Frogpond 32.2 • 2009

Museum of Haiku
Literature Award

Haiku & Senryu

Revelations Unedited





Tan Renga


Book Review

From the Editors



Renhai, a New Verse Form

by Vaughn Seward, Alberta

Renhai is a new short verse form that consists of three themed haiku verses typically written by two writers. The final result is similar to the first three verses of a rengay with each of the three verses having one or more common themes. Renku-like links exist between each verse, including between the first and the last.

When Garry Gay conceived of the idea of rengay in 1992, he wanted a simpler, shorter form of renku. Six verses seemed long enough to be interesting, but not so long that readers would grow tired of reading them. He also wanted simpler rules that provided the writers with a little more freedom [see Gay, G. & Thompson, J. The Unlocked Gate in Frogpond, 31:3, pp. 85-86]. To this end, rengay was very successful and continues to be a popular verse form. By the end of August, 2007, I had been involved in a number of renku and rengay projects. One day I got wondering if it was possible to write a linked verse poem that was in length somewhere between the rengay and the tan renga. One verse is a haiku, two verses is a tan renga or tanka. What about three verses? This idea nicely corresponded with the three lines of a modern formatted haiku. Could it be possible to write such a short rengay-like verse form? Could two writers successfully write such a poem?

Later that year, Zhanna P. Rader and I experimented with these ideas and eventually found a way. The final approach intrigued us in that the middle verse was truly collaborative and that the entire poem was relatively short and yet was themed and fully linked. We also found that these poems could be written quickly.

This is how we composed the first renhai ever written. Summer was chosen as the season and each line of the middle verse was written by each writer in turn. Zhanna first wrote “blanket of velvet-gray fog” and I completed the verse with “a crow pierces the silence”.

At this point we decided to go with the theme of “permeating”. The middle verse references this theme in that the fog spreads out in every direction. I then wrote the following verse:

Still autumn night—
each patch of the forest,
full of darkness.

This links to the middle verse with the sense of stillness or silence. The theme is referenced through the feeling of darkness permeating the forest. For balance and symmetry this verse was placed first. However, the first and third verses can be switched around according to the tastes of the writers.

Zhanna then wrote the third verse to the “permeating” theme
with coffee filling the air:

Coffee aroma
permeates the morning air—
sudden rain . . .

This verse links to the second one with the concept of interruption and to the first verse with reference to the beginning and end of the day (morning/night).

A renhai is, therefore, written in this inside-out manner. You can think of it as being organically derived. The middle verse is like a seed that germinates and sprouts a root (3rd verse), and a stem (1st verse).

We chose “renhai” as the name for this new poetic form as it incorporates its two main elements. “ren” is from the linking aspect of RENga, RENku, RENgay. And the “hai” is from HAIku in that its form resembles the three lines of haiku as well as its short length. Here is the first renhai in full:

A Night Out

Still autumn night—
each patch of the forest,
full of darkness.      / vs

Blanket of velvet-gray fog—      / zh.r
a crow pierces the silence.      / vs

Coffee aroma
permeates the morning air—
sudden rain . . .      / zh.r

In December, 2007 the Renhai Studio Yahoo group was set up for the purpose of incubating ideas about Renhai and for conducting experiments and sharing results:


Since then, over 120 Renhai have been written by 20 different writers. A number of variations have been explored including three- and four-person collaboration, multiple renhai with a common middle verse, solo, reversed order, and renhai written for young readers.