Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

An Introduction to Renhai (from the Renhai Reflections project, 2008-Sep)

Expand Messages
  • Vaughn Seward
    The following is an introduction to Renhai from posts to the Masago blog at the beginning of the Renhai Reflections
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 25, 2009
    • 0 Attachment
      The following is an introduction to Renhai from posts to the Masago blog  at the beginning of the Renhai Reflections project in September, 2008:

      Renhai Reflections 1: Introduction #1 (2008-08-31


      Starting this week we will be embarking on a new linked-verse project for the coming year. We will be working with a new poetic form that I created a year ago called Renhai. Renhai has some similarities with Rengay as you may observe in the following Renhai. However, Renhai has some important differences and some unique qualities. The following Renhai was written with Zhanna P. Rader and is the first Renhai that was ever written:

      A Night Out
      A Renhai by Vaughn Seward (vs), and Zhanna P. Rader (zr)
      Renhai #1, Aug 10-25, 2007
      Still autumn night —
      each patch of the forest,
      full of darkness. /vs

      Blanket of velvet-gray fog — /zr
      a crow pierces the silence. /vs

      Coffee aroma
      permeates the morning air —
      sudden rain... /zr
      Over the next few days I plan to describe how this new form came into existence, what its essential features are, and how Renhai are typically written.

      Renhai Reflections 2: Introduction #2 (2008-09-01

      Renhai's Uniqueness

      A Renhai consists of three haiku verses that are typically a collaboration of two writers. The final result is similar to the first three verses of a Rengay with each of the three verses having one or more common themes. Renku-like links exist between each verse including between the first and the last. In later posts this week we will explore the anatomy of Renhai. For those who can't wait and want a sneak preview of what is ahead, have a look at the worksheet for yesterday's Renhai, "A Night Out".

      What is unique about Renhai is that the middle two-line verse is jointly written. That is, the first line is written by one writer and second line is written by the the other writer. In the example posted yesterday, the middle verse appeared as:
      Blanket of velvet-gray fog — /zr
      a crow pierces the silence. /vs
      As you can see, the first line was written by Zhanna and the second line by Vaughn. In fact, the middle verse was actually written first and the first and third verses were written afterward. A proper Renhai is therefore written in this inside-out manner.

      What this means is that a Renhai is organically derived. The middle verse is like a seed that germinates and sprouts a root (3rd verse) and a stem (1st verse)

      Renhai Reflections 3: Introduction #3 (2008-09-02):

      Renhai Origins: Haiku & Renga

      Before we jump further into the anatomy of a Renhai poem let's review briefly how Renhai came into being. Since Renhai consists of Haiku verses and because Renhai shares characteristics of Rengay, it might be a idea good to briefly review these other poetic forms.

      Most of you, I'm sure, are familiar with Haiku. It is the Japanese verse form consisting of 17 Japanese-language syllables, in a 5-7-5 pattern, most often incorporating nature themes and with a seasonal reference. In English Haiku the "rules" are roughly the same but there are a number of minor variations.

      The origins of Haiku actually go back to a form called Renku and before that Renga. Renga was a dignified academic poetry form that started in Japan in the 1300's. Several poets would cooperatively create a poem of typically 100 verses, each verse being added by a different poet in rotation. The first verse had a 5-7-5 format the second 7-7, the third 5-7-5 and so on. There were many other rules following medieval aesthetics and the writers tended to reference and/or allude to Japanese classical literature.

      By the 1400's Rengay was the dominant form of poetry in Japan and it became a popular pastime among common people by the 1600's. Around this time a famous Japanese poet named Basho came on the scene. He perfected the modern form of Renga which we now call Renku. Tomorrow we'll take a closer look at Renku and explore how it led to Rengay in 1992 and then to Renhai in 2007.

      Renhai Reflections 4: Introduction #4 (2008-09-03)

      Renhai Origins: Renku & Rengay

      Basho (1644-1694) and his disciples settled upon writing renga-like poems with 36 stanzas. Each verse had to link back to the previous verse in some way. For example, if a verse took place near a lake, the next verse might be about a boat on the sea.

      Since the first verse, which was called the hokku, did not have a verse to link back to, it needed to have an internal device to start off the poem and set things in motion. The way this was accomplished was that two word-pictures were placed in juxtaposition within the same verse. Typically, one part of the verse was noun-like and often provided a context for the other part which was usually a verbal phrase. The other verses in a Renku were usually complete sentences describing some image or event.

      Writing the first verse was considered a great honour and so poets in time started collecting personal hokku that they could use if called upon in a writing session. Renku in those days were typically written at renku-writing "parties" (now they are most often written over the Internet). Eventually writing and collecting hokku as stand-alone poems for their own merit became popular. Somewhere along the way they came to be called Haiku.

      In 1992 when Gary Gay came up with idea of Rengay, he wanted a simpler, shorter Renku. Six verses seemed long enough to be interesting and for developing a theme but not too long that readers would grow tired. He also wanted simpler rules that provided the writers more freedom. Rengay became very popular up until the present day and they appear regularly in various poetry magazines.

      As you may know, last year we went through the seasons with a Rengay posted each week:


      Renhai Reflections 5: Introduction #5 (2008-09-04)

      Renhai Origins: Renhai is Born

      How did the idea of Renhai come about? Well, it all started one day in August last year (2007), around the time the year-long Rengay project was getting started. I got to thinking, "what if a Rengay-like poem was even shorter than six verses?" Of course, one verse is a Haiku and two verses is a Tanka. What about three verses?

      This idea was appealing as it nicely corresponded with the three "lines" of Haiku. Could it be possible to write such a short rengay-like poem? Could this be successfully accomplished by two writers? In the weeks following this epiphany, Zhanna P. Rader and I experimented with the idea and after a couple of tries found a good way to write them.

      The final approach intrigued us in that the middle verse was truly collaborative and that the entire poem was so short yet was themed and fully linked. We also found that you could write Renhai quickly, many of them often being completed within a day.

      In December, 2007 we created a Renhai Studio Yahoo group for the purpose of incubating our ideas, conducting experiments, and sharing the results:


      Since then, over 60 Renhai have been written by 15 different writers. I hope to share with you in the coming weeks and months some of our experiments and results as well as new Renhai Reflection creations that will be written during this time.

      Renhai Reflections 6: Introduction #6 (2008-09-05)

      Renhai Anatomy: Middle Verse

      Let's go back to the Renhai posted in this blog last Sunday and work through its creation step by step. A Renhai is started with the writing of the middle verse. Typically, a season is chosen and one partner writes one line of the two-line middle verse. Most often the season chosen is the one that you are in at the time of writing. In this Renhai it was late August so we chose late summer / early autumn for the season.

      To kick things off, Zhanna wrote the following line:
      blanket of velvet-gray fog
      This describes a setting, leaving open numerous possibilities for the second line. After some consideration I decided to contrast the serene feeling with the following line:
      a crow pierces the silence
      Together these lines present the following haiku image:
      Blanket of velvet-gray fog — /zr
      a crow pierces the silence. /vs
      As in Rengay, the middle verse in Renhai is a two-line haiku with typically two images or concepts in juxtaposition. The next step after writing the middle verse is the consideration of the theme and then the partner who wrote the first line then writes the next 3-line haiku verse.

      Renhai Reflections 7: Introduction #7 (2008-09-07)

      Renhai Anatomy: Theme and Linking
      Blanket of velvet-gray fog — /zr
      a crow pierces the silence. /vs
      This middle verse not only portrays an image of nature but it also contains a number of potential themes and things that could be used for linking with other verses. I.e.:
      • Flat, Blanket-like.
      • Covering, Permeating.
      • Velvety, Soft.
      • Gray-coloured.
      • Black-coloured, Dark.
      • Fog, Mist, Rain, Steam, Cloud-like.
      • Stillness, Silence.
      • Crow, Bird, Animal.
      • Cawing, Bird call.
      • Piercing (sound), Interruption.
      For the season, we had previously chosen "autumn". But although this middle verse does not have a specific reference to autumn, it can support not only autumn but also summer and spring. In some locations it could even occur in winter. The other verses will therefore have to strengthen the autumn feel in this Renhai.

      After some discussion, at this point Zhanna and I decided that we liked the idea of "Permeating" and decided to write the other verses to this theme. The other verses would therefore support this theme and also reference one or more of the above objects, actions, and descriptions in their linkages.

      As Zhanna wrote the first line of this middle verse, it was her turn to write the next verse.

      Renhai Reflections 8: Introduction #8 (2008-09-08)

      Renhai Anatomy: The Third Verse

      With a season of autumn and a theme of "Permeating", Zhanna wrote the following third verse:
      Blanket of velvet-gray fog — /zr
      a crow pierces the silence. /vs

      Coffee aroma
      permeates the morning air —
      sudden rain... /zr
      You can see that the theme is supported by the coffee aroma permeating the morning air. The link back to the middle verse is the concept of interruption, i.e.:
      • Middle verse: crow interrupting the silence.
      • Third verse: sudden rain interrupting the morning.
      The last verse to be written, the first verse, must now support the theme of "Permeating" as well as somehow link back to both of these verses.

      Renhai Reflections 9: Introduction #9 (2008-09-09)

      Renhai Anatomy: The First Verse

      In this Renhai the last verse written was actually the first verse in the Renhai:
      Still autumn night —
      each patch of the forest,
      full of darkness. /vs

      Blanket of velvet-gray fog — /zr
      a crow pierces the silence. /vs

      Coffee aroma
      permeates the morning air —
      sudden rain... /zr
      This creates a balanced alternating pattern of authors: /vs, /zr, /vs, /zr. However, this is not an essential requirement of renhai and sometimes the writers will find that after writing a renhai that it reads better having verses 1 & 3 switched around.

      The theme in verse 1 above is supported by the darkness permeating the forest. The link from verse 1 to the middle verse is the concept of stillness/silence, i.e.:
      • First verse: still autumn night.
      • Middle verse: Silence.
      And the link between verse 1 and verse 3 is morning/night, i.e.:
      • First verse: autumn night.
      • Middle verse: morning air.
      It isn't necessary for a reader to understand the season, theme, and linking aspects of Renhai but these elements pull the three stand-alone haiku into a intuitive, unified whole.

      The last step is to pick an appropriate title. For this Renhai we chose "A Night Out".

      Here is the associated worksheet for this renhai:

      One last note about Renhai is that, like Rengay, the verses show a linked series of stand-alone haiku which all reference a common theme. There is no need for them to be narrative, although writers are free to do so.

      This an other Renhai in the Renhai Studio can be found in the Studio's archives here:

      Vaughn Seward
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.