Renga: Poetic Form
PostedSeptember 22, 2004
Renga, meaning "linked poem," began over seven hundred years ago in Japan to encourage the collaborative composition of poems. Poets worked in pairs or small groups, taking turns composing the alternating three-line and two-line stanzas. Linked together, renga were often hundreds of lines long, though the favored length was a 36-line form called a kasen. Several centuries after its inception, the opening stanza of renga gave rise to the much shorter haiku.
To create a renga, one poet writes the first stanza, which is three lines long with a total of seventeen syllables. The next poet adds the second stanza, a couplet with seven syllables per line. The third stanza repeats the structure of the first and the fourth repeats the second, alternating in this pattern until the poem’s end.
Thematic elements of renga are perhaps most crucial to the poem’s success. The language is often pastoral, incorporating words and images associated with seasons, nature, and love. In order for the poem to achieve its trajectory, each poet writes a new stanza that leaps from only the stanza preceding it. This leap advances both the thematic movement as well as maintaining the linking component.
Contemporary practitioners of renga have eased the form’s traditional structural standards, allowing poets to adjust line-length, while still offering exciting and enlightening possibilities. The form has become a popular method for teaching students to write poetry while working together.