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Renga: can I get a collaborator?

Seriously, it does seem as if it would be fun to write a bunch of renga. They are an open form, meaning there's no prescribed length to them, just a way they are written. If they sound a lot like tanka, it's no accident, and also the reason I'm talking about them just after finishing discussing tanka.

What it is:

A renga is a collaboration between at least two poets.

The first poet to write composes a hokku, a three-line poem (consisting of 17 on or syllables, basically 5-7-5 -- sound familiar?) that sets the tone for the entire renga. The next poet to write adds two lines that are 7 syllables long.

If the poem were to end there, it would be one tan-renga, basically a tanka with two authors. If it is to continue, then the poets would alternate writing three-line verses (5-7-5) and two-line verses (7-7), with the poem ending with two lines of seven syllables each. If there were more than two poets involved in creating a long renga, the most revered poet would be given the honor of writing the starting hokku.

Over the years, there have been a lot of different forms of renga with variants (what words can be used, how many times something must be mentioned, and how close together those mentions can be, whether nature has to be involved, etc.).

The idea is only to look at the two- or three-line unit of verse that comes before what you write next, and not to look any further back than that last unit, in order to keep the entire renga fresh and interesting.

This form, which had fallen out of favor, is now popular in many school settings as a way of teaching collaborative poetry writing.

In the spirit of demonstration, I'm going to swipe one of the haiku/senryu that my friend Liz Garton Scanlon has been writing this month, and then write a two-line stanza to follow it. That's us from 2010 on the right.

Here's her poem from day 10, written about her daughter going off the high dive, followed by my two lines, which go a slightly different direction.

A girl like a bird
only braver, without wings.
Watch her catch herself.

Flinging herself out and up,
watch her star as it rises.

Tomorrow, we move to something new. I can't wait to see what it is.

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
TS Davis
Apr. 13th, 2016 09:50 pm (UTC)
...is magical. Much like co-writing a novel, writing a poem with a partner sounds well-nigh impossible to me; yet I'd love to watch it done.
Apr. 13th, 2016 11:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Partnering
The thing about renga is that it is and is not actually writing with a partner. As in the demo, Liz wrote her part (a haiku about her kid), and I added two lines that went someplace related, but different. So one lacks control over what the other does, BUT ends up in a collaborative spot. Theoretically, we could continue going back and forth, or expand it to add more people . . .
Mary Lee Hahn
Apr. 14th, 2016 11:12 am (UTC)
I wrote a couple of renga with Steve Peterson and Jan Burkins last summer. It was intense and fun and challenging, all rolled into one!

I like your sly way of renga-izing Liz's haiku...but to be a true renga, it needs to continue. If you are actually asking for renga writing volunteers, my hand is up in that tentative, just-beside-the-ear way that says, "me..." but very quietly.

(marylee dot hahn at gmail)
Apr. 14th, 2016 01:57 pm (UTC)
Ooh! I will keep you in mind for sure, Mary Lee! I'd love to do some longer renga.

This one still counts as a renga, but would have been called a tan-renga, meaning "short renga". Isn't that funny?
Apr. 18th, 2016 03:55 pm (UTC)
You both have beautiful smiles!
Apr. 19th, 2016 12:47 am (UTC)
Thanks - I liked that dress, which I got rid of years ago when I got thinner, and would now probably fit again, dammit. Must fix that!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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