King’s Books

      by Jim Westenhaver, Megan Shea, Michael Dylan Welch, 
      Judt Shrode, Burk Ketcham, and Janice Sakai

First published in the “Hands Across the Water” special issue of The Bamboo Hut in December 2018, page 42. Also available in book form on Amazon. A review by Kika L. Hotta of the book Hands Across the Water was published in International Tanka #5, May 2019, pages 42–44, discussing this rengay at some length. See the new postscript below to read excerpts of this review together with my commentary. The rengay was originally written at a meeting of the Commencement Bay Haiku group at King’s Books in Tacoma, Washington on 17 January 2017.

touching the book cover
a mouse
mooning                                                                         Jim

        running my finger
        along a cracked spine                                           Megan

new year’s day—
I turn a page
of the self-help book                                                     Michael

        black cat curled up
        on a dog-eared page                                             Judt

the Harvard Classics—
so many to read
and I am 91                                                                   Burk

        reading glasses left
        on a half-finished novel                                        Janice


In the May 2019 issue of International Tanka (#5, pages 42–44), Kika L. Hotta reviewed Hands Across the Water, Steve Wilkinson’s special issue of The Bamboo Hut focusing on collaborative short-form poetry, especially tanka sequences, rengay, and other collaborations. It is not clear to me why Hands Across the Water would have been reviewed in a tanka journal, but this probably happened because the book contains many tanka sequences, and perhaps because rengay have appeared in other tanka journals, especially Skylark. The review refers to the book’s various sequences as “series,” which is not a term I would use. It is also not correct to list the term “renga” immediately after the mention of “rengay,” as if “renga” explains what “rengay” is. Rengay is deliberately not renga or renku, because of its thematic requirement and its limit of six verses, among other characteristics. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see rengay interpreted in the context of renga and renku, especially regarding the concept of rinne (the repetition of particular topics), which is usually not allowed in renga but is deliberately required in rengay. Specifically, the reviewer writes the following:

However, one thing to keep in mind when reading these series or poetic exchanges is that, without any exception, even including “King’s Books” by Westenhaver, Shea, Welch, Shrode, Ketcham, and Sakai, which is indicated as a “rengay” (renga), they are different from ordinary renga, in that rinne (meaning “reincarnation” in Japanese), or reversion to already-presented imageries and items, is not prohibited.

The reviewer then gives an example of a tanka sequence in which all the poems are about birds, thus nothing to do with renga (as is the case with rengay). A paragraph later, Hotta adds the following comments:

“King’s Books” is self-styled as a “rengay” (renga), but is also not free of rinne. In fact, the series is entirely about books. However, this series tries to come close to Japanese renga in that three-line poems and two-line poems appear in alternating manner; in Japanese renga, three-part-575-form poems and two-part-77-form poems appear in alternating manner. Moreover, the poets attach only their first names to their individual contributions, just like Japanese renga.

The review quotes the “King’s Books” rengay in its entirety, and also says that “Many of the series contained in Hands Across the Water are rich in poesy and filled with sparks of inspirations and challenges from stanza-like poems igniting each other.”
        While it may be true that renga verses are presented with just the first name or pen name of the poet in Japanese renga, that is not actually what happened in the presentation of “King’s Books.” As shown above, full names were given at the top, after the title, and first names were listed next to each verse, using only the first name because the full names had already been presented. Thus we were not at all trying to use “first names only” in any kind of Japanese tradition. Nor were we trying to 
come close to Japanese renga by alternating three-line and two-line poems but were instead following one of the well-established patterns (for two, three, or six writers) in the independent rengay form, even though these patterns were originally inspired, at least partly, by renga and renku.
—14 May 2019, Sammamish, Washington