Japan as Bill Higginson describes in his book. This is the Japanese Tradition. A case can be made, however, that in most geographies spiders are 3-season creatures. “Cobwebs” specifically could be all 4 seasons. I think mostly of cobwebs as the enemy in spring cleaning. I also walk into them in woods paths early in the morning in summer and autumn.

Laurene has linked indirectly to an unspoken color in both verses 3 and 2: white. This is subtle – a good thing. There is also motion.  Hers of the cobwebs and that in #2 of the branches swaying or spring back after the snow has fallen. There is also a link possible to “loads” of laundry. She has successfully shifted far wide of the topics in the first two verses.

his finger flashes
across the top
of fresh whipped cream

3. Elizabeth St. Jacques

Here also is a link to an unwritten thing: the color of the snow and of the whipped cream. The whipped cream in desserts is also “on top.”  But Elizabeth’s young boy (as I see it and DO remember) acts quickly. The cream moves from bowl or dessert to finger to mouth.  Gone. The shift from the wakiku and especially the hokku is complete. This is a non-seasonal stanza and introduces humankind which is good variety.

Elizabeth got carried away with the fun and deliberately sent me two others for this one which I’ll include but you can “analyze” for yourselves!

joss sticks
filling up the room
with scent of cinnamon

of old wicker chair
and her crochet hook

3. Elizabeth St. Jacques

Such wonderful creativity by all players. We have explored the gamut from snowy spruces to crocheting, cobwebs, incense, a mailman’s soup and two others with food but approached in different ways, fire, and thunder.

Now it is time to play two new games. Turn the page, please, where I hope to amuse and to challenge you. Come, walk in the footsteps of Basho!

Go to Follow This! NEW Games #3 & #4

Renku/Linked Verse Column     

byPaul MacNeil, Renku Editor

Reader Participation With Renku Verses

The New Games
Issue 2, games #3 and #4

The previous page has the URL to the First Issue’s description of the tan-renga game.  Again, I’ll show you an extra verse to give a larger context. The challenge before you, tremble all who enter here, is to follow Old Master Basho himself in Game #3. Up to it? Are you?

In 1690, just four years before his death, Basho stayed for a time with one of his disciples, Boncho. Together with another prominent follower, Kyorai, the three wrote a kasen that summer: Throughout The Town. Excerpting two verses from the translation by Earl Miner, here is:


the apprentice spills
the water bucket that he holds

22. Boncho  (no season)

a house is up for sale
its broken doors and windows covered
with straw matting

23. Basho  (an autumn stanza)


Since it is rare for either an autumn or spring verse to be alone, please compose another autumn verse in two lines.  This is not a moon or blossom verse.  Since the two stanzas I quoted are both human oriented, and kigo is required for #24, try to avoid humanity or at least do not write a human-centered verse.  Please send your one verse to me at:

by the deadline: September 30, 2001  
titled WHReview, renku game #4.

and identify the E-mail as for WHR renku, game #3.  In the next World Haiku Review we shall see how Kyorai followed his Master.  If you have access to this actual renku  . . .  no peeking!  It is not a contest.  I shall try to discuss all or most of the entries next time.  Have fun.


Perhaps a bit less daunting, let us return in game #4 to modern renku, written on the Internet by self-acknowledged students of renku.  Here are two inner verses from a summer kasen renku:  Tin Dippers written in 1999 by Paul MacNeil, Ferris Gilli, and A.C. Missias.

waxwing straggler
pushes higher to join
the flock’s curve

7. fg     (a third and last autumn stanza)

wheelchair entrance
to the evangelist’s tent

8. pm   (no season)


Please compose a three-line stanza that is the first love verse. No season. This is about human love.  It could involve the physicality or emotionality of love. As the first love verse of a sequence that of at least two (three or four is usual), it should not seem a final verse. That is to say, do not have a mourner at a spouse’s grave or the like. Just as with a season sequence, there is a temporal progression in renku. The verses shift subjects and are not three parts of one love story, but
they do show different aspects of love.  For example, in a spring sequence
the early, middle, and late parts of the season, or verses that are
“all-spring” will be explored. Of course you will link to #8 and pay special care to shift away from #7. In a real renku, you would also need to contend with all the topics of the first six stanzas. But for this game, only two others matter.

In the next Issue I will show you how ACM replied to my “wheelchair entrance.” Your own solutions will be published and I hope to discuss most of them with you.  Please submit your stanza to me, Paul MacNeil at:

by the deadline: September 30, 2001  
titled WHReview, renku game #4.

Thank you for playing!  On the next four pages are complete renku for you to enjoy. Please feel free to submit your own group’s renku to me as Editor. I may ask for changes and not all will necessarily be accepted. This part of the renku section of WHReview functions just as any edited journal. Please do not send any material that is currently pending before any other editor or contest. I do accept previously published work, but it should have completed its “ordinary run” with that other publication.


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