Monday, March 06, 2006

What is Renga?

"Renga was a form of collaborative poetry, usually written by three or more poets, that was created by giving the tanka, the five-line poem of the classical anthologies, a sort of call-and-response form. One poet wrote a first verse of three lines in a five syllable-seven syllable-five syllable pattern [called a HOKKU], and the second poet completed the tanka with two seven-syllable lines...

A third poet writes another three lines, which, together with the previous couplet, make an entirely new poem. Then the next poet adds another couplet to make a third poem, which is completely independent of the first two. And so on. The seasons change, the subject changes, and, in the classical renga, the poem proceeds through a hundred verses.

Rules developed. The renga had to be written in a certain way. No story could be developed, the seasons had to keep changing, a traditional image of the autumn moon had to be introduced at least twice, images of spring flowers three times, and so on. The form became immensely popular among educated people at court and in the monasteries. Treatises were written on appropriate ways of making links, and anthologies of examples were published... And it began to spread, as a social activity, to cities and towns, and was taken up by merchants and farmers, some of whom were imitating the refinements of the court, some of whom were drawn to it from the learned traditions of the monastery.

These renga often used a more informal language, treated their subjects playfully, and were shorter, often thirty-six verses long. The 36-verse form was called a KASEN, and the style of the poetry was called HAIKAI NO RENGA."

Text taken from The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa. Edited by Robert Hass. (c) 1994, Ecco Press.

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