A Renga Project for a Group of 6 to 12 Poets

by Roy Beckemeyer

I have been moderating a poetry session three times a year for LifeVentures, a program for seniors in Wichita, Kansas. Each of the three “semesters” is eight weeks long. The poetry sessions are an hour long, so each semester we have eight hours total together, plus the time each participant puts in at home. A typical class runs around eight to ten people. I am always looking for new themes for us to explore.

Last spring I was one of the contributors to Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s Kansas Renga project (see the 150 Kansas Poems blog site), so I thought it might be fun to do some rengas in our sessions. Since we had only eight meetings, I decided we would do seven-stanza rengas, with each participant writing stanzas one and seven of their renga, and contributing a stanza to each of five other rengas in the intermediate weeks.

Since I never know exactly how many folks will sign up, I worked out sequences for class sizes of anywhere from six to 12 poets. That way we would end up with a renga for each poet to which five other class particpants had contributed. One neat thing about this project is that even the people who would ordinarily beg off and not write anything for one or more of the classes, felt a real obligation to write every week rather than let any of the other participants down.

Here is a link to a set of matrices (as a pdf file) that you can use for doing this project:

Renga Sequence

There is a column for each participant. If there are 10 people in class, write the numbers one through 10 on slips of paper and let everyone draw from a hat. Suppose you drew number seven. The seventh column in the matrix for 10 poets lists your renga sequence. You would write the first stanza. The next week, you handed your stanzaa to poet number nine who would write the second stanza, and so on. The poem would be passed to poets eight, four, three, and 10 in that order, leaving you to write the final stanza.

I had made a list of “subjects” from which each participant could choose a theme for his/her renga (e.g., “Zero Hour”,”Music Lessons,” “Our Town,” “Symphony of the Universe,” etc.). This helped to provide focus for the contributors, although each was to find something in the stanza immediately preceeding theirs as their main source of inspiration.

It proved to be an exercise that everyone enjoyed, everyone contributed to, and that provided us all with some interesting and memorable poem sequences. Participants found it particularly gratifying to see how others responded to their work.

– Roy Beckemeyer