Renku (連句 "linked verses"?), the Japanese form of popular collaborative linked verse poetry formerly known as haikai no renga (俳諧の連歌)[1], is an offshoot of the older Japanese poetic tradition of ushin renga, or orthodox collaborative linked verse. At renga gatherings participating poets would take turns providing alternating verses of 17 morae and 14 morae. Initially haikai no renga distinguished itself through vulgarity and coarseness of wit, before growing into a legitimate artistic tradition, and eventually giving birth to the haiku form of Japanese poetry.


Traditional renga was a group activity in which each participant displayed his wit by spontaneously composing a verse in response to the verse that came before; the more interesting the relationship between the two verses the more impressive the poet’s ability. The links between verses could range from vulgar to artistic, but as renga was taken up by skilled poets and developed into a set form, the vulgarity of its early days came to be ignored.

Haikai no renga, in response to the stale set forms that preceded it, embraced this vulgar attitude and was typified by contempt for traditional poetic and cultural ideas, and by the rough, uncultured language that it used. The haikai spirit, as it came to be called, embraced the natural humor that came from the combination of disparate elements. To that end haikai poets would often combine elements of traditional poems with new ones they created. A well-known example of this early attitude is a verse, possibly by Yamazaki Sōkan (1464-1552), from his Inutsukubashū (犬筑波集, "Mongrel Renga Collection").

He was given the following prompt:

kasumi no koromo suso wa nurekeri
The robe of haze is wet at its hem

to which he responded:

saohime no haru tachi nagara shito o shite
Princess Sao of spring pissed as she started[2]

This poem clearly derives its humor from shock value. Taking an ostensibly traditional and poetic prompt and injecting vulgar humor while maintaining the connection of the damp hems and the spring mists was exactly the sort of thing that early haikai poets were known for.

A comparable, though less evolved, tradition of 'linked verse' (lién jù, written with the same characters as 'renku') evolved in Chin-dynasty China,[3] and it has been argued that this Chinese form influenced Japanese renga during its formative period.[4]

Outside JapanEdit

During the last decades, the practice of renku has spread beyond Japan. With the growth of the internet and of electronic communications, international renku collaborations have grown in popularity, chiefly in English. However, renku have also been published in French[5], Croatian[6], German[7], Afrikaans[8], Romanian[9], Russian[10] and Esperanto[11]. Sometimes, renku are composed simultaneously in two or more languages.[12].

Formats used in renkuEdit

Here follows a list of the formats most commonly used in writing renku[13]

Name of format Number
of stanzas
Number of kaishi
(writing sheets)
of sides
Originator Date of origin
Kasen (poetic geniuses) 36 2 4 unknown 1518[14]
Han-kasen (half-kasen) 18 1 2 unknown 17th century
Shisan (four times three) 12 2 4 Kaoru Kubota 1970's
Jūnichō (twelve tones) 12 1 1 Shunjin Okamoto 1989[15]
Nijūin (twenty tones) 20 2 4 Meiga Higashi 1980's
Triparshva[16] (three sides) 22 1 3 Norman Darlington 2005
Rokku[17] (six verses) variable variable variable Haku Asanuma 2000

Periodicals regularly publishing renku in EnglishEdit


  1. Finch, Annie & Varnes, Kathrine. An Exaltation of Forms, University of Michigan Press, 2002, ISBN 0472067257, p.228
  2. Sato, Hiroaki. One Hundred Frogs: from renga to haiku to English, Weatherhill 1983, ISBN 0-8348-0176-0 p.53
  3. Reckert, Stephen, Beyond Chrysanthemums: Perspectives on Poetry East and West, Oxford University Press, 1993, ISBN 0198151659, p.43
  4. Sato, 1983, p.11
  5. Gong, Revue Francophone de Haiku, n.13, 2006, ISSN 1763-8445, pp.30,31,36.
  6. Pokriven Vjetrom in Simply Haiku v3n3 2005.
  7. Quintett für Neonlicht in Chrysanthemum 2, 2007.
  8. Vuursteen 28:4, 2008, p.122
  9. Albatros, Revista Societăţii de Haiku din Constanţa România, nr. 8/9, 2007, ISSN 1221-4841, pp.45-52.
  10. Пьёт из сосульки in Lishanu 1, 2005
  11. Tempo, April 2006, p.10
  12. Example of a renku composed simultaneously in English: Springtime in Edo and Japanese: 江戸の春, in Simply Haiku v4n4 2006
  13. Carley, John E. Common types of renku sequence. [1]
  14. Drake, Christopher. Basho's "Cricket Chapter " As English Literature in Journal of Atomi Gakuen Women's College 跡見学園女子大学紀要 14, 1981 p217
  15. Higginson, William J. Shorter Renku in Renku Home
  16. Darlington, Norman. Triparshva, A trilateral pattern for renku, in Simply Haiku vol. 3, no. 2, 2005
  17. Yachimoto, Eiko. October Rain, the first English-language Rokku Renku, a Tomegaki, in Simply Haiku vol. 6, no. 3, 2008

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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