Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Renga is a medieval Japanese form of linked verse poetry in which a group writes a poem together. Generally, each participant adds one line at a time, but in contemporary adaptations of the form, poets sometimes write the lines all at once and then compile them. The term itself means "linked images," and, naturally, the beauty of the form lies in its surprising links and variety. A great renga, scholars say, should contain all the surprises and variety of life itself.
Renga have been written for perhaps a thousand years, though the form reached its peak in the work of the Japanese poet Bâsho (1644-1694). In classical renga, verses of 14 to 17 syllables, each evoking a season, are combined to form a poem of about 100 lines.
To use renga in the classroom, teachers should have students write down a list of sensory impressions about a particular place or experience. Students should then choose one of these impressions and write one sentence about it on a note card. The sentence can be any length, but it should be based on the student's immediate reaction to the impression; no judgments or explanations are necessary. Teachers should encourage students to be precise with their descriptions. For example, when teacher Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens works with a student to develop a poetic line, she encourages the student to describe the smell of egg rolls in Chinatown in very specific words instead of relying on the general understanding of what egg rolls smell like.
Working in groups, the students should shuffle the note cards so that nobody's lines are given precedence. The groups can decide how they want to read the cards. Teachers may also choose to pass out musical instruments or ask students to clap to keep rhythm as they recite their collective poem. Bobbi Ciriza Houtchens' students creatively used chopsticks as accompaniment to their collective poetry reading. Students will be excited to see how the seemingly disparate lines tend to fit together into a coherent, meaningful poem.
By writing a poem as a group, students recognize how literature can arise from a group experience. When students combine their private sensory impressions into a collective expression of a place or experience, they recognize how the personal aspects of literature are related to public aspects. Moreover, renga encourages students to work together creatively.
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