Renga: a collaborative poetry challenge

Though we’re all trying to be physically distant from each other at the moment, it’s more important than ever to stay connected socially. That’s why we’re launching a collaborative renga poetry challenge…

Photo of a single branch of pink peach blossom

Renga is a 700-year-old Japanese poetic form. The word ‘renga’ literally means ‘linked poem’, and writing a renga requires a partner, or partners. Renga consists of alternating haiku and couplets, with each stanza written by a different person.

Here’s how renga works:

  1. Poet #1 writes a haiku, a short poem of three lines. The first line has five syllables in it, the second line has seven syllables, and the third line has five syllables, e.g.

This is a renga,
or at least the first stanza.
Okay, now your turn.

  1. Poet #1 sends their haiku to Poet #2, who responds with a couplet: two lines, each with seven syllables, e.g.

Here’s my response. I’m eating
many more crisps than normal.

  1. Poet #2 sends the whole poem so far, including the haiku and the couplet, to Poet #3 (or, if you’re just writing with two people, back to Poet #1). Poet #3 now adds a haiku, e.g.

Great start, everyone.
I hope this haiku lives up
to your high standards.

  1. Poet #3 sends it on to Poet #4, who adds a couplet, e.g.

Thanks for sharing. I love to
collaborate with my friends!

  1. And so on! You can each take as many turns as you like, and the final renga can be as long or short as you fancy.

Our haiku/couplet examples there are pretty frivolous – and in this anxious time, we’re suggesting that your renga are themed around what makes you smile and/or what makes you feel hopeful. Traditional renga, like haiku, often incorporate the seasons, nature and love – you can use these too if you find it helpful, but you don’t have to.

We hope you have some poetic partners in mind who you’d like to write a renga with. We’d love this challenge to be taken up by existing poetry collectives and groups. This could also be a great activity for your class or a way to keep your seminar group connected, or a way to communicate long-distance with friends and family.

Share your renga

We’d love to read your renga. Send your finished renga in the body of an email to [email protected] with the subject line ‘Renga’. We’d be really interested to hear a little about the contributors – your names and ages, the county/country you live in, how you found out about this challenge, how you know each other, and how you found the process of writing the renga.

A note on ages – Young Poets Network is a space for young writers globally, up to the age of 25 (inclusive). We’ll only be able to publish renga by poets aged 25 or younger, but if you’re older than that and want to write a renga, please do! We just won’t be able to share your work.

The Poetry Society team is working from home, which means we won’t be able to post out physical prizes, but we will publish a selection of responses to this challenge periodically. This is not a normal YPN challenge – we won’t reply to let you know if we aren’t going to publish your poem. The point of this challenge is to collaborate and have fun – not compete!

For now, there’s no deadline for submitting your renga. We may add a closing date for sending your renga to us at a later date though, so check back in the coming weeks.

More details…

You can send a poem written down, or a recording as a video or as an audio file. If you are sending a written version of your poem, please type it into the body of your email. If you are sending a video or audio file, please attach it to the email (making sure it’s no bigger than 4MB or it won’t come through) or send us a link to where we can see/hear it.

If you would like us to add you to the Young Poets Network mailing list, include ‘add me to the mailing list’ in the subject line of the email. If you would like us to confirm that we’ve received your poem, include ‘confirm receipt’ in the subject line.

If the poet submitting the poem is aged 12 or younger, you will need to ask a parent/guardian to complete this permission form; otherwise, unfortunately we can’t share your poem due to data protection laws.

The Poetry Society offices are currently closed and staff are working from home. Please do not post entries during this time. If you are having trouble submitting, please email [email protected].

By sharing your poem, you give permission for Young Poets Network and The Poetry Society to reproduce your poem in print and online in perpetuity, though copyright remains with you. Please do be sure to check through the general Terms and Conditions for YPN challenges as well.

If you require this information in an alternative format (such as Easy Read, Braille, Large Print or screenreader friendly formats), or need any assistance with this challenge, please contact us at [email protected].

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