Saturday, August 13, 2011

Poetry Prompt #66 - Solo Renga

For this week’s prompt, I thought you might enjoy something a little different – a solo renga. The renga, which originated hundreds of years ago in Japan, is typically a series of short verses linked into a longer poem and composed collaboratively by a group. In recent years, however, practitioners of the form have experimented with solo renga (that is, renga written by a single poet).

In any renga, each verse must make sense (stand on its own) individually but must also connect with the verses that precede and follow it. There is no narrative, sequential, or logical thread.  Figures of speech (similes, metaphors, etc.) and abstractions may be not used. In a classical renga, the standard form is a repeated pattern of three and then two lines. Over time, many structural standards (rules) were established, and renga process can be quite complicated. Renga often contain 100 verses; the great Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō, however, was partial to the kasen renga, which consists of 36 verses. A related form is the renku (Click Here to Read about Renku). 

The opening verse in a renga is called the hokku, which gave rise to the haiku (Click Here to Read about Haiku) and which shares the haiku form of three short lines with a seasonal reference. This verse and all that follow communicate details and emotion through images. Pure and simple.

Your renga may be as long or as short as you wish and, instead of working within a group of writers, you will write on your own. Our goal isn’t to be technical about the rules (or to be compelled or burdened by them) but, rather, to notice details, to focus on imagery, and to express feeling without using figurative language or conceptualizations. As you write, remember that the great delights of renga include a sense of continual surprise, distinctive imagery, and sudden or subtle insights (true of good poetry in general).

1. Go to a place in which you are relaxed (a room in your home, a park, the seashore), take a walk, lie in your hammock ­– you get the idea, right?

2. Reflect, meditate on your surroundings, and write your hokku or first verse: a season word included in a brief "note" on your surroundings.

3. Now, following the three-line, two-line format, begin linking. Write a two-line verse that connects to your first, and so on. Focus on images and avoid figurative language or abstractions.

4. Stop at any point that feels comfortable.

Related Reading:


  1. Adele! Wow! This is fantastic.

    Thank you for providing so many prize-winning samples with the examples link. The wealth of material gives us an opportunity to study the form (and become entranced by it) before writing ourselves.


  2. Thanks for your comment, Jamie! So glad you're enjoying the renga!

  3. The renga process, solo or in a group, is great! (The original renga process was a social activity, the solo renga allows for much more introspection.)