Poetry Form - The Renku

The Renku Verse Form
by J. Zimmerman

* Form. * Your Composition. * Mitsumono. * Glossary. * Books.

The Renku is a traditional Japanese poetry form of linked verse, usually composed through the collaboration of two or more poets.

Some essential terminology:

The renga should not be confused with the rengay, which is a very short form of linked verse, invented in 1992 North America by Garry Gay.

Also see:


These are the attributes of the Renku:

  1. Each link (verse or stanza) stands on its own.

  2. These are features of the traditional renku; its tiny upstart sidekick, the rengay, has adopted them also:

    Short links, each being of comparable length to a haiku (and in the west often written in 5/7/5 syllables or fewer) or the shorter link (7/7 syllables or fewer).
    Alternate appearance of the haiku-length link (5/7/5) with the shorter link (7/7).
    Each successive link is created by a different author.
    Shift or leap between verses, so that the poem is not a linear narrative.
    Linkage between verses by:
    • Association: something in the new link shares something (perhaps in appearance, or in use, or in situation) with something in the link it follows.
    • Contrast: something in the new link (e.g., quickness) contrasts with something in the link it follows (e.g., sloth).
    • Comparison: (like the European use of simile and metaphor) one thing to bring another subject to mind.
    • Fragrance: associates or contrasts the emotional conditions or "atmosphere".

  3. The renku (and the historic renga) has these features (which the rengay has avoided):

    Starting and ending.
    The renku typically has a clear beginning, an overall progression, and a closure. Its links (or stanza) might seem to follow a butterfly's seemingly random flight from one blossom to another. The poets are mindful of the overall structure of the poem, by making each link a definite wing beat along the way to the alighting place that is not yet know. The last link is recognized as being connected to the opening link (the hokku).
    [The rengay is shorter and theme based, with links like the ribs of a parasol with the theme of the rengay at the hub.]
    Prescribed links. The renku uses a recipe for what types of links (such as compliments to the host, or special topics like the moon or love). To guide renku poets, recipes have been developed, such as inviting an honored guest to contribute the opening stanza (the hokku), whom the hokku writer recognizes in the stanza, while also referencing the season when the poem is written. Other links are required to reference the moon or flowers, or one of the seasons.
    [A rengay has no such recipe.]
    Reference. The renku traditionally references the season when the poem is written, the current location, and the circumstances of composition.
    Length. The renku has many links. The 36-link choku is popular (defined by Basho). Before then, the 100-link hyakuin was the most popular form. Historically renga of 1000 verses and more are recorded. Meiga Higashi originated the 20-link nijuin in the late 19th century; 20 stanzas are believed minimal for the renku sensibility.
    [The rengay is brief (6 links).]
    Theme. The renku either has no explicit theme or wanders further from the theme in its shifting.
    [The rengay develops a theme.]
    Control. For the renku, the acceptability of links is controlled by the "renku master".
    [For the rengay, the acceptability of links is controlled by participant poets.]

Your Composition.

Here are some steps to take in creating a Rengku:

  1. First, get some experience writing haiku.

  2. With some interesting haiku in hand, find an existing renku group or create one.

  3. Try the mitsumono renku (the three-link renku), either with friends or solo.

  4. Hook up with others to try the longer renku forms.



Japanese term English meaning
ageku ["completing verse"] The last link; should summarize the entire poem with a reference to the opening link.
choka A long poem with the pattern of a renga but authored by one person. Popular in about the ninth century. Revived intermittently.
choku Generic modern term for a linked-verse haiku-like stanza other than the hokku or daisan. Or specifically the 36-link choku defined and popularized by Basho.
choka In early sung traditions, a poem of any length; groups of five and seven syllables alternate; the last two groups are both 7: e.g., 5/7/5/7/7.
cho-renga A sequence of linked verse. Today usually called renga.
daisan ["third"] Third stanza of a linked-verse sequence. Has 3 phrases. The daisan should both 'link' and 'shift'. It connects to the wakiku (second link) while making no connection to hokku (first link), repeating no word or punctuation mark (particularly the dash or other punctuation expressed by a word in Japanese). Sometimes described as the 'break-away' link.
degachi In renku, the process whereby all participating poets compose a verse for each stanza position; the successful verse being chosen by the sabiki or sosho. Cf. hizaokuri
dokugin ["solo performance"] A complete linked verse written by a single poet.
gojuin ["fifty"] A linked verse sequence of 50 stanzas.
ha The 24-link middle part of a kasen renga.
hokku [opening verse] Opening link of a renku or other sequence of linked verse. Traditionally it should use both kigo and kireji. It presents some 'here and now' aspect of the shared experience, the time and place of the participants.
After Masaoka Shiki and others, known as haiku when composed as an independent poem.
kasen ["great poet"] or kasen renga A renku sequence of 36 stanzas, created by Basho as a new poetic standard to replace the 100 stanza hyakuin. The kasen renga has three parts:
  1. Jo: opening page of six stanza.
  2. Ha: with many shifts in scene and more non-seasonal verses (emphasizing people much more than the weather).
  3. Kyu: one closing page of six stanza.
Mitsumono Renku A three-link renku.
Wakiku Second link of a renku or other sequence of linked verse. Has 2 phrases. Focus is on one thing related to the previous link, the hokku. Needs to be rich in its own right, so that the daisan (third link) can connect to the wakiku while not making a connection to hokku. Presents some other 'here and now' aspect of the shared experience.

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