proposed by the present author in 2010, the yotsumono - four things
- is a four verse sequence comprising hokku, wakiku, daisan and ageku.
The name recalls mitsumono - three things - the medieval practice
of attaching particular importance to the first three verses of a writing
sheet. The yotsumono, by contrast, is complete in its own right.
The structure of the yotsumono mirrors that of the Tang dynasty discontinuous
poem - the jueju. Known in Japanese as the zekku, its four part progression
is thought to have influenced both popular song and the emergence of linked
verse. Each stanza of the zekku is named according to its function -
kiku, shoku, tenku and kekku, combining
the suffix ku - verse - with the elements ki - description,
sho - furtherance, ten - break, and ketsu - determination
The yotsumono equates these functions to those of the hokku, wakiku, daisan
and ageku - shorn of erstwhile greetings or felicitous parting sentiments.
Whereas the zekku is written by a single author, and its degree of turn
may be no more than a pleasant digression, the yotsumono is dialogic,
being intended for an alternating pair of voices. It also breaks and shifts
decisively. Most importantly of all, as with all Shofu renku, it is avowedly
There are no topical or tonal exclusions in the yotsumono. In terms of
jo-ha-kyu, the tenor is that of ha rather than jo or kyu. The poem is
swift moving, never uniform. Though the seasons are no longer essential
to structure, a strong sense of the natural world may be present at any
point in the poem. Formal and informal kigo - season words - and classical
fixed topics may either be prominent, or notable for their absence.
Excepting those cases where the ageku incorporates
deliberate echoes of the hokku or wakiku for specific expressive purposes,
great emphasis is placed on the avoidance of any hint of reversion
or regression (see The Three R's). This extends to register,
grammar and syntax. Poets are encouraged to pay particular attention to
the phonic properties of their work, not least in achieving balanced and
proportional cadences between verses.
In order to prevent the unwitting development of thematic subtexts, encourage
instinctual responses, and ensure that writers have no greater access
to additional information than their readers, participants are enjoined
to set aside all discussion of their intentions until composition is complete.
- all-season position - or any other season (where a
named season is also present)
sn/ns - all-season or non-season
wi/au - winter or autumn
wi/su - whichever is chosen first its counterpart is chosen after
- non-season (miscellaneous) position
bl - blossom position
[bl/fl] - alternate blossom or flower position - either/or
at one location only
- blossom and moon both appear
- flower position
[fl/bl] - alternate flower or blossom position
at one location only
(fl) - optional flower position
mn - moon position
[mn] - alternate moon position -
the choice is either/or
- moon and blossom both appear
(mn) - optional moon position
lv - love position, indicative - love verses move together
(lv) - optional love position, indicative - love verses
Shofu renku? As
the courtesan once remarked to the abbot - it looks rather small. So
the obvious question, when faced with a yotsumono, is to wonder if it
is renku at all.
It depends on what you were expecting. As the abbot doubtless retorted.
Perhaps the oldest form of linked verse, and still the shortest, is
the tanrenga - a single exchange of long and short verse between two
poets. The yotsumono comes in at twice the size. It opens, broadens,
develops and resolves. So, given that the distinction between renga
and haikai is one of tone not form, and despite the courtesan's obvious
disappointment, there is no reason why a yotsumono, written in the correct
spirit, cannot be haikai no renga - aka renku.
Certainly. If the term haikai is something of a catch-all -
embracing everything from Basho's most refined work to the drasty margins
of zappai - Shofu is more easily defined. Above all it is a
question of aesthetic values. Fueki ryuko, kogo kizoku, fuga no makoto
(see Minimum Conditions), none of these rely on length of sequence.
The same is true for karumi - the principal driver of his mature style.
And short as it may be, there are some aspects of the yotsumono that
make it more mainstream than not.
The emphasis on balanced and proportional cadences between verses, and
on the poetics of utterance in general, highlights a vital aspect of
renku that has received scant attention as the genre has spread into
English. The importance of phonology to individual verse structure,
linkage, and the wider sense of cohesion cannot be overstated (see Know
The yotsumono also obliges a thorough facility with the particular characteristics
of each constituent verse. Description, furtherance, turn, and outcome.
Head verse, support verse, breakaway, and close. These functions are
vital to the success of any renku sequence but the yotsumono certainly
concentrates the mind. The
ageku in particular is placed under the spotlight and can no longer
escape by mouthing lukewarm platitudes. Though its task remains that
of finding a symbolic and emotional fit rather than providing some form
of logical conclusion, it is obliged to be much more focused. We are
directed away from a generic sense of closure towards ketsu
- an overarching outcome.
is the question of variety and change. Clearly, at only four verses,
the yotsumono cannot contain the ten thousand things of Buddhist
metaphysics. Yet this objection may be leveled just as readily at a
junicho, or at all poems shorter than the kasen itself. In any event,
the suggestion that omni-valence is the product of a surfeit of materials
is contentious at best (see Thematic Renku). The anti-thematic,
all embracing, nature of Shofu renku lies in its aesthetics, not the
quantity of scrawl on the page - or else we mistake effect for cause.
The yotsumono side-steps the issue. Participants are directed to avoid
all discussion of their intentions, the meaning of any given stanza,
or of the linkage between stanzas, either before or during composition.
Ergo - the poem cannot be thematic.
Where it is adhered to, this injunction has the welcome
effect of boosting the importance of empathy in linkage and heightening
the general awareness of phonics. It also gives rise to an intriguing
paradox. A skillfully written ageku generates such a strong sense of
coherence across the span of the poem that it feels as if it must have
been agreed from the outset.
It is a further paradox that any attempt to contrive such an outcome
by working to a prearranged plan tends to yield a weaker poem.
Renku is a dialogic form of writing, but it is not just an excuse for
some genial chat (see Explaining It All Away). It takes courage
to compose a yotsumono on the fly. But the end result may very well