2006 Haiku Poets of Northern California
Rengay Contest

First published in the Haiku Poets of Northern California rengay contest results flyer in early 2007. Originally written in January 2007.

Congratulations to the winners of this rengay contest, and my thanks for the honour of being able to serve as judge. The year 2007 marks the 15th anniversary of rengay’s creation, and I’m pleased that there were many strong entries in this year’s contest, indicating that rengay is indeed a healthy teenager.

—Michael Dylan Welch

First Place

Only Words

        poem idea
        on a napkin
        in lipstick

note of condolence
run-on sentence

        red
        her phone card
        on my dresser

        carving
        my initials
        only

under his sleeve
concentration camp number

        writer’s block
        the moth
        circles my lamp

This rengay is a little more minimalist that I might have predicted myself selecting, but it rewarded repeated readings, and I encourage you to read it several times yourself. Each verse develops the theme of words and language in clear and immediate ways. The different ways of writing and communication are shown in small abundance here, and several verses bubble with the tension of history or personal relationships. I take the third poem to be a sort of love verse, followed by loneliness. The carving of the fourth verse gives way in the fifth verse to the tattoo (carving on skin), and so we see effective shifting and linking from verse to verse even while maintaining a clear and objective primary theme—which usually works better in rengay than an overly abstract theme. At the end of this original and distinctive rengay, after the stark shock of the fifth verse (that too is writing!), we are left with a seeming inability to write. Yet perhaps that moth circling the poet’s lamp will serve as inspiration to get the pen moving once again. May we all have such inspiration!

Second Place

Echoes

100-year storm—
an antique toy
tangled in driftwood

the empty perfume bottle
still full of her scent

blue velvet—
memories of that Paris night
you walked away

chill in the air
pebbles from Delphi
in my coat pocket

dying embers—
echoes from the shaman’s drum

such soft rain—
new leaves on the ancient oak
begin to unfurl

The defining characteristic of rengay, beyond its six verses in a prescribed pattern, is its thematic nature. If the theme isn’t reasonably obvious, then the poems may be closer to renku or just linked verse, lacking the connection or development that rengay facilitates. In this rengay, the theme of memory and things from the past is clear and engaging. The past always echoes in the present, however, giving each verse an immediacy that isn’t just a dusty trinket kept in a memory box. As with the first-place winner, here each individual poem is strong (a necessity for an effective rengay) and the last verse provides a tidy sense of closure—in this case shifting from the past to point to the future greenery of the new leaves. Nicely done.

Third Place

Loose Ends

the wee hours
weaving loose ends
into my knitting

beneath the comforter
the argument continues

frosted panes—
in my hair the grey streak
mother always wanted

unlabeled tintypes
in the family album
drifting snow

from an old flame
an unexpected letter

velvet jewel box
just one of the pair
of heirloom combs

The title of this rengay announces its theme—loose ends in life. We see these loose ends not only in the knitting of the first verse, but in the ongoing argument, the tintypes lacking labels, the resurfacing of an old flame, and in the missing comb. While the theme of unfinished business may seem abstract to some, it is made concrete in these verses, giving the rengay as a whole a sense of wistfulness and longing. I like the touch of winter in the middle two verses that is warmed by the “flame” of the unexpected letter. A nicely done rengay.