2002 Haiku Poets of Northern California Rengay Contest

First published in the Haiku Poets of Northern California rengay contest results flyer in early 2003. Originally written in December of 2002. See also the postscript at the end. For more information about rengay, please visit the Rengay website.

I believe a rengay is best judged not just on the quality of its individual verses—all of which should reach a consistent standard—but on the rengay’s overall theme and effect. Merely having six spectacular verses is not sufficient to make a rengay. The theme must be consistently maintained, yet varied enough so as not to be too repetitive. The theme should also be immediate and clear (I prefer concrete rather than abstract themes). In addition, the shifts between verses, much like the shifts in renku, should fit smoothly yet possibly surprise the reader with freshness and originality. However, having even an utterly clear theme won’t necessarily keep substandard verses afloat, a single poor one of which will sink an otherwise strong rengay. Thus rengay is the sustained art of collaborative writing where two or three partners may express their poetic creativity through well-developed thematic haiku and haiku-like verses using a generally set pattern. The resulting poems can provide very rewarding and memorable reading, as I believe you will see in the results of the 2002 Haiku Poets of Northern California International Rengay Contest.

        Rengay was invented in 1992 by Garry Gay, and soon afterwards HPNC began honouring this increasingly popular verse form with its annual rengay contest. The 2002 contest marks the tenth anniversary of rengay’s creation, and over the past ten years many excellent rengay have been submitted for the contest and also published in various haiku journals around the world. Rengay continues to expand in popularity, and now has an active online discussion group located at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/rengay [used to redirect to https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/rengay/info, but Yahoo groups have been discontinued]. Again this year, many fine rengay were submitted for the HPNC rengay contest, and the majority of them had many excellent qualities, particularly the top three choices. My congratulations to the winners for their enjoyable collaborative creations, which it was an honour and pleasure for me to read.

—Michael Dylan Welch, Judge

First Place

Finger Melodies

Maria Steyn and kirsty karkow

almost spring . . .

the neighbor’s daughter

plays “Fur Elise”

        snap! snap! snapping

        the stems off fresh green beans

dance studio

the click of castanets

behind a red door

the monk

never skips a bead . . .

muffled mantras

        a boy shakes his bucket

        river pebbles glisten

final exam

her bright nails drumming

on the desk

This fine rengay develops not just one theme, but two (the title explains them). Not only does each verse present a particular kind of sound, but they are sounds produced by fingers or hands—playing piano, snapping beans, clicking castanets, clacking beads, shaking a bucket, and drumming fingernails. This description highlights another commonality in all but one of the verses—a strong sound verb. But in addition to the sounds that this rengay describes, also notice the sounds that each verse uses. Count the “s” sounds in all six verses (especially the first three), and then the sharper “k” sounds (including the one in “exam”) in the last four verses. The link and shift (while still maintaining the theme) between the snapping beans and the click of castanets is particularly fine, and I especially like the mystery of the red door in the third verse (“Behind the Red Door” might make an evocative and perhaps less explanatory title for this rengay). Sounds also manifest themselves in the three snaps, and the alliteration of “muffled mantras.” All in all, a treat for the ear as well as the fingers—and for everyone who enjoys rengay.

Second Place

White Flannel Sheets

Carolyn Hall and Billie Wilson

the new year—

filling in empty squares

on the calendar

        a pause in our walk—

        this trackless field of snow


she smoothes white flannel sheets

still warm from the iron

billowing clouds—

baskets heaped with lavender

for sachets

        a fresh ream of paper

        on father’s roll-top desk

birch trees creaking

in a north wind—

I call the collie home

A theme of whiteness pervades this collaboration, an emptiness or blankness counterbalanced by the rengay’s other rich details. “White Flannel Sheets” features fitting beginning and ending verses, and in between we are taken through winter to the spring of lavender to another autumn. In rengay, the links between verses (the connections from verse to verse) can also use renku linking techniques in addition to developing a theme. In this rengay, we can see this sort of linking in the connection from the smell of the warm iron to the smell of lavender. This kind of linking demonstrates a valuable responsiveness that adds depth to the rengay, and applies a valuable renku technique. In all, this rengay has pleasant verses with engaging imagery, and I particularly like the first and last verses, the verses in a rengay that should always be the strongest.

Third Place

Dummy Under the Blanket

Carolyne Rohrig and Carolyn Hall

spring snowstorm

she dreams a husband

with another name

        the dime-store duck call

        attracts a dove


a favorite love letter

back to herself

more girls than boys

in the ballroom dance class—

she foxtrots backwards

        wearing new high heels

        with her nightgown

the housemother

discovers a dummy

under the blanket

The theme of love or other relationships developed in this rengay, sometime implied, is not its only theme. An unusualness colours each relationship, such as having a dove respond to a person blowing a duck call (with the birds symbolizing an implied or longed-for mate). This unusualness in each verse is really a lack of the mate one desires. Only in the last verse (fittingly) is the longing resolved, in that the dummy under the blanket suggests that the person who was supposed to be in the bed has gone off to meet someone, perhaps, at last, for a romantic tryst. In addition, each verse strikes me as being written from a female perspective, and certainly is about female subjects—”she” appears in two verses, “her” or “herself” in two other verses, plus “girls,” “mother,” and “dove” also appear. This rengay captures a spirit of yearning love that is understatedly yet delightfully resolved in the final verse.

Congratulations to each of the winners in the 2002 HPNC International Rengay Contest, and thanks to all those who entered.

Postscript: Some Comments About Rengay

Originally sent to the HPNC Newsletter, although I still have to check to see if it was published or not. Written in January of 2003.

It was my pleasure to judge HPNC’s 2002 rengay contest, the results of which will be announced separately. My comments on each winning rengay focus on their successes, but here I’d separately like to offer a few comments on the weaknesses of some of the rengay that did not place. A number of them had abstract themes, or I couldn’t determine what the theme was at all (a problem that I believe is more likely to occur for many readers if the theme is abstract). Certain rengay had fine themes, clearly presented, but some individual verses were flat as haiku, using tired or awkward phrases. In some cases, the careful development of the theme seemed to compromise the quality of the verses as individual haiku. And in one case one person wrote each of the three clearly flawed or weaker verses, suggesting that perhaps the more experienced partner might have tried encouraging the less-experienced writer to reach a higher standard. In at least a couple of cases, the last verse inexplicably abandoned the theme, producing no worthwhile effect that I could determine. Some verses were too explanatory or too abstract, and more than one rengay had obvious typos. A few of the rengay also didn’t follow the prescribed patterns (for two or three writers), though one entry at least acknowledged a deliberate departure from the pattern. Garry Gay has said repeatedly that rengay will be what the poets who write it choose to make of it, and there’s certainly room for experimentation, variety, and having fun. But among some who may be new to rengay, I think there’s also a need for greater understanding and discipline regarding the crafting of the rengay as a whole, and in writing polished individual verses. These are subjective comments, of course, and I hope that both winning and not winning will not be taken too seriously.

        I’d also like to offer a further comment on variations of rengay. Personally, I think the established patterns for two or three writers are adequate as they are, though I appreciate the creativity of writers who experiment with other variations. The “solo” rengay has proved effective, for example, though it loses the collaborative nature that is central to rengay’s energy. Six-person rengay have also been tried a few times, and they enable six people to participate in a linked thematic poem that can be completed quickly. Other variations in rengay have also been tried, such as changing the length, pattern, and authorship of specific verses. Though I think some experimentation can be worthwhile, I believe there’s a point of diminishing returns. At the very least, I would encourage those who experiment to be sure that they understand what rengay is—that it has to be thematic and follows a set pattern—and why. In her brand-new book from Kodansha, Writing and Enjoying Haiku: A Hands-on Guide, Jane Reichhold presents rengay’s form incorrectly, saying it has an A-3, B-2, A-3, B-2, A-3, B-2 pattern (she has the second half wrong; it should be B-3, A-2, B-3). Reichhold’s mistake is not just a typo, as she also says that the linking pattern is just like that of a tan renga, repeated three times, which is incorrect. In contrast to this, it’s important to understand the reasons why there’s a specific pattern of A-3, B-2, A-3, B-3, A-2, B-3, something developed by Garry Gay so that it was specifically different from the first six verses of renku. I encourage all fans of rengay, especially those new to it, to learn as much as they can about the form so that any experiments might have a grounded context in which the experimenters might assess them (a good place to learn is through the online discussion group located at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/rengay [used to redirect to https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/rengay/info, but Yahoo groups have been discontinued]). At the very least, though, all manner of experimentation proves that rengay is alive and well, and for that I’m grateful.