Discussion: Renga, Solo-Renga, Solo No Renga, or Tanka? “The Feel of Spring,” Solo renga

For my weekly poetry challenge post this week, let’s discuss the Japanese form called the Renga. By the way, this syllable counting site rocks: writerlywords.com. How Many Syllables.com seems to have been hacked this week, along with my social media email. What a mess!

Renga… You’ll hear this term in the poetry community and like me, you might ask why a renga is not the same as a tanka. In fact, many poets will write a tanka and call it a solo renga.

So, what’s the difference between a tanka and a renga?

The Poets Collective explains:

“Renga, Renku, or Haikai-no-renga is the linked poem discipline developed by Basho. It is a cooperative poem of many stanzas. Poets, (2 or more) gather to create a spontaneous poem of alternating 17 syllable (5-7-5), 14 syllable (7-7) stanzas. A popular form of Renga is written in 36 stanzas known as kasen renku. The custom dates back to 13th century Japan.”

“The poets in rotation take turns writing the stanzas. The poem begins with the hokku (5-7-5) recording when and where the gathering occurs, see below. The next stanza (7-7) is usually written by the host, in response to the subtle compliment suggested in the hokku. From there the stanzas are written in turn by the various members of the assembly in an alternating (5-7-5), (7-7) pattern. The poem is ended in a tanka (short poem) which combines 2 renga stanzas into 1. (5-7-5-7-7)”

PoetsCollective.org

The Poets Collective (I’ve paraphrased most of the following paragraphs) also says that the renga or renku shouldn’t become a narrative, and it shouldn’t tell a sequential story. It should move around, and the stanzas should “link and shift” (Bruce Ross, How to Haiku). The stanzas need to connect in some subtle way to the previous stanza only, not the entire poem.

This connection or link should be through a word, a mood, or an idea captured from the previous stanza. It “develops texture by shifting among several traditional topics without narrative progress,” (William Higgins, The Haiku Handbook).

The Renga or Renku is:

Syllabic, featuring alternating stanzas, usually of 5-7-5 and 7-7 syllables. (onji or the Japanese sound symbol for which there is no exact translation in English, the closest we can come in translation is a syllable)

A cooperative poem, written by 2 or more poets.

Spontaneous.

Composed with stanzas or verses that “link and shift”, it does not tell a sequential story.

Structured with a beginning, middle and end. Hokku (starting verse), followed by linked verses, and ends with a Tanka (small poem).

Connected to the seasons. The hokku shows the season in which the gathering occurs, somewhere within the renga, there should be verses referring to each of the seasons to create a complete circle.

In simpler terms…

The first part of the renga is a (5/7/5) haiku (hokku) written by your guest. The second part of the renga is the host’s response (wakiku): (7/7). The renga’s value exists in the interaction between the different links. It’s that transition between the first three lines and how they leap to the last two lines, penned by two different poets, that defines the renga.

Now, you can see where the renga resembles the tanka: 5/7/5, 7/7. The difference between the tanka (written by one poet), and the renga (two poets collaborate to write the poem) is the number of authors. Sometimes, you will see a renga called a “Tan-Renga” which means short poem. It still means the same thing.

Remember, the renga will feature a haiku (nature related) where a tanka is a much looser form, allowing for different subjects other than nature. A tanka does not require the first three lines to be a haiku. There’s your difference!

The Solo Renga or Solo No Renga:

Then, you will see a term called a solo renga or solo no renga. They both mean the renga was written by one poet. (I’m using one of my tanka poems as an example. My solo renga follows below). The poet will often show the haiku separate from the last two lines like this:

Freyja

fate steers a fresh course
candle glow transformation
good deeds rewarded

Freyja, keeper of the Runes
light beneath the underworld

The tanka poem will read with the five lines written:

Freyja

fate steers a fresh course
candle glow transformation
good deeds rewarded
Freyja, keeper of the Runes
light beneath the underworld

If you take one of your haiku, and add two seven-syllable lines to it, you’ve written a solo renga. It’s that easy!


Here is another example of a solo renga by Ken Gierke, from Rivrvlogr, called Cock Crowing from Fence Post.

And Jules, from Jules Pens Some Jems shares a solo renga series nd 6.1 Past, Present, Futures? 5P

“The Feel of Spring,” #Solo Renga

a lace of fresh leaves
wreathes a sparrow’s old nest
as spring blossoms fall

a barefoot walk through the grass
the feel of a new season

©2020 Colleen M. Chesebro

We’re talking about spring in the haiku. The last two lines reinforce the spring theme and how everything feels fresh after the long winter. The sensory detail of walking through new grass is one everyone can relate to.

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