Japanese linked-verse poetry in which two or more poets supply alternating sections of a poem. The form began with the composition of a traditional five-line poem (tanka) by two people. A popular pastime from ancient times, even in remote rural areas, it developed fully in the 15th century. Composition spread to court poets, who drew up “codes” to establish renga as an art. An example of renga is the melancholy Minase sangin hyakuin (1488), composed by Iio Sōgi, Shōhaku, and Sōchō. Later the initial verse (hokku) of a renga developed into the haiku form.
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The most favored form of renga in the Edo period was the , a chain consisting of 36 verses. As a rule, kasen must refer to flowers (usually cherry blossoms) twice, and three times to the moon. These references are termed and .
By one reckoning, the earliest recorded renga appeared in the late Heian period, and was in fact a waka composed by two poets. This style is called . Other styles are called . However, Yoshitomo pointed to songs in the older Kojiki about the god Izanagi and the goddess Izanami as earlier examples.
In Western literature, the term "renga" has been applied to alternating accretive poetry, not necessarily in the classical Japanese form. Examples include Octavio Paz and Charles Tomlinson's sonnet-renga "Airborne", 1979, and to the work of Canadians P. K. Page and Philip Stratford, whose collaboration between 1997 and 1999 became the sonnet collection "And Once More Saw The Stars", 2001. The largest collection of English-language renga is Werner Reichhold's online book, [Symbiotic Poetry.]http://www.ahapoetry.com/zaindex.htm
Around the time the Shin Kokin Wakashū was published, the renga form of poetry was finally established as a distinct style. This original renga style, , used only utakotoba (standard poetic diction), used sound unit counts of 5-7-5 and 7-7, and finished with two lines of 7 sound units each. At this time, poets considered the use of utakotoba as the essence of creating a perfect waka and considered the use of any other words to be a deviation.
Many rules or were formalized in the Kamakura and Muromachi periods specifying a minimum number of intervening stanzas before a topic or class of topics could recur. Renga was a popular form of poetry even in the confusion of Azuchi-Momoyama period. Yet by the end of this era, the shikimoku had become so complicated and systematic that they stifled the active imagination that had been a part of the renga's appeal. During the medieval and Edo periods, renga was a part of the cultural knowledge required for high society.
In the Edo period, as more and more ordinary citizens became familiar with renga, shikimoku were greatly simplified. The 36-verse Kasen became the most popular form of renga, and commonly spoken words as well as slang and were allowed. With this relaxation of the rules, renga were able to express broader humor and wit. This style of renga came to be called or simply , and Matsuo Bashō is known as the greatest haikai poet.
The first stanza of the renga chain, the , is the forebear of the modern haiku. The stand-alone hokku was renamed haiku in the Meiji period by the great Japanese poet and critic Masaoka Shiki. Shiki proposed haiku as an abbreviation of the phrase "haikai no ku" meaning a verse of haikai.
For almost 700 years, renga was a popular form of poetry, but its popularity was greatly diminished in the Meiji period. Masaoka Shiki, although himself a participant in several renga, claimed that "(Renga is) not fit as modern literature" (「文学に非ず」). The renga's appeal of working as a group to make a complete work was not compatible with the European style of poetry gaining popularity in Japan, where a single poet writes the entire poem.
Recently, with the rise of the internet, renga is once again becoming a popular form. People from anywhere at anytime can easily contribute to a work. The first online collaborative renga, done by many writers on the fly was White Roads led by Jane Reichhold in 1996. There have even been special renga events where poets can contribute via their mobile phones. Live renga are being conducted increasingly in the West, including in the UK where artist/poets including Alec Finlay, Gavin Wade, Gerry Loose, and UK-based renga master Paul Conneally explore and develop the form further. Finlay has also created two dedicated renga platforms for renga days, at the hidden gardens, Glasgow, and Garden Station, near Hexham. His press has published two collections of renga, Verse Chain and Shared Writing (published by platform projects). Finlay has also collaborated with a number of renga poets to expand the renga form, composing word-map renga for specific locations, some shaped to follow the line of the coast, river or a skyline; hyakuin renga 24 hour renga; and, with Linda France, solo and duet year long renga.
The essence of renga is in the idea of . Bashō described this as , and as "refraining from stepping back". The fun is in the change, the new, the different, and the interesting verses of others.
In Japan a renga starts with a hokku of 5-7-5 sound units by one of the guests - usually the most honored or experienced. This is followed by the second verse of 7-7 sound units, called the , and then by the third verse of 5-7-5 sound units, called the . The next verse will be 7-7 sound units, and this pattern is repeated until the desired length is achieved. It is common in English to use forms that show the number of the verse, how long it is to be, whether the moon or flowers should be mentioned, when one author takes two links at once. Since the renga of different lengths have different schemes for how many verses are given to each season and non-seasonal verses, it is easiest to use one of the available forms so that everyone understands and follows the same program. The kasen renga, favoured by Basho because it was easier to complete 36 verses in one night than the normal 100-link renga, has three sections of development. The beginning, called the jo should reflect the atmosphere of the beginning of a social evening - everyone is very polite, restrained, cautious and referring to the reason for the gathering. The middle part of the kasen renga (verses 7 - 29) are more loose, and will include themes not allowed in the beginning and end such as love, religion, and laments. This reflects the conversation flow during dinner when the wine has been consumed and the participants are feeling free and friendly. The kyu is the rapid finish and involves the last six verses. The speed in this section is much like the broken conversation of people as they prepare to leave the party and people are quickly winding up their conversations. This pattern of pacing the poem is taken from the classical music. The ageku is the final verse. It is considered fine if the final verse makes some reference or has a tie to the hokku or beginning verse. Renga are often hard for Westerners to read and understand (and therefore to write) because there is no narrative or chronological order. Even the links that are written are not to be impressive or informative. The whole object of renga is to show what happens between the links. A renga and its participants are judged on how well each link relates to the previous one. There is a whole study of the various techniques and methods of linkage. The most common one used by beginning English writers is simple stream of consciousness. The previous verse reminds the writer of something else and then adds that image to the poem. The book by Earl Miner and Hiroko Odagiri, a translation of The Monkey’s Straw Raincoat Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981 is the best book to study these subtle changes in this famous work done by Basho and his students. It is recommended to for a small ichiza so that everyone participates equally. For larger ichiza, the rule is recommended so the best verse would be selected. The renga master, or person with the most experience with renga, guides the participants, making sure the seasons and themes are correct and will be responsible for the correction of errors.
Here follows a list of the most common formats in which renga have been written, both ushin (orthodox) renga, and mushin (renku)
|Name of format|| Number |
| Number of kaishi|
| Number |
|Originator||Date of origin|
|Han-kasen (i.e. half-kasen)||18||1||2||unknown||17th century|
|Rokku (aka on za rokku)||variable||variable||variable||Haku Asanuma||2000's|
The first magazine devoted completely to renga in English was started by Jim Wilson of Monte Rio, California, in 1986. It was called APA-RENGA because it was a continuation of the Amateur Press Association model magazines in which all members could post whatever they wanted. This meant that the members would read the renga being offered and then could write a connecting link. These links were tabulated by Jim and then all the possible links were sent back to the participants. This meant that instead of having linear links, the renga could blossom outward so there were many versions of the same poem. When Jim passed APA-RENGA on to Terri Lee Grell in 1989, she renamed the magazine Lynx and added short stories and other poetry and published quarterly. In 1992 Terri passed Lynx on to Jane and Werner Reichhold. They added haiku and tanka to the renga written by subscribers and carried on the project of participation renga. In 2000 Lynx went online where it remains today at [AHApoetry.]http://www.ahapoetry.com Narrow Road to Renga by Twenty Pilgrims and Jane Reichhold, AHA Books, 1992 contains not only examples of many varieties of renga, but also has the forms for kasen renga as well as the very unusual "net renga."
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