RENGA: WRITING A LINKED POEM WITH A GROUP
Renga, like haiku, is a traditional Japanese form of poetry. However renga are written by a group of poets as a collaborative effort. The first poet writes a three line haiku of 5-7-5 syllables. The second poet adds two lines, each of seven syllables. The third poet adds another haiku. The fourth adds another two lines, each of seven syllables, and so on. This structure repeats until the poem is finished, by the agreement of the poets.
It is also possible to adapt the renga into a less formal linked poem. The basic rule for this collaborative project would be simple. One person writes a line of poetry and a second person writes the next line. This process continues as above, but without concern about the number of syllables.
To get students started it often works best to give them a beginning line. For example, “I opened the door and walked into a forest,” or “As I walked down the street, a lion appeared.” The instructions can be left as plain as that. I often find, though, that students do this assignment most comfortably if they are given an additional rule by the teacher, that each line must have one specified element. For example, a color, a sound, a body of water. If you break the class into a number of groups, each group creating its own renga from the same initial line and the same additional rules, it is interesting to share the finished poems. Students can then hear how each group developed the initial line and responded to the rules. There are usually huge and surprising differences between the versions.