Go to Renku Home.

The Click of Mahjong Tiles

The Information Page
and Annotated Version

Click here for a page with just the renku and contributors' names.

Goto the Renku (bypasses the general introduction).

Goto Table of Contributors (shows distribution of verses, other info).

Note that a "Process Page" including proposed verses and discussion about them is in preparation, hopefully for posting this summer.

Click a number in the table below to go to a numbered stanza. Hint: Click on the number before the verse you want, to see it in context with verses above and below. Horizontal rows equate to the "preface (verses 1-6), development (7-30), and fast close (31-36)",  called the jo-ha-kyû in Japanese. Click on this link for an explanation of the basic structure of a kasen renku.

jo 1 2 3 4 5 6 Jo is usually more calm than ha.
ha 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
ha 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
kyû 31 32 33 34 35 36 Kyû moves quickly to optimistic end.

Welcome to "The Click of Mahjong Tiles" information page!

Introduction by William J. Higginson

This page contains some general background information on the composition of "The Click of Mahjong Tiles" kasen renku, with links to other pages with information on renku in general, as well as annotations on the verses, stanza by stanza.

In the renku, you will see the names of individual authors of the various verses. Actually, any linked poem written collaboratively depends on the participants' individual responses to one another, both in terms of how they respond to a previous stanza by another author and in terms of the back-and-forth involved as authors call for and receive help from one another. Many of the verses in the final renku have been reshaped in collaboration with other members of the group, and we are all grateful to one another for this mutual assistance.

Renku Guidelines: A traditional renku has many features controlled by guidelines established over the last 800 years or more during the growth of the genre in Japan. Some call them "rules", but we prefer "guidelines", for as in any living art form, there is always a tension between received tradition and new composition. (Click on this link for a comprehensive guide to writing renku.)

Various poets writing in English have made modest adaptations of the traditional guidelines to better suit an English-language cultural environment. For example, traditional renku include "blossom stanzas" in specified places, and the words "blossoms" or "flowers" (both hana in Japanese) are always taken as referring to cherry blossoms unless another plant is stated. Here, we will recognize the word "blossoms" alone as referring to cherry blossoms, but also allow our blossom verses to mention specific spring-blossoming trees that are especially showy in our temperate regions. Those appropriate might include apricot blossoms, apple blossoms, and any other early-blooming fruit trees whose flowers create a warm glow in the light around them. (To fit into the seasonal cycle of traditional haiku and renku, such trees must bloom in the months of February, March, or April. More on the traditional seasons below.)

Seasons: The seasons of traditional renku differ from those we commonly acknowledge today. If you study the table called "The Traditional Seasons of Japanese Poetry" available on this web site, you will notice that they actually correspond to an older view common in Western Europe as well, with the respective equinoxes and solstices occurring at the midpoints of their seasons, rather than at the beginnings. For example, note the original meanings of the English words "midwinter" and "midsummer"—they each refer to the solstice and immediately adjacent days. (Similar words in other European languages do the same thing, such as coeur de l'été ["heart of summer"; French], der Hochsommer ["high summer"; German], and so on, all of which do now or used to refer to the summer solstice or festivals at that time.)

The seasons in a renku follow a traditional order (not simply through the year season-by-season), and observe some traditional restrictions: In a string of verses in spring and autumn, there may be as few as three verses in the same season, but no more than five; in summer and winter, there may be as few as one or as many as three. In a kasen renku (36 stanzas), generally speaking, spring and autumn appear in groups of three verses each, while summer and winter occur in single verses or sometimes a pair. (Note that groups of spring and autumn verses will appear more than once in a kasen.)

Much lore surrounds the seasons in haiku and renku, but a simple season-word list is available on this web site. If you explore the season-word list, you may find it helpful in understanding the seasonal cycle in any given renku. (It's an abbreviated form of the sort of list Japanese haiku and renku poets use all the time.) Of course, if a poet has another seasonal phenomenon in mind, it can be used also. But don't be surprised if there are differences between your usual seasonal impressions and those traditional to renku. For more detail on the seasons in haikai (haiku, renku, haibun, and so on), you can explore my books The Haiku Seaons and Haiku World. The latter includes some 1000 verses arranged in a saijiki (traditional haiku almanac), but the verses are from 50 countries and include many seasonal topics not found in Japanese saijiki. (I suggest getting them from libraries, if possible. They are currently out of print, though some booksellers may have copies.) Another Japanese season-word list may be found online at the University of Virginia Japanese Text Initiative "Japanese Haiku Topical Dictionary ". All of these resources include information as to "the part of the season"—essential in renku composition. (See the "parts of the season" mentioned in the season-word list linked at the beginning of this paragraph for an explanation.)

Linking and Shifting: In traditional renku, the poets work very hard at shifting away from topics already expressed in existing verses, especially in verses close by, though such topics as a particular season and love may persist for a few verses in succession. There are a number of ways to shift, one involving guidelines about how many verses in a row may be in the same season, as above; one involving the notions of person and place, discussed below; and another about how closely the same or a related topic may appear to a verse that already includes that topic. (For a full discussion, follow this link for a guide to linking and shifting in renku.)

With respect to person and place, we generally follow the usual practice, summarized here:

"Person-Place" (ji-ta-ba in Japanese) includes the following:

  • self (ji, first-person experience),
  • other (ta, experience of another person),
  • self & other (ji-ta han, experience of self with another),
  • public (ashirai, a sub-category of "other" also sometimes translated as "mixed"; experience of a group of people—can be very vague, so long as people are there),
  • place (ba, event or scene without present human involvement—this can include human artifacts).

Renku poets use "person-place" information to avoid a particular kind of "throw-back" (uchikoshi). According to person-place guidelines, one wants to avoid having the first and third of any three consecutive verses in the same category. For example, avoid sequences like self-place-self, other-self-other, and so on. As with many renku "rules", these are actually guidelines, and can be set aside occasionally if something else that's good is going on in the poem.

Other Special Verses: Our renku includes all of the topics which traditionally receive special attention in renku, such as the seasons, the moon and blossoms, and love. In traditional renku "love" is also a special topic with reserved locations in the interior of the renku. Love verses usually occur in pairs, or sometimes three in a row. In a kasen, there are usually two such groups of love verses.

Overall Rhythm: A completed renku, while covering a wide range of people, places, times, and events, and not telling any one story, does have an overall unity. This unity is more like the unity of a piece of classical music, that may have an introductory section, where some of the themes appear, followed by a section in which these and other themes develop, and ending with a quick movement that drives to the finish. In fact, renku poets speak of the "preface" (jo in Japanese), "development" (ha), and "fast close" or "presto" (kyû). In a kasen, these three sections usually occupy the first six stanzas (preface), the next 24 stanzas (development), and the last six stanzas (fast close).

The Click of Mahjong Tiles
A Kasen Renku
The Annotated Version
(Click here just the poem and its authors.)

The four columns in the table that follows contain the verse numbers, the verses of the poem, the authors, and information on the seasons, person-place, and topics, verse-by-verse. The last column, after the first stanza, also includes the type of link between the present and preceding stanzas. (Note that stanzas often link in several ways, and these are not meant to exclude other types of linking from consideration. These notes are only my (wjh's) attempts to clarify what may not be immediately apparent to readers. The poets may have had other links in mind, and another commentator might see other types of links between any given pair of verses. I have indicated those types that seem most prominent to me, which are summarized here.)

The information in the column to the far right of each verse is organized thus:

Named season (season word); person-place; a list of topics other than season included in the verse. Type of linking with previous stanza.


The Click of Mahjong Tiles
A Kasen Renku

Dedicated to the Memory of Elizabeth Searle Lamb and the Life of Alden Thomas Post Vieira

Composed Online February–May 2005


Lunar New Year--
the click of mahjong tiles
into the wee hours

Early spring (Lunar New Year); public; holidays, games, time.
2    down in the wolves' wood
   a cluster of snowdrops

Early spring (snowdrops); place; wild animals, landscape (woods), wild plants. Object link: tiles / snowdrops.
3 after lunch
the farmer and his son
count lambs

Spring (lambs); other; food, family relationship, domestic animals. Meaning link: wolves / lambs.
4    another dreamcatcher
   put in the east window

Seasonless; place; sleep and dreams, crafts, buildings, compass direction. Meaning link: count lambs / sleep.
5 The Hurlers
flout the autumn wind
Autumn (autumn wind); place; placename*, weather, music. *Go to the following link for information on "The Hurlers". Scent link: setting.
6    our hemisphere
   spun further from the sun
Autumn (earth tilts on axis away from sun in northern hemisphere*); public; planet earth, revolution, sun. *Note that this is an unusual case in which a seasonal event is described, rather than named. Perhaps other poets and future season-word guides will develop this as a seasonal topic. Meaning link: hurlers / spun.
Here the "preface" ends and the "development" begins.
7 ouch! blood
from my thumb stains
the shrike's larder

Autumn (shrike); self; blood, body, injury, animal (bird); food. Scent link: run-on.
8    he thickens the water
   mixing medicinal herbs

Seasonless; other; water, mixture, medicine. Object link: blood / medicine.
9 she wipes
the dust from a bottle
of vintage port
Seasonless; other; cleaning, dust/dirt, alcoholic beverage. Meaning link: water / wine.
10    our wedding video
   transferred to DVD
Seasonless, love; self & other; marriage, machines, media. Object link: vintage / video transfer.
11 I watch the breeze
enter my neighbor's dress
on the washing-line

Seasonless, love (in context); self; wind, neighbor, domestic work. Scent link: run-on.
12    under the dry lake
   a mudfish dreams
Seasonless; place; dryness, landscape, animal (fish); dreams. Scent link: reflection.
13 like so much rain
this silver on the roof
a cooling moon 

Summer (cooling); place; moon, building, rain. Meaning link: dry / rain.
14    Pope John Paul
   waits for the shadow
Seasonless; other; current event, religion, personal name. Meaning link: moon / shadow.
15 another day
and still the undertaker
hasn't called
Seasonless; other; day/time, death, communication. Meaning link: the shadow / undertaker.
16    eight letters in the post
   yet only one unpaid bill
Seasonless; self; number, communication, commerce. Meaning link: call / letter.
17 a petal drops
from the apricot branch
in my cup of tea

Late spring (apricot petal [blossom verse]); self; plant, hot beverage. Scent link: reflection.
18    a boat in the spring torrent
   of an upper Yangtze gorge

Spring (spring torrent); place; boat, travel, river, placename. Scent link: echo.
This is the midpoint, between the two pages of the "development" section.
19 through the lattice
David's royal eye
on passing pilgrims

Spring (pilgrims); other; building, historical person, royalty, travel. Scent link: nostalgic image.
20    with her head so high
   she steps on a potsherd
Seasonless; other; body, utensil, broken. Object link: seeing / thing seen.
21 would you sweeten
every sorrow, every care
with a kiss?

Seasonless; self & other; love, moods. Scent link: run-on.
22    had I been awake . . .
   now this emptiness
Seasonless; self; love, wakefulness, emptiness (transience). Scent link: run-on.
23 an F-minor chord
in the rustling concert hall
the north wind

Winter (north wind); place; music, public building, wind. Object link: emptiness / concert hall.
24    wave after wave collapses
   into seafoam and snow
Winter (snow); place; wave, sea. Meaning link: north wind / snow.
25 Turks at the gate
Vienna's pastries take on
a croissant shape
Seasonless; public; war, foreign country, historical event, food, commerce. Meaning link: wave after wave / at the gate (both suggesting battle).
26    delight on her face
   another marathon win
Seasonless; other; moods, sports. Meaning link: "Turkish / delight" (a kind of confection).
27 a blacksnake
slithers across the road
a passing cloud
Summer (snake), place, animal (snake), road, cloud. Object link: marathon / road.
28    the thing about dark matter
   is its darkness
Seasonless; place; physics (astronomy), darkness. Meaning Link: black / dark.
29 even this moon
nothing but a vibration
in my augenblik
Autumn (moon); self; foreign word (German Augenblik, literally "blink of the eyes" but meaning "moment, instant", especially in reference to geologic or galactic time), transcience. Meaning link: dark matter (space, physics) / moon, vibration.
30    and here I am haggling
   over windfall apples

Autumn (apple); self; argument, fruit. Scent link: run-on.
Here the "development" ends and the "fast close" begins.
31 the perfect greens
are turned to perfect red,

Autumn (dragonfly); self and other; insect, autumn foliage suggested. Meaning link: windfall (imperfect) / perfect.
32    each stone a prayer
   at the mountain shrine
Seasonless; place; religion; mountain. Scent link: echo.
33 in his hymnbook
the choirboy scribbles
secret notes

Seasonless; other; religion; music; writing, secret. Object link: prayer / hymnbook-choirboy.
34    my initials in the sidewalk
   out there in the rising mist
Spring (rising mist); self; writing, pavement. Meaning link: scribbles / initials.
35 from a bare branch
the blackthorn brings
another spring

Mid spring (blossom: blackthorn); place; plants. Scent link: run-on. Note: For "blackthorn" and its relation to plum and cherry, see the "Blackthorn" page at shee-eire.com.
36    reaching grandad's pond
   she pours the tadpoles free

Late spring (tadpoles); other; water, animals (amphibians). Scent link: echo.


Author Number of Verses Verses per Side
(jo, ha1, ha2, kyû)
(Verses by #)
Carole MacRury
20, 30

#1, O
Gerald England
#2, L
Norman Darlington
Hortensia Anderson
24, 27
Eryu/Fûseki Susan Shand 4
John E. Carley
 5 6
21, 28
O, L
John W. Sexton


L, #36
William J. Higginson

22, 29

L, O
Total Stanzas So Far

*Includes hokku (#1), wakiku (#2), daisan (#3), moon (O), blossom (*), and love (L) verses, ageku (#36). 

Click a number in the table below to go to a numbered stanza. Hint: Click on the number before the verse you want, to see it in context with verses above and below. Horizontal rows equate to the "preface (verses 1-6), development (7-30), and fast close (31-36)",  called the jo-ha-kyû in Japanese. Click on this link for an explanation of the basic structure of a kasen renku.

jo 1 2 3 4 5 6 Jo is usually more calm than ha.
ha 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
ha 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
kyû 31 32 33 34 35 36 Kyû moves quickly to optimistic end.

Copyright Notice: This work is copyright © 2005 by William J. Higginson for the authors. All rights reserved by the authors individually and collectively, except as stated herein. This entire page may be copied for personal use, or for use in a renku workshop. It may not be sold. It may not be incorporated into any other work, in digital or hard copy, even as part of a stapled packet. To quote portions only, or for any other use, permission is required: contact William J. Higginson, P. O. Box 1402, Summit, NJ 07902 USA. This Web page is http://renku.home.att.net/kasen/MahjongTiles_Info.html. First posted publicly 7 August 2005; last updated 7 August 2005. Webmaster contact: wordfield-at-att-dot-net, replacing "-at-" with "@" and "-dot-" with a period.

Go to Renku Home.