2012 Renku Contest

Prior to our call for content for Journal of Renga & Renku, Issue 3, we are delighted to announce this year’s renku contest which will be judged by Dr Chris Drake, long-time professor of Japanese literature at Atomi University in Japan. Details below:

Entry fee: None

Deadline: 1 October 2012


1. The winning poem will be published, together with a detailed critique, in the 2013 issue of Journal of Renga & Renku. All entries will be considered as content for inclusion in the journal.

2. A small (and yet to be selected) prize will be sent by way of congratulation to the sabaki or one designated participant of the winning poem.


1. Only renku in the kasen form are eligible for this contest

2. There is no limit on the number of entries you may send

3. Previously published kasen are also eligible for the contest

4. Kasen that include verses written by the contest judge or editors of JRR, or led by them, are NOT eligible for this contest

Entry procedure

The leader or sabaki of the poem is designated the contest entrant and should do the following:

The leader or sabaki of the poem is designated the contest entrant and should do the following:

1. Send a clean copy of the poem (stripped of initials, schema notes, renju’s names etc.) as a Word (or RTF) document attachment to RengaRenku@gmail.com (RengaRenku AT gmail DOT com)

2. Mark the subject line: Kasen contest/name of poem/name of sabaki, e.g. Kasen contest/October’s Moon/Moira Richards

3. In the body of the email, paste the following text:

I hereby confirm that I have obtained consent from all of the participating poets to enter this poem in the 2012 JRR Renku Contest, and to offer it for publication by JRR.

4. There is no need to list the names or number of poets who contributed to the poem. We’ll contact you later for this information if we decide to publish.

Judging criteria

Dr Drake will look for:

1. Evidence of serious literary intent and imaginative daring.

2. Evidence of familiarity with renku and with the kasen form. Sites such as renkureckoner.co.uk are good places for review or for gaining basic knowledge, and translations of traditional kasen as well as EL kasen are recommended.

3. Success in achieving multivalent linking. Above all, verses must work as 1) a single verse and also as a new, transformed verse in relation to 2) the previous verse and 3) the following verse. Readers need be able to concretely feel the way identical words have different nuances or mean different things in relation to different verses.

4. Success in using moon, blossom, seasonal, love, and other non-seasonal verses to create an overall sequence rhythm and tone. Variations for standard images will be accepted. The moon, for example, may be replaced by other celestial objects if the change is stated in a note.

5. Success in creating an introduction in verses 1-6, full-bodied, dynamic development in 7–30, and a smooth, quick return to the material world in 31-36.

6. A kasen is long enough to create its own world. If successful, it affects the way a reader returns to and experiences his or her own daily world.

7. Traditional monotheme kasen on a single topic (blossoms, love, Amida Buddha, etc.) will be accepted, though monotony must be avoided.

8. Both group and solo (dokugin) kasen will be accepted. Solo kasen should show evidence of the writer’s ability to hear otherness in her or his own voices.

Contest judge

Chris Drake will judge this contest and introduces himself here:

“I was born in Tennessee in the U.S. in 1947. I got a PhD in Japanese literature from Harvard and taught Japanese literature and comparative literature at Atomi University in Japan for nearly three decades before retiring. My classes included renku appreciation and writing for Japanese students. I’ve published annotated translations of both kasen and hundred-verse hyakuin by Japanese haikai poets of the 17th, 18th, and 20th centuries, including a translation of a kasen by Bashō and his followers in JRR2. I’m now completing an annotated translation of Saikaku’s 1675 solo thousand-verse haikai requiem for his wife. I write renku both in English and in Japanese and have participated in several kasen sequences in Japanese judged by the late Higashi Meiga (Akimasa).”

Why a one-form renku contest?

Every JRR contest will feature a different form of the genre, in order to

a) promote appreciation of the distinctive features of the various forms of the genre and how they can be employed to different ends in the writing of poems, and

b) encourage poets to explore more fully the possibilities of one form, and to appreciate what others do with it.

The kasen

The name Kasen means ‘Poetic Immortals’ and refers to the Chinese and Japanese practice of creating ideal groups of thirty six artistic forbears. Prior to the establishment of the Basho school formalised linked verse was generally written as one hundred or fifty verse sequences. By the time of Basho’s death the majority of haikai sequences were Kasen.

Though he is known as the father of haiku the Kasen renku and haibun [mixed poetry and prose] were Matsuo Basho’s preferred vehicles for expression. It therefore comes as no surprise that the Kasen is rather good.

Seasons recur. [The major seasons of spring and autumn] may appear for up to five verses in a row. There are two spring blossom verses. There are three moon verses, two of which are generally autumn. Love appears as a fixed topic twice, potentially for an extended run. The structure of the Kasen clearly demonstrates that fine writing has more to do with periodicity and interlocking cycles, with tonal control, evolution and recontextualisation.

Without clear vision and leadership the twelve verses of a development side can rapidly become amorphous. The Kasen too takes time to complete. But the Kasen was and remains essential to the development of all aspects of excellence in renku. A person who limits themselves always to the shorter contemporary forms is unlikely to develop the highest level of artistry that the genre permits.

—John Carley, Renku Reckoner

Want to learn more about renku and kasen?

1. Lots of great reading matter, including information about the shisan form, from John Carley here:

and excellent material from the late Bill Higginson here:

2. Lots of space to learn, write and meet other renku enthusiasts at The Renku Group here:

Photo “The four trees” by Edwin van Geelen (some rights reserved)