Thursday, October 7, 2010

Renga, (aka Collaborative Poetry), Japanese literature Part II

Renga, or "collaborative poetry", is a form of Japanese poetry that uses the tanka form (syllables of 5-7-5-7-7, see this entry for more information on tanka). One of the most famous renga poets was Matsuo Basho (1644-1694). Although a single person can write a renga, three or four people are considered the minimum number for a group. If you can find more people to join, the more the better!

Here's the basic set-up for a group:

1) A person (usually the honored guest) is chosen for the first stanza, or hokku.  The form of the stanza is 5-7-5 syllables. It should have a kigo (a seasonal word, like "spring", "summer", "winter", etc.) and a keireiji (a line break) within it somewhere.

2) The next person does the second stanza (the waki), which is the 7-7 part. The person who organized the party is usually the one who does it.

3) The third person continues with another 5-7-5 verse, the fourth with another 7-7, and so on.

4) It goes on until it reaches the predetermined number of stanzas (12, 36, 100 or even 1000). The person with the last verse (called the ageku) should refer back to the hokku in some way, shape or form.

A renga doesn't have to follow a specific chronological order, so it's not like a round-robin story, where each person has to build on what has been written before. It can be confusing for Westerners who are used to a rigid time order. The length of a renga varies from 1000 (senku) to 12 (Junicho) verses.

One of the most popular forms is the kasen, which is 36 stanzas long. This one is supposed to mention flowers (like cherry blossoms) twice and the moon three times. The hokku usually reflects the atmosphere of the group at the time of the party, the middle (verses 7-29) is more relaxed and free-form, while the end is the last 6 verses.  The agaku should refer back to the first stanza  and take it full circle.

This can be a challenging game, but is well worth it! Grab your friends and try a renga.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

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