by Garry Gay
Michael Dylan Welch and I wrote the first rengay back in August 1992. We were both at a three-day workshop with a number of Japanese renku/renga masters who were touring the United States and teaching Americans how to write renku. By the end of the second day, I was already thinking about what in the form was working for me and what was not. These thoughts about renku had been on my mind for a long time, but they had come to a peak that day—and I came up with the rengay form.
I shared my idea with Michael the next morning before the writing part of the renku workshop was to start. He immediately liked what I shared with him and said, “Let’s write one.” So, in a small coffee shop in Foster City, California, Michael and I wrote the first rengay, “Deep Winter.” The name “rengay” plays with “renga,” which is the old word for “renku.” I added a “y” to the end, and it became my last name merged with “renga,” so therefore, “rengay.”
The form spread pretty quickly after Michael published articles about rengay in Woodnotes (spring 1994) and in Frogpond (autumn 1994). It turned out that many other haiku poets were also eager for a linking form that was shorter than the standard renku—six verses compared to 36 verses—and had, at its center, a thematic element.
I think Western writers wanted to connect with each other in an intimate way. Instead of writing in a large group, they wanted the personal connection that the rengay offered just two or three poets (Michael proposed the slightly altered verse pattern of the latter). Making the rengay a brief, intimate, thematic linking form seems to have met a need no other poetic linking form offered. Now, more than 26 years later, rengay is being written around the world, in many different languages, and by as many as six poets in collaboration.