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. For more information about rengay, please visit the Rengay website.

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 Carolyne Rohrig, Fremont, California

note of condolence

run-on sentence Marco Fraticell, Pointe Claire, Quebec


        her phone card

        on my dresser Carolyne


        my initials

        only Marco

under his sleeve

concentration camp number Carolyne

        writer’s block

        the moth

        circles my lamp Marco

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


100-year storm—

an antique toy

tangled in driftwood Billie Wilson, Juneau, Alaska

the empty perfume bottle

still full of her scent Carolyn Hall, San Francisco, California

blue velvet—

memories of that Paris night

you walked away Billie

chill in the air

pebbles from Delphi

in my coat pocket Carolyn

dying embers—

echoes from the shaman’s drum Billie

such soft rain—

new leaves on the ancient oak

begin to unfurl Carolyn

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 Pamela Miller Ness, New York, New York

beneath the comforter

the argument continues Carolyn Hall, San Francisco, California

frosted panes—

in my hair the grey streak

mother always wanted Pamela

unlabeled tintypes

in the family album

drifting snow Carolyn

from an old flame

an unexpected letter Pamela

velvet jewel box

just one of the pair

of heirloom combs Carolyn

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.