Renhai Reflections 3: Introduction #3

Renhai Origins: Haiku & Renga

Before we jump further into the anatomy of a Renhai poem let's review briefly how Renhai came into being. Since Renhai consists of Haiku verses and because Renhai shares characteristics of Rengay, it might be a idea good to briefly review these other poetic forms.

Most of you, I'm sure, are familiar with Haiku. It is the Japanese verse form consisting of 17 Japanese-language syllables, in a 5-7-5 pattern, most often incorporating nature themes and with a seasonal reference. In English Haiku the "rules" are roughly the same but there are a number of minor variations.

The origins of Haiku actually go back to a form called Renku and before that Renga. Renga was a dignified academic poetry form that started in Japan in the 1300's. Several poets would cooperatively create a poem of typically 100 verses, each verse being added by a different poet in rotation. The first verse had a 5-7-5 format the second 7-7, the third 5-7-5 and so on. There were many other rules following medieval aesthetics and the writers tended to reference and/or allude to Japanese classical literature.

By the 1400's Rengay was the dominant form of poetry in Japan and it became a popular pastime among common people by the 1600's. Around this time a famous Japanese poet named Basho came on the scene. He perfected the modern form of Renga which we now call Renku. Tomorrow we'll take a closer look at Renku and explore how it led to Rengay in 1992 and then to Renhai in 2007.

Next: Renhai Origins: Renku & Rengay

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