Renhai Reflections 4: Introduction #4

Renhai Origins: Renku & Rengay

Basho (1644-1694) and his disciples settled upon writing renga-like poems with 36 stanzas. Each verse had to link back to the previous verse in some way. For example, if a verse took place near a lake, the next verse might be about a boat on the sea.

Since the first verse, which was called the hokku, did not have a verse to link back to, it needed to have an internal device to start off the poem and set things in motion. The way this was accomplished was that two word-pictures were placed in juxtaposition within the same verse. Typically, one part of the verse was noun-like and often provided a context for the other part which was usually a verbal phrase. The other verses in a Renku were usually complete sentences describing some image or event.

Writing the first verse was considered a great honour and so poets in time started collecting personal hokku that they could use if called upon in a writing session. Renku in those days were typically written at renku-writing "parties" (now they are most often written over the Internet). Eventually writing and collecting hokku as stand-alone poems for their own merit became popular. Somewhere along the way they came to be called Haiku.

In 1992 when Gary Gay came up with idea of Rengay, he wanted a simpler, shorter Renku. Six verses seemed long enough to be interesting and for developing a theme but not too long that readers would grow tired. He also wanted simpler rules that provided the writers more freedom. Rengay became very popular up until the present day and they appear regularly in various poetry magazines.

As you may know, last year we went through the seasons with a Rengay posted each week:


Next: Renhai Origins: Renhai is Born


Janice Thomson said...

Very interesting Vaughn - I will indeed check out the link since I'm a newbie to the rengay form.

Celestine said...


im really glad i came here 'cos this is totally new to me and i'm extremely interested in all forms of poetry.


Masago said...

Janice: Thank you! Hopefully you will find Renhai as intriguing. :-)

Celestine: Thank you for your kind words and for coming by. I look forward to your return and future feedback.

Pamela said...

This is very educational. Not that I could actually write it - but wouldn't it be fun to go to a party and sit around and write (or attempt to. ha)

Masago said...

Pamela: I'm sure you would do very well. And a party like that would be terrific! Thanks.