Renga, meaning linked poem, is a traditional Japanese poetry form from the genre of collaborative poetry. This form is written by two or more poets. Believed to be over 1000 years old renga evolved from tanka, the oldest form of Japanese poetry and consists of at least two ku or stanzas. The opening stanza of the renga, called the hokku, became the basis for the haiku form of poetry.
To create a renga, one poet writes the first stanza, which is three lines long with a total of seventeen syllables, normally 5-7-5. The next poet adds the second stanza, a couplet with seven syllables per line, or 7-7. The third stanza repeats the structure of the first and the fourth repeats the second, alternating in this pattern until the poem’s end. You can see the syllable pattern in the example:
Line 1: view from my window (5 syllables)
Line 2: gold medallion tree flowers (7 syllables)
Line 3: petals drifitng by (5 syllables)
Line 1: scented breezes touch me now (7 syllables)
Line 2: as I slip into Summer (7 syllables)
Renga forms have varied in length, traditionally this ranged from 36 stanzas (kasen) through to 1000 (senku). However in modern times, renga can be as short as two stanzas, written by two poets.
Over time the rules associated with the renga have evolved, as their popularity and reach have changed. Historically, this was a form that was written not only within court, but also by academics, merchants and even farmers . Thematically, the renga spoke to the seasons, nature and love, and at one point specific images were required in order for the form to be complete.
These rules have eased over the years, however, what remains constant regardless of theme is that contributing poets must think of each stanza as a springboard from one to the next. This leap between stanzas must advance both the thematic movement as well as maintain the linking concept. You can see this very clearly in the second example provided. In this way, where the poem begins, it is unlikely to end up!
This fun and engaging form is an excellent way to explore your voice alongside another, and to see where you both, or all, will wander. It is also a very good way to make new connections and poetry buddies, so don’t be afraid to reach out to a poet that you admire to complete the form with you. It is also an excellent way to teach poetry in a group setting.
Our examples are written by community member, A Haiku Heart ǀ @ahaikuheart
For more examples of poems written using this form search the hashtag #rengaheart on Instagram, or visit our community here.