Rengay: An Introduction

First published in Woodnotes #20, Spring 1994, pages 4–5.

The renga and renku forms of linked verse have a long, rule-bound, culturally dependent tradition in Japan. Many English writers attempting these forms have questioned the relevance of the many rules in our culture, and sometimes fail to enjoy the stringent renku-writing process. As a reaction to these sometimes stifling rules and traditions, Garry Gay invented a renga alternative in the summer of 1992: the “rengay.”

The rengay is a collaborative six-verse linked thematic poem written by two or three poets using alternating three-line and two-line haiku or haiku-like stanzas in a regular pattern. The pattern for two people is A-3, B-2, A-3, B-3, A-2, B-3, with the letters representing the poets, and the numbers indicating the number of lines in each given verse. For three people the pattern is A-3, B-2, C-3, A-2, B-3, C-2. Unlike renku, Garry proposes that a rengay stay in one season and develop a consistent theme. Since they are brief, rengay are also more easily remembered than renku, and more likely to be published in the various haiku journals.

While this new derivative of renga has existed for more than a year and a half, examples of the form and guidelines on how to write rengay have never been published. Rengay was first publicly introduced at the November 1, 1992 meeting of the Haiku Poets of Northern California in San Francisco (see Woodnotes #15, page 2). This HPNC meeting was held shortly after—and in reaction to—the Renku North America visit in August of 1992. Renga and renku were discussed at length, and several papers were presented at the November meeting. One of the presentations introduced rengay as an accessible alternative to the Japanese-style kasen renku, and John Thompson read an example that he had written with Garry Gay (“Between Storms,” recently published in Romania’s Albatross, Volume II, Number 2, Autumn–Winter 1993, page 35). Since this meeting, a number of poets have tried writing rengay, and many more have responded positively to its possibilities.

The two examples that follow [in Woodnotes #20] are the first rengay to be published in North America. “Canoe Through Autumn” by Garry Gay and John Thompson commemorates a camping trip the two poets shared at Lake Sonoma in Northern California on October 10, 1993. The second rengay by Donna [later Claire] and Pat Gallagher and Michael Dylan Welch is the first three-person rengay to be written. “A Rain of Leaves” was composed on an arboreal theme at the Gallagher’s home in Sunnyvale, California after a meal of gourmet pizza on November 18, 1993.

Perhaps the follow examples will inspire you to try writing a rengay with one or two friends. There are indeed many possibilities for rengay in English. While its future is in the hands of poets, it serves as a viable, accessible, and shorter alternative to kasen-style renga and renku. Enjoy!


The following announcement also appeared with the preceding article:


Rengay Writing Party

Learn to write rengay from Garry Gay and other HPNC practitioners of this new form of linked verse. This historic event will be held from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 17, 1994 at the home of Donna [later Claire] and Pat Gallagher in Sunnyvale (not far from the CalTrans station). If you can attend, please call Donna or Pat at [phone number removed] to RSVP and provide an address to which directions can be mailed.

This essay first appeared in Woodnotes #20, Spring 1994, with a butterfly illustration by Cherie Hunter Day.