Yotysumono Renku




Composing a Yotsumono Renku*


In July 2010 six haiku poets participated in a an on-line renku workshop lead by John E. Carley to learn some basic renku principles which they demonstrated in two Yotsumono renku compositions. John Carley commented on submitted verses and acted as sabaki for the exercise. The Renku Reckoner site by John E. Carley contains much useful information about renku.



Almost Ripe Apples


Cristian Mocanu, RO, John Daleiden, US; John E. Carley, UK; Zhanna P. Rader, US


almost ripe apples
matching the colours
of the sunset    (cm)

in the horse barn
a pinto colt suckles    (jd)

he walks with a limp
half a leg
lost to the talibs    (jec)

a whiff of fine perfume
from a passer-by    (zh.r)




John E. Carley, UK


The hokku is a perfect summer verse which nonetheless hints at the cusp of autumn. It offers a very subtle internal tension between near-fruition and completion – between youth and age. The wakiku also evokes a life cycle, but takes us earlier and shifts scale. In this it is ideal – a furtherance and enrichment of the hokku rather than a contrast. Daisan takes us through some sudden evolutions: starting with the rural and the familiar (is the horse or the horseman lame?) and ending with the alien (the man is disfigured by a foreign war/ideology). At one level ageku gives us the tangible – the figure of the expensive lady. But on the other it is the intangible only – she is impermanent, present by scent alone, and a scent which is not her own, but applied. Certainly she is unattainable. It is this last aspect that makes the verse so suitable. The poem as a whole is shown to address potentiality and intent. The concluding suggestion that ‘gain’ is illusory fits very nicely with a verse form that originally majored on Buddhist metaphysics.



Nailed in the Wall


Zhanna P. Rader, US; Judith Gorgone, US; Karina Klesko, US; John Daleiden, US


tornado passes
a chicken feather
nailed in the wall    (zh.r)

her long hair mingling
the bear skin rug    (jg)

moonlight reveals
someone's lost shoe
near the ferris wheel    (kk)

I add another stone
to the cairn as I pass    (jd)




John E. Carley, UK


There is a theory that the hokku always leaves its mark the entirety of the sequence. Certainly the tension between calm and storm permeates this poem. Thanks to the strong and direct linkage the piece evolves through a gamut of suggestions of sex and sensuality, romance and excess. The ageku loops us back to the beginning, except that now we know things will end badly: more than a shoe has been lost.

These poems could hardly be more different: the first is elliptical and light, the second packed with emotion. What they have in common though is a classic balance between ‘person’ and ‘place’ verses, fresh use of imagery, effective attention to language as an organisational as well as an expressive tool, and a successful understanding of the differing functions of the different verses (hokku, wakiku, daisan and ageku).

I’m very grateful indeed to everyone for generating such a wealth of potential from which these glimpses of the world are woven. The Yotsumono is principally conceived as an dialogic exchange between a pair of writers, but you’ve shown that it can be approached differently.



Exercises: *Yotsumono hokku, wakiku, daisan and ageku

2010 revision


John E. Carley, UK



Yotsumono is an exercise devised by the present author. It extends the historic Mitsumono exercise elsewhere on these pages by the addition of ageku as a closing verse.

The structure of the resultant four verse sequence is similar to that of the Chinese Jueju (Wade-Giles: Chue Chu), known in Japanese as the Zekku. It may be that the Yotsumono comes to be viewed as having some merit as a distinct form in its own right.


Two poets take turns to compose a sequence comprising hokku, wakiku, daisan and ageku, the initial verses being shorn of such performative functions of greeting or augury as may be found in formal composition.

In order to guard against thematic development, all discussion of the meaning of, or intention behind, any aspect of a particular verse, the conceptual linkage between verses, or the overall direction of the poem is disbarred until completion of the text. By contrast active discussion of the phonics of the piece is encouraged.


This exercise demands an understanding of the particular compositional requirements of hokku, wakiku, daisan and ageku. Persons new to these terms should refer to the article 'Beginnings and Endings' elsewhere in Renku Reckoner. Please note the caveats in the section 'How' above.

Some aspects of the grammatical structure of English-language renku verses are discussed in the article 'Cut or Uncut?'.

The 'Yotsumono' button at left directs to a schematic guide. The article 'Common Types' contains a description and appraisal of the sequence.


Yotsumono reflects some aspects of the Chinese Jueju which is believed to have influenced the emergence of linked verse in Japan.

Known in Japanese as the Zekku, this ancient verse form comprises four short phrases or verses. The first, kiku, gives the setting of the poem. The second, shokku, amplifies the head verse whilst the third, tenku, turns away from the opening pair, the resultant juxtaposition revealing the unstated essence of the poem. A resolution to the tension generated by this break-and-turn is provided by the fourth verse, kekku, which provides closure to the whole, a quality described as 'the determination' (ketsu).

Yotsumono equates these functions to those of hokku, wakiku, daisan and ageku. Unlike the Zekku, the Yotsumono is however dialogic, being written typically between an alternating pair of voices. It is also avowedly anti-thematic although, as is noted below, a skillfully written poem will seem otherwise.

There are no tonal or topical exclusions in the Yotsumono. The poem should be swift moving. All types of uniformity are to be avoided. It may follow the more formal contemporary renku conventions regarding the seasons and their associated fixed topics, or adopt the freer approach typical of the Junicho and Rokku. Alternatively a Yotsumono may embrace the concept of seasonless mukigo, or choose to disregard these concerns altogether. Where formal kigo are used, or other emblematic key words and topics such as haikmakura, these should not alternate, appearing either consecutively, or with a two verse separation the first and last positions.

The Yotsumono requires the same absolute intolerance of uchikoshi no kirai (reversion to the last but one) that characterises the Rokku. This includes register, grammar and syntax as well as content. Further, Yotsumono extends these strictures to the relationship between hokku and ageku excepting those cases where ageku incorporates deliberate echoes of the hokku or wakiku for specific expressive purposes.

Whilst avoiding all contrivance and versification, great emphasis is placed on the poetics of utterance; the minor tropes which are automatically disbarred from much English-language haiku may be used sparingly. As with the Chinese and Japanese source poems, it is particularly important to achieve balanced and proportional cadences both within verses and between verses.

At no stage during the preparation or composition of a Yotsumono should participants discuss their aims, intentions or predispositions in respect of either the poem as a whole, the meaning of a particular verse, or the semantic aspects of inter-verse linkage. All critical analysis is to be welcomed. But in the case of the Yotsumono this should only ever occur after the poem has been completed, and the text signed off as definitive by the participants.

The purpose of this injunction is to ensure that the Yotsumono satisfies a minimum condition for renku: that it be non-thematic. It is an intriguing paradox of the form that a skillful determination, at ageku, will generate a post-facto semantic coherence across the span of the four verses that gives the impression of a conscious and preexisting purpose, of an ineluctability of flow.

Source: The Renku Reckoner



*The Yotsumono - 4 verses - an appraisal


John E. Carley, UK


Is the Yotsumono anything other than a writing exercise dressed up as a renku sequence? Indeed can it claim to be renku at all?

In so far as a definition of renku might be 'haikai no renga written in the manner of the Basho school' the jury must be out. Clearly Basho and his immediate disciples didn't write Yotsumono. But then nor did they write Nijuin, Triparshva, Junicho, Shisan or Rokku. Of these the Junicho and Shisan present radically different structures to those which were the vehicle for the development of Shofu, whilst the Rokku, in purposefully limiting seriation to a maximum of two consecutive verses, directly contradicts a central feature of Basho's carefully refined poetics. Further, all three promote or at least permit fixed topic treatments which are decidedly unconventional.

But it is reasonable to object that there is a matter of degree here: the Junicho might feel like a drastic contraction at only a third the length of a Kasen, yet the Yotsumono is only a third the length of a single face of ha! However the proposed definition is not 'written by Basho's immediate school' but 'written in the manner of the Basho school', and possibly this criterion may be met.

Whatever the length of sequence the Shomon sensibilities of fueki rukyo (the ever changing within the perpetual) and kogo kizoku (awakening to the high returning to the low) may be evidenced, particularly in contrast to the Danrin tendency towards the flashy and absurd, or the restrictions and pretensions of the Teimon school. The style of linkage is also crucial, less a matter of pure scent linking, than of a layered approach which mixes nioi with more simple methods.

The emphasis placed on balanced and proportional cadences between verses, and on the poetics of utterance in general, is a further reflection of aspects of Shomon renku which were integral to the source material, but which have received scant attention, and very uneven emulation, as the genre has emerged in English.

More problematic is the question of variety and change. Clearly, at only four verses, the Yotsumono cannot be a poem which contains 'all ten thousand things'. Yet this objection may readily be leveled at the twelve verse Junicho and Shisan, and the suggestion that the anti-thematic nature of renku is simply a function of the inclusion of a surfeit of materials is contentious at best.

Of the source genre, the majority of Jueju or Zekku are little more than a thematic or para-thematic exploration of a setting or topic with a pleasant or wily midpoint digression and an ingenious conclusion - an arrangement which bears little resemblance to renku. Equally the post-enlightenment poet may struggle to resist the temptation to see the Yotsumono as an invitation to some form of rational explication of a subject via the Hegelian dialect of thesis (hokku + wakiku), antithesis (daisan) and synthesis (ageku).

In order to avoid these pitfalls participants are directed to avoid any and all discussion of a poem's meaning either before or during composition, ergo: the poem cannot be thematic. Where it is adhered to this injunction has the welcome effect of focusing the attention on precisely those areas of prosody which otherwise all too frequently receive scant attention, whilst further boosting the importance of empathy in linkage. It also proves to generate an intriguing paradox in that a skillful determination, at ageku, will tend to generate a post-facto semantic coherence across the poem that gives the impression of an over-arching, and predetermined, intention.

The Yotsumono may indeed prove to be simply a writing exercise with ideas above its station. However the phenomenal success of Garry Gay's avowedly thematic Rengay and the continued experimentation with para-thematic short forms of linked verse such as Vaughn Seward's Renhai suggest that the appetite exists amongst English speaking poets for short collaborative forms which are both enjoyable and creatively rewarding. If the Yotsumono can satisfy this demand whilst respecting the most inviolable features of renku it might come to be viewed as a legitimate proposal for a renku sequence in miniature.

Source: The Renku Reckoner









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