by John Thompson and Garry Gay
This rengay is almost certainly the first rengay ever published, although not the first to be written. It appeared in Albatross, Volume II, Number 2, Autumn–Winter 1993, pages 34–36, in January of 1993, with a Romanian translation by Mihaela Codrescu, complete with a short overview of rengay, included here. See also the postscript at the end with commentary on this particular rengay and the rengay overview.
from match to flowered candle
a flame is passed John
A draft felt
by the candle and me Garry
the wind howls
unrooting a flock of crows
from the eucalyptus John
Curbside Christmas tree;
the lid from my neighbor’s trash can
rolls down the street Garry
on the garbage man’s gloves
the scent of evergreen John
wishing I had
another candle Garry
A Rengay consists of six links or verses. It is meant to be created between two writers. The first writer (to be decided between them) starts off with a three-line link, followed by the second writer’s two-line link. After the midway point they switch positions. The Rengay is meant to focus on the same topic or season. The form is meant to flow with some clarity. Obviously the “flow” can be subtle or suggested as it is in the haiku. The syllable count is left to the individual style of the poets.
The opportunity of working one on one with another poet, the satisfaction of seeing quick results of your work and a finished piece that only takes up a single page in a book or magazine are some of the Rengay’s advantages to be considered.
A few thoughts on the rengay itself and the overview of the rengay form, and how they both show rengay to still be in a formative stage when they were published, in 1993.
First the rengay. In “Between Storms,” the word “candle” is used in the first, second, and sixth verses, which I would either avoid or I would sustain in the other three verses as well, but only if one wanted to make candles a theme for the rengay. But if not, then candles should be used only once, or perhaps in the opening and closing verses to create a circular completion, but not in three verses. So the theme isn’t candles here. The draft in the second verse links to the wind in the third verse, indicating the use of renku linking techniques. Likewise, the eucalyptus in verse three links to the Christmas tree in verse four, and to the evergreen scent in verse five, and the trash can in the fourth verse connects to the garbage man’s gloves in the fifth verse. So we have links but not themes in these developments, because these links connect only adjacent verses but not more. We find no link from the fifth to the sixth verse, but do find a return to the candle instead. The candles are needed surely because of an implied power failure in the first verse, and what follows are other events that could happen when one is between storms. We shouldn’t presume that a rengay’s title indicates the theme, but here I do believe the theme to be “between storms.” That concept is specifically mentioned in the first verse, and the power failure is perpetuated in the second verse. And although we are “between” storms, there’s still enough wind in the third and fourth verses to uproot the crows and blow a Christmas tree down the street, which implies that the prior storm itself must have been even worse, and that the coming storm probably will be too. The Christmas tree also serves to ground the entire rengay in a particular season. Although this rengay is not narrative in its structure, each of the events described in individual verses could happen at this time.
As for the commentary on the rengay form, I’m not sure if it was written by Garry or by John, or perhaps together, but I note that it makes no mention of three-person rengay, and even asserts that rengay should be by just two people. Although I had proposed a three-person form to Garry on the day he first described his two-person invention, on 9 August 1992, the first three-person rengay (“A Rain of Leaves”) wasn’t actually written until 18 November 1993. I also note that “Rengay” is used with an initial capital, as if it’s a proper noun (the way many people mistreat “haiku”), but this usage suggests that the term hadn’t yet become generic enough to warrant lowercasing. I also disagree with the use of “link” as a synonym for “verse” (something that William J. Higginson always complained about when people were writing about renku verses as “links”). Rather, the link happens between the verses. Although one might think of the entire rengay, or a renku, as being like a chain, where each verse is a link in the chain, I do think it’s better to avoid using “link” as a synonym for “verse.” Choosing not to consider “link” as a synonym for “verse” emphasizes the necessity (in renku, if not rengay) of creating links between the verses, and make it clear that they are two different aspects of the genre. The commentary next says that rengay verses share the same topic or season. This is a formative way of saying that rengay should have a theme, which might happen to be a particular season, but I don’t think that it’s accurate to say that “rengay should focus on the same season,” as that has proved much too narrowing for all rengay—and one might readily write rengay where all four seasons are represented, or none at all. I do agree, however, that the rewards of rengay include quick results (unlike renku, which can take many hours), and how much more easily they are published on a single page in a journal. Many other benefits are possible too, such as using rengay as a way to commemorate an event or meeting of friends, as a way to get to know another poet, or simply to share in the joy of creation.
Ultimately, this rengay and the summation of the genre was the first foray into sharing rengay with the world beyond the few people who were first writing them in 1992 (Garry Gay, me, and John Thompson), and after it was first publicly introduced in San Francisco at a meeting of the Haiku Poets of Northern California on 1 November 1992. Since then, rengay has come to be published in numerous journals, and in numerous countries and languages.
—4 August 2017, Sammamish, Washington