Guidelines to Composing Nijuin Renga
renga is a series of short verses linked into one long
poem, composed collaboratively by a group. Nijuin means
a 20-verse renga.
Each constituent verse must make sense independently.
It should also connect in some way with the verses that
follow and precede. The verses alternate between 3-liners
and 2-lines throughout.
The opening verse of a renga is called the hokku. It takes
the same form as haiku -three short lines, preferably
with some reference to the season of composition. It communicates
feeling through the use of concrete images, and generally
avoids abstraction and conceptualisation. Renga practice
and haiku practice go hand-in-hand. To learn haiku there
is no substitute for practice. This means, before writing,
reading - whatever you can, in translation from the Japanese
and original work in English.
A renga opens with some reference to the season of composition
and moves - not necessarily in orderly sequence - through
all four seasons, generally ending with a spring verse.
Seasonal themes are generally sustained for at least a
couple of verses, and the passage from one season to the
next is often broken by one or more non-seasonal verses.
Seasonal reference is made through the use of a season-word,
which may be obvious, like ‘autumn rain’ or ‘snow’, or
more subtle, for instance, ‘watermelon’ for summer. Season
words include cultural as well as natural references;
for instance, you might use April Fool's Day for spring.
The two key principles of renga are link and shift. Link
means that each verse should connect in some way with
its immediate predecessor. Shift means that, with the
exception of the link just noted, each verse should move
on, drawing on imagery, which is new (for that particular
renga). That is, repetition is to be avoided. Even when
linking, although there will be some implicit connection,
actual words and phrases should not be repeated.
A nijuin renga is divided into three phases of 4, 12 and
4 verses respectively. As a beginner it is not necessary
to have any further knowledge of how these phases relate;
an understanding will develop through experience.
Certain images are expected to appear in every renga.
In a nijuin, a moon reference usually appears in the third
verse, and a flower reference in the penultimate verse
(verse 19). The theme of love should also appear somewhere,
although it has no set position, and is generally sustained
for two or three verses.
The overall effect of a renga is a scattered mosaic of
images covering a broad spectrum of atmosphere and mood.
Although narrative connection is one means of linking,
there is no sustained narrative or logical thread.
To take part, it isn't necessary to remember all this.
The template of seasons and images only exists to provide
a rough structure, anyway. It is important to follow the
spirit of the specific occasion, rather than be tied to
the template. The only two indispensable requirements
are: respect the dynamic of link and shift; and write
with haiku-like texture and economy.
(British Haiku Society)
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