First published in Lighting the Global Lantern: A Teacher’s Guide to Writing Haiku and Related Literary Forms by Terry Ann Carter, Yarker, Ontario: Wintergreen Studios Press, 2011, pages 26–27. This overview is derived from “Writing Rengay,” originally published in 2006 online. A few light edits have been applied here.       +

by Garry Gay

To write a good rengay you are probably a good haiku writer. The rengay, like the haiku, relies on your ability at suggestive writing.

Let’s look at the rengay’s structure. For two writers the progression is as follows, with the letters representing the poets and the numbers indicating the number of lines in the given verses:

A-3, B-2, A-3, B-3, A-2, B-3

The pattern for three poets is as follows:

A-3, B-2, C-3, A-2, B-3, C-2

A rengay is a collaborative six-verse linked thematic poem written by two or three poets alternating three-line and two-line haiku or haiku-like stanzas in a regular pattern or form. It is important to keep in mind that each verse is really a standalone haiku in either three or two lines. Many haiku writers don’t write two-line haiku very often, so these can be the most challenging. Sometimes they are also the glue that holds the rengay together.

The rengay lets you explore a topic or theme—or stay in one place or season. They are effective in celebrating a special occasion such as a wedding or an event like the 50th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge.

There are a number of ways to approach the theme or central topic of a rengay. You and your writing partner can each suggest a theme you are interested in, such as writing about birds or the color blue. Or you can take a walk or hike and write about some shared experience.

Linking and shifting can be quite fun in rengay. You can link back to the previous verse or link to the theme. Shifting needs the most care. While you can easily shift away from the previous link, if you shift too far away the overall poem will not make sense. Some shifting will add natural tension to the poem. Some shifting will keep your writing partner guessing where you are going. Sometimes shifting away can be playful, but again, if you go too far you will lose your reader.

The fun part is talking about your verse or link. Does it communicate the mood of the poem? Did you use a similar word earlier? Did you advance the idea or concept of the poem? The whole process of writing together is where the real joy and satisfaction comes. Remember that this is a collaboration.

The last link is a very important verse. Sometimes it links back to the first verse, but not always. Sometimes there is a second theme or sublevel theme running through.