Issues of deja-ku may be more pronounced in haiku because of the genre’s brevity and the common sensory experiences we are inclined to write about, but they are not confined to haiku. In 1974, Shel Silverstein included the poem “Sick” in his book Where the Sidewalk Ends (New York: Harper & Row, pages 58–59):
“I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I’m going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I’ve counted sixteen chicken pox
And there’s one more—that’s seventeen,
And don’t you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut—my eyes are blue—
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I’m sure that my left leg is broke—
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button’s caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle’s sprained,
My ’pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow’s bent, my spine ain’t straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is—what?
What’s that? What’s that you say?
You say today is . . . Saturday?
G’bye, I’m going out to play!”
In 2008, Jack Prelutsky included “Please Let Me Sleep All Day Today” in My Dog May Be a Genius (New York: Greenwillow Books, page 8). Here’s Prelutsky’s poem:
Please let me sleep all day today,
I need to stay in bed.
I’m hardly even half awake,
I’m sure my eyes are red.
I try and try to open them,
but can’t remember how.
You say today is Saturday?
I’m getting up right now.
Surely Prelutsky was aware of the Silverstein poem. Not only are the words of the penultimate line identical to Silverstein’s poem, the ideas driving both poems are the same. In one the protagonist is supposedly sick, and in the other supposedly sleepy, but both ploys are used to avoid school as each poem builds to the same punchline. Despite the differences, what are we to make of these and other similarities? The resemblance seemingly never bothered Prelutsky or his publisher (I doubt they were unaware of the Silverstein poem). However, surely numerous readers, like me, noticed the similarity, perhaps feeling momentarily proud for having noticed it, but then perhaps slightly distracted by the overlap.
In terms of deja-ku, simply sharing the same subject is usually something to be celebrated, the way readers of haiku have little hesitation in appreciating poems with the same kigo, or season word. But at what point does similarity become excessive? Prelutsky’s poem immediately made me think of Silverstein’s, at least at the end. Along the way, both poems employ iambic rhythms, and both mostly with tetrameter lines. Silverstein’s poem employs iambic tetrameter throughout, except for the third- and fourth-last lines, where a deliberately disruptive change in meter matches the change in meaning at that point in the poem. Prelutsky’s poem also uses iambic tetrameter but alternates such lines with iambic trimeter. They both have the same ending, with identical penultimate lines, and of course the same conceit. It’s easy to say we can enjoy both, and I’m certainly in that camp, but still I wonder. If I were Prelutsky’s editor, might I have suggested omitting this poem? Would you?
You get a lot of respect from me for writing these helpful arlitces.