How to Write Zips and Zip Rengays

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to study the zip form with John Carley (UK), who created it as an English correlative to the haiku. After I’d splashed about in the pond a bit, Carley invited me to participate in a rengay, where we took turns adding verses a la leapfrog. At the time, this reminded me of the games of “leapfrog” I learned to play with such veteran scifaikujin as Teri Santitoro, Andree Gendron, Andrea Gradidge, and Vicki Tarrani, all of whom I met at Tom Brinck’s scifaiku list. This is similar to, but not the same as, the thematic offerings we post on the list.

Writing zips is like supping on tasty flies…Composing a collaborative—or solo—collection is equally delicious. If you love to write scifaiku, then zips are for you. While they have more stringent composition rules than do scifaiku, I don’t feel they’re in the least restrictive. On the contrary, they allow me to further stretch my imagination. Furthermore, I often “transfuse” between scifaiku and zips just as I do with other forms.

Before we can write a rengay, though, we need to have a sense of what a zip is.

First, I’ll show you how I morphed one of my scifaikus into a zip.

Here’s the scifaiku:

genetic chess–

king to queen


As you know, scifaiku are usually drafted in three lines with no particular limitations on syllable count as long as they are not excessive (i.e., approximately 14-17 syllables). The above scifaiku has nine syllables. Not only must a zip have 15 syllables, but it must also be arranged in two lines, with an obvious caesura on each line (note: this is often difficult to tab, so please excuse mine).

During the revision process, the possibility exists that the entire essence—or story—of the poem will be altered. I often agonize about maintaining the original intent, but usually wise-up and let go. As I often say, poems have a mind of their own…

In this case, however, the essence of the scifaiku is not altered. If anything, I’ve added the obvious.

determining their fate            genetic chess

Queen to King              stalemate

Here’s another scifaiku where the zip revision shifts. Another aspect of this form that I particularly like is how they’re often meant to be read across as well as down, hence the special formatting.


one last look

before their voyage

Boortian pond reader



left behind                         on earth

the Boortian ambassador                        in disguise


With zip rengays, there are alternating “stanzas”. The first stanza is a regular zip, but the next is only one line—like the “one-breath” in haiku and scifaiku.

While scifaiku one-breaths have various line lengths and only one caesura, a zip one-breath has 11 syllables and two caesura.


Scifaiku one-breath:

not for sale at any price–stasis dreams


Zip one-breath:


not for sale                        at any price                        her stasis dreams


After you develop some familiarity with the 15-syllable zips and the 11-syllable zip one-breaths, you can invite a few friends to compose a zip rengay or write one solo, as I did below.

According to John Carley, “[t]he Rengay normally takes six verses. A solo one typically will go long/short/long/short/long/short and the two voice will go long/short/long/long/short/long. This latter arrangement is because the writers alternate, and it avoids one taking all long and the other, all short.”

so many stars

memories of those who died      
just wisps            outside the port window

word games         with the intel droid           vowels missing

beams of light pierce          a magnetic haze            that star seems familiar

the air   no longer stale   first mikan blossoms

Atlantis?  Alpha Centauri?     All that matters is she’s home

magnetic pulse            gear engaged            sound of splashing


*Mikan are Japanese tangerines

In closing, I’d like to encourage you to explore this form—and be sure to visit John Carley’s Zip School of Haiku and Renku at

(Author’s Note: This article appeared in several places, most recently in Poet’s Workshop – and Beyond!











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