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The Interview

Garry gay.jpeg

Garry Gay

Creator of Rengay

Neena Singh, Guest Editor, The Wise Owl talks to Garry Gay, the creator of the poetic form, Rengay. He has been a photographer by profession for the past 40 years. He started writing haiku in 1975. Greatly influenced by Basho’s Narrow Road To The Deep North, he has steadily written haiku over the past 30 years. He is one of the co-founders of the Haiku Poets of Northern California. He became their first president from 1989-90 and in 2001-2008 again served as president. As president in 1989 he founded the Two Autumns haiku reading series.  He is the author of The Billboard Cowboy, The Silent Garden, Wings of Moonlight, River Stones, Along The Way and The Unlocked Gate, published with John Thompson.

The Interview : Garry Gay

Neena Singh, Guest Editor, The Wise Owl talks to Garry Gay, the creator of the poetic form, Rengay. He has been a photographer by profession for the past 40 years. He started writing haiku in 1975. Greatly influenced by Basho’s Narrow Road To The Deep North, he has steadily written haiku over the past 30 years. He is one of the co-founders of the Haiku Poets of Northern California. He became their first president from 1989-90 and in 2001-2008 again served as president. As president in 1989 he founded the Two Autumns haiku reading series. In 1991 he was elected as president of the Haiku Society of America. In 1991 he founded Haiku North America. In 1996 he also co-founded the American Haiku Archives in Sacramento, California. He is the author of The Billboard Cowboy, The Silent Garden, Wings of Moonlight, River Stones, Along The Way and The Unlocked Gate, published with John Thompson.

 

Thank you Garry for talking to The Wise Owl. We are delighted.

 

NS: For the benefit of the readers please tell us what inspired you to create the poetic genre rengay? Was there a specific moment or experience that sparked the idea?

 

GG: I came up with the idea for the rengay form during a three day renku workshop. I introduced the rengay form at the first major Renku North America renku-writing session on August 9, 1992 in Foster City, California. I think I was influenced by the longer length of the renku which we were writing at the time, which was 36 verses. Also the renku had a strict form of writng through the four seasons. It also had a number of devices like having a moon or flower verse in certain positions. I found having so many rules kind of restrictive. I wanted a more initmate form, one that was only writen by two or three poets. I wanted it to be more haiku like. I wanted it to be brief and stay in the here and now and not wander through the four seasons. I wanted the power of the two or three poets to shift in position so that they were equal and therefore we did not need a Master to offer the verses to for approval. I wanted it to be a true collaboration. I also found that by having only six verses this form would be much more publishable. Most journals would give one or two poets a single page, so I was very sure the rengay form would fit nicely on the pages of most journals. Lastly, I did not want very many rules.  I wanted it clean and simple like the haiku. If you can write a haiku, you can write a rengay.

 

NS: For those who may not be familiar with this genre, could you explain what rengay is and what distinguishes it from other poetic forms?

 

GG: Yes, so first let me say that the rengay is just a word play on my name. The old word for renku was renga. So all I did was add a “y” on the end of renga to make it rengay (my last name).

A rengay is a six verse linking form written between two or three poets in a set pattern.

So rengay are not renga or renku. And they were not meant to be. They are two completely different linking forms. The rengay is very dependent on one’s ability to understand and write haiku. To write a good rengay you are probably a good haiku writer as well. So at its heart a rengay is a thematic poem while a renku is not and that is the major difference.

 

The rengay is a collaborative six-verse linked thematic poem written by two or three poets alternating three-line and two-line haiku-like stanzas in a regular pattern or form.

 

The pattern for a two person rengay is A-3, B-2, A-3, B-3, A-2, B-3. “A” being the first poet and “B” being the second poet. The pattern for three poets is A-3, B-2, C-3, A-2, B-3, C-2.

Keep in mind that you are partners and are creating a single overall poem. You are in collaboration with each other so work together, talk about your verses. Make suggestions to each other on how to improve each other’s verses. When finished this poem belongs to both of you. Just a quick note on how to get started. You need to pick a theme to write on. Once you agree on your subject you have to decide between you who is to go first. Sometimes it works out well to offer each other some verses you have written and see if you have a subject of interest to both of you. Lastly, keep in mind you need to find a title to your rengay poem.

 

NS: What do you find most compelling or rewarding about writing rengay compared to other poetic forms?

 

GG: I think the social aspect of working together towards a finished creative product that you share. It’s an opportunity to get to know someone on a deeper level. You learn more about each other and it seems to strengthen friendships. You are not working in isolation but building a strong bond with another human being. You have a shared experience that lets you grow and laugh and be playful with someone else in cooperation towards a creative goal. Writing rengay are really fun.

 

NS: How do you approach the collaborative aspect of rengay writing? What are some of the challenges and benefits of collaborating with other poets?

 

GG: My approach with my writing partners is very simple: I seek out other poets who I think I might enjoy writing a rengay with me, and it also works the other way around, sometimes someone seeks me out to write with me. Then it’s just a matter of selecting a subject to write on. The challenges of course are the actual coming up with each verse and does it fit into the overall theme of the poem. My writing style is I like to give my partner a lot of choices so I spend some time writing a number of verses. I know most writers don’t produce as many verses as I do and that is fine. But I like to at least give a few choices as this can change the direction of the overall poem. The benefits of course is the fun and joy of working with someone else on the verses we offered each other. Sometimes there are no changes made and other times it’s the interaction of improving one’s own work. It’s also fun to name or title the rengay. That can influence the reader and how they understand the poem. The benefits are the social asset of writing together, you are creating something that you share and that leads to a closer bond. After all you now own this poem together.

 

NS: Can you walk us through your creative process when writing a rengay? Do you have any particular rituals or techniques that you find helpful?

 

GG: Once two people agree to write a rengay, there seem to be two different ways to get started. You either have a topic or theme you want to write to, or you just write a bunch of verses and see what themes emerge. I write both ways. Often with certain partners we go for a walk or hike or just meet in a coffee shop and spend some quiet time writing verses. Then after a time we ask each other to share what we wrote. We talk over the verses and then we agree which one stands out over the others, maybe it has a strong theme that we both agree we can write to. The beauty of writing rengay is that you are not writing that many verses. One thing I have learned over time is how much faster I have become at writing haiku by writing rengay. This of course means I have a lot of verses to offer my writing partner or partners. I have become a much more prolific writer. There is not a particular ritual or technique I use, but it is useful to sometimes have a few possible opening verses when you are meeting with someone you are going to write with because this gets you writing sooner.

 

NS: What themes or subjects do you often explore in your rengay? Are there any recurring motifs or symbols that hold personal significance for you?

 

GG: An interesting question, I would say I have written on a wide variety of subjects. Since rengay is so closely linked to haiku most of the time we write on nature subjects. I don’t recall if there are any recurring motifs or symbols. Since I live so near an ocean often topics of the sea come up.

 

NS: How do you balance structure and spontaneity in your rengay compositions? Do you adhere strictly to traditional guidelines, or do you allow for more experimentation?

 

GG: I would say overall I stay within the classic rengay guidelines: pick a theme or topic, and stay in the rengay pattern. Again there are not many rules to a rengay. Having said that, my writing partners and I have done some experimenting for fun with the form. We have have tried writing a rengay from the bottom up, so the first verse would be the last verse working our way to the top. We have also played a game where one poet gives the other all of his verses and the other poet has to write in their verses between the ones offered. We also tried to once make a concrete rengay that was both fun and strange.

 

NS: In your opinion, what makes a successful rengay? Are there certain elements or qualities that you believe are essential?

 

GG: Yes, you have to have a theme. If the reader cannot figure out or see what the theme is then it becomes confusing. If you have to guess what the theme is then it’s not a very successful rengay. Yes, you have to stay within the given pattern of what a rengay is. Also a title often gives the reader an idea of what the theme is to the poem. Advanced writers can also have a double theme within the rengay.

 

NS: How do you envision the future of rengay evolving? Are there any new directions or innovations that you're excited to explore within the genre?

 

GG: For the most part I see the rengay just growing wider in acceptance worldwide. It has amazed me how fast it has grown. It’s hard to say about innovations but from the moment rengay began, I saw a lot of poets playing with the form. I am happy that rengay gave people permission to experiment with other new poetic forms such as split sequences.

 

NS: What advice would you give to aspiring poets who are interested in experimenting with rengay or creating their own poetic forms?

 

GG: I would say go for it. While I think the standard or classic rengay is here to stay, poets are creative people and they will try different things. Experimenting is part of life.

 

NS: Can you share any memorable experiences or insights you've gained through your involvement with rengay, whether through writing, teaching, or collaboration?

 

GG: I have found great joy in sharing in workshops the enthusiasm for writing rengay. It’s been very rewarding seeing other poets grow within this form. I once had a high school teacher in Idaho write me a note and tell me that some of her students came to her and asked her to teach them how to write rengay. That was very exciting to hear students wanting to learn something new.

 

NS: Lastly, are there any upcoming projects or publications related to rengay that you're currently working on or excited about?­­

 

GG: I am very supportive of what Sherry Grant in New Zealand is doing with her Raining Rengay journal and her twice a year rengay online conference. There is also an annual online rengay celebration once a year on or around the anniversary of the rengay birthday on August 9th.  One final thing, the Haiku Society of America (HSA) has an annual rengay contest that they named after me and I am very proud of that. The Haiku Poets of Northern California also holds an annual rengay contest.

 

Thank you so much Garry for taking time out to talk to The Wise Owl. We wish you the best in all your creative endeavours.

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