by Michael Dylan Welch, for the judges (Garry Gay, John Thompson, and me)
First published in Woodnotes #26, Autumn 1995, pages 32–34. For more information on rengay, see the Rengay page.
Rengay is a new form of linked, collaborative poetry. Because it is only three years old, perhaps its first steps are necessarily tentative. But judging by the entries for the first-ever international rengay contest, sponsored by HPNC, rengay shows great promise. There is no tentativeness here! The winners demonstrate an admirable variety of feeling, playful invention, and deep development of theme. Although we were open to the three-person variety, all 26 entries were two-person rengay.
A good rengay consists of good haiku. With these building blocks, the poets add the extra dimension of thematic development. How they do this is the art and challenge of rengay. Sometimes the theme is stated in the title, or clear from the content. Sometimes it is more subtle, or perhaps even subconscious. There are many excellent haiku in the following rengay, yet they are carefully balanced by understatement and an awareness of the whole.
In choosing the following rengay winners, the judges looked for freshness and originality. We also looked for clarity and thematic unity. In some rengay we received, the theme seemed to be followed too obviously, the development lacking subtlety and depth. In other cases, the rengay suffered from excess wandering or an unclear theme. But a theme or unity is the point of rengay; they are not written in quite the same manner as renku. Deliberate “wandering” (linking and shifting) may be necessary for renku, but in rengay a different approach is in order (with linking but not such dramatic shifting). The rengay presents six haiku as a sequential whole, developing some sort of thematic unity. This unity may take the form of a developed idea, as in the seasonal colour focus in “Summer Red” or distant communication as in “Far Away Voice,” variations on a subject, as with fences and other dividers in “Golden Pickets,” or may be dictated by setting or location, as in “Tidewater Marsh” [these are all titles of rengay that placed in this contest]. Rengay can also succeed if they commemorate a shared event in a narrative style.
The two first-place (tied) rengay demonstrate valuable characteristics. “Tidewater Marsh” shows a clear sense of place. And though the writers live in separate cities, they are brought together by a common experience. A great appreciation for and connection with nature appears in these poems. Rengay shouldn’t forget this. And in “Moving Inside,” a creative placement of the poems on the page shows rengay to be adaptable. But more important, “Moving Inside” works on two levels, something hitherto unprecedented. One may read this rengay for the crispness of its images as the people move indoors (on the narrative level). But on an erotic level, “moving inside” takes on an entirely sexual and richly erotic meaning. We hope that this rengay, with two layers of meaning, inspired you to write more of your own rengay.
Many thanks to all who entered this premier rengay contest, and congratulations to the winners. Judging the contest was a real learning experience for us, and it opened our eyes to further possibilities of the form. As more people play with the form, and as we understand its strengths and weaknesses better, rengay has the potential to be recognized as a very relevant and viable genre. Keep writing and sharing your rengay collaborations, polish them for publication, and watch for more news about another rengay contest next year.
First place for the 1995 HPNC rengay contest was shared by the following two rengay.
by Valorie Woerdehoff and Connie Meester, Dubuque, Iowa
dousing the fire
in the sumac Valorie
ice melts wet
where your hand was Connie
stained glass door
catching the moon
sliced in half Valorie
across the warm patio
just misses mine Connie
moving inside . . .
frost on the window pane Valorie
inside . . .
kindling in the stove catches
by Ebba Story and Cherie Hunter Day, San Francisco, California and Portland, Oregon
fiddler crabs scuttle—
the winding salt creek
shot with dawn Ebba
tips of the eelgrass
slowly submerge Cherie
the lilting trill
of a redwing blackbird . . .
one cattail trembles Ebba
seeps into the toeprints
of a raccoon Cherie
the bleached white of oyster shells
distant thunder Ebba
to the muddy shore Cherie