How to Present a Rengay

Not previously published. Written in July of 2018. See also “Seven Fundamentals: A Guide to Rengay for Editors.”

Rengay, the six-verse thematic linked form of haiku poetry usually for two or three poets, sometimes six, fits easily on a page of a journal or anthology. However, poets and editors have many ways to present the verses and their attributions, and each option has its pros and cons. As a matter of practical concern, this essay explores the options at the writers’ disposal, options that an editor might also want to impose on a rengay accepted for publication. Many of these choices also apply to the presentation of other collaborative verse, such as renku or tan-renga.

Verse Placement

Whether one has written a rengay for two, three, or six different contributors, the verses can be presented as follows:
  1. All flush left.
  2. Two-liners indented.
  3. Three-liners indented.
  4. All verses centered (creates a more formal look).
  5. Verses by one poet flush left, with verses by one or more other poets indented consistently to match authorship.
  6. Other creative indentations, such as the second and fifth verses indented, and the third and six indented further (regardless of who authored which verse).
How each rengay appears on the page can be part of one’s creative expression. Having all verses flush left can suggest a consistency of voice for all verses, and perhaps look simplest on the page, whereas indenting certain verses (in addition to having blank lines between verses) can emphasize that a new verse has started, by a different poet, in the same way that italicizing the name after a poem lets you know that it’s a different kind of information. Too much creativity in the arrangement of verses can be distracting or gimmicky, unless the arrangement extends the meaning or effect of the verses themselves. One challenge with indenting certain verses is that it presumes that each verse itself has no indents of its own and would otherwise be flush left, thus a preferred style to indent the two-liners, for example, might not work if individual verses have indentations that get lost in how entire verses might be indented. Also, indentation or arrangement choices sometimes go hand in hand with how verses are attributed, meaning that the effect of the entire rengay may govern indentation choices. Consequently, the appearance of one rengay may differ usefully from another, even if the same poets contribute to it. The point is to know your options and to make proactive choices.

Attributions

If one knows the rengay form, the order of contributor names at the top would immediately make clear who wrote each verse if the standard patterns are followed for two or three poets, making it unnecessary for names or initials to appear to the side of each verse. However, for those who don’t know the patterns, or if the rengay uses an irregular or nonstandard pattern, this choice is presumptive and leaves those less experienced with rengay in the dark as to who wrote each individual verse—if it matters for them to know. So it’s most common for names or initials to appear to the side of each verse. Yet this can be seen as cumbersome, and as possibly putting more emphasis on authorship than on the poetry itself. This emphasis could be lessened by putting names or initials in a smaller point size, however. As alternatives to placing attributions to the side of each verse, one could do the following:
  1. Use italic for verses by one poet in a two-person rengay, with that person’s name in italic under the rengay title.
  2. Have the first poet’s name appear just once at the top, with his or her verses flush left, and with the second (or second and third) poet’s name and verses indented further.
  3. Put a note at the end saying, for a two-person rengay, that poet A wrote verses 1, 3, and 5, and that poet B wrote verses 2, 4, and 6, or, for a three-person rengay, that poet A wrote verses 1 and 4, poet B wrote verses 2 and 5, and poet C wrote verses 3 and 6.
  4. For a six-person rengay, where each poet has only one verse, names could be omitted at the top (under the title), and each poet’s full name could then appear to the side of each verse. This same approach could also be used for rengay by two or three poets, but it means repeating the entire name either two or three times.
Obviously, you have a lot of choices for both verse placement and attributions. There’s no easy solution to minimize or simplify this apparatus, and what each poet prefers is bound to vary, and may vary from rengay to rengay. But perhaps it’s worthwhile to at least have a default choice. I tend to position all verses flush left, except to have the two-liners indented, with the first name of each contributor (in italic) to the side of his or her verse, and with full names at the top, under the title, appearing in the order of appearance in the rengay. You will see this treatment most often in the examples on this website
Rengay page. I vary this default to accommodate personal styles or the quirks of each individual rengay. For example, if the two-line verses happen to be long, it might make better sense, visually, to have those verses flush left and instead to indent the three-line verses. The choices you make can contribute to the voice or style that one’s rengay typically have, much like a poet’s choice to lowercase all words or always omit punctuation can be part of his or her style.

Who Decides

A related question here is who gets to decide. The poets, writing collaboratively, may prefer to have a given rengay presented in a particular way, regarding indents and attributions. But an editor accepting the piece for publication may have concerns about how it looks with other rengay, wishing to have some level of consistency for all collaborative pieces, or a preferred house style. In most cases editors should be free to do what they prefer, since it’s their journal (just as they would choose the font or point size for the verses), but communicating editor plans to contributors will prevent unwanted surprises. For example, an editor may prefer to use italic for the second poet’s verses (for a two-person rengay), but this competes with the usual use of italic for emphasis, and can be problematic if the verse would otherwise contain an italicized single word, which can look busy if just that word is then put in roman type. Or an editor may prefer to have names at the top indented to match indents for that poet’s verses, but this changes the overall visual look of the rengay, which some poets may not like. Just as it can look cluttered to have names to the side, it can look cluttered to italicize or indent all verses by each particular poet in a rengay. The use of italic and roman type may work for a two-person rengay, but this option does not extend to a three-person rengay, where either a different font or perhaps bold would need to be used for the third poet, which creates an even more busy look, and where the bold might suggest unintended shouting. This is why I tend to prefer having names to the side of each verse, which also saves the reader from stopping to have to figure out who wrote each verse based on indents or italic. The name to the side communicates most directly, whereas using indents or italic to indicate authorship is a sort of “symbol” that the reader has to figure out. Either way can be seen as distracting, for different reasons, but I find it more distracting and slower to have to figure out symbols.
        In any case, perhaps poets and editors should always make choices for the sake of the reader rather than for the poet or the editor, choosing what makes it easiest for the reader to enjoy and understand the rengay and its attributions. The first task of all rengay writers, of course, is to write strong haiku verses that enhance the theme central to each rengay. But once that has been done, and the contributors have chosen an evocative title, the next practical consideration is to think about how the rengay looks on the page with indents and attributions. Rengay contributors should be open to suggestions or preferences by an editor as well as by fellow collaborators or independent readers.