Haiku Poets of Northern California 1995 Rengay Contest

      by Michael Dylan Welch, for the judges (Garry Gay, John Thompson, and me)

 

First published in Woodnotes #26, Autumn 1995, pages 32–34, and in the results flyer. The winners of this first rengay contest were Valorie Woerdehoff and Connie Meester for “Moving Inside,” tied for first place with Ebba Story and Cherie Hunter Day for “Tidewater Marsh.” Three honourable mentions were awarded, in order, to sally l. nichols and Carol Purington for “Golden Pickets,” Jeff Witkin and John Stevenson for “Far Away Voice,” and Yvonne Hardenbrook and Tom Clausen for “Summer Red.”  See also the new postscript at the end. 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.
 

Moving Inside

        by Valorie Woerdehoff and Connie Meester, Dubuque, Iowa

 

freezing rain

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

 

                                your shadow

                                         across the warm patio

                                just misses mine                              Connie

 

                moving inside . . .

                frost on the window pane                            Valorie

 

                inside . . .

                kindling in the stove catches

                sparks                                                                    Connie
 

Tidewater Marsh

        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

 

tidewater

seeps into the toeprints

of a raccoon                                                                       Cherie

 

        the bleached white of oyster shells

                                                distant thunder                 Ebba

 

weathered dory

anchored

to the muddy shore                                                        Cherie

 

Postscript

More than twenty years have passed since the first HPNC rengay contest. There are no other rengay contests yet, but rengay continue to be written and published in English around the world. They have also been written in other languages, but the genre has not been written much in Japanese, if at all—and perhaps Japan is the most appealing frontier for rengay development left to explore. Rengay are now published in an increasing variety of haiku journals, as well as occasionally in mainstream poetry journals. Starting with the 2005 edition, the annual Poet’s Market directories from Writer’s Digest Books, at my encouragement, have included a rengay definition along with other poetry definitions. In various publications and in the HPNC contest, we have seen many rengay that develop secondary and even tertiary themes, in addition to the primary (usually more objective) theme. The contest has since seen three-person contributions, but the majority of submissions are still by two people. Yet we have also seen the development of one-person and six-person rengay, as well as variations on the established patterns for two and three writers. This exploration bodes well for rengay, which combines harmonious social interaction (as with renga and renku) with the literary aims of writing strong haiku with a thematic development (which differs from renga and renku). It has been gratifying to see the HPNC rengay contest continue to thrive after more than twenty years, and I hope that more poets—in various languages—will explore this rewarding genre of collaborative writing.
—22 August 2016