This essay was originally written in response to Sandra Simpson’s essay, “How Close Is Too Close?” (https://poetrysociety.org.nz/affiliates/haiku-nz/haiku-poems-articles/archived-articles/how-close-is-too-close/, posted to the New Zealand Poetry Society website in June of 2014), but greatly expanded since then as more and more new evidence came to light. Please read Sandra’s essay before reading this one. I dig deep here, but do so to explore complex issues thoroughly and fairly.
Pereant qui ante nos nostra dixerent.
“Perish those who said our good things before we did.”
It would be easy to start these comments by saying “Ernest J. Berry is a plagiarist.” Or, in a softer vein, perhaps “Ernest J. Berry has plagiarized.” But I won’t do so. Instead, I’d like to start by letting two poems speak for themselves—and bear in mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg. What does the following look like to you?
the heron’s legs
—Ernest J. Berry, in Pinesong, 2014, page 53, published in this anthology as the third prize winner of the 2014 Griffin-Farlow Haiku Award sponsored by the North Carolina Poetry Society
The crane’s legs
have gotten shorter
in the spring rain.
—Matsuo Bashō, translated by Robert Hass in The Essential Haiku, Hopewell, New Jersey: The Ecco Press, 1994, page 13
Allusion versus Plagiarism
Let me clarify the issues at stake here. In haiku terms, the central issue is the difference between allusion and outright copying (whether intentional or unintentional). I’d like to be generous and assume that this is not a case of intentional and conscious plagiarism, but of accidentally repeating someone else’s words, in this instance Robert Hass’s prominent translation of Bashō’s prominent poem. And while cases like this may not involve deliberate plagiarism, they are still plagiarism even if they’re cryptomnesia, which is the phenomenon whereby one remembers someone else’s words but forgets the source of those words. Cryptomnesia can be insidious because an actual experience often triggers the memory of someone else’s words because those words fit the experience so well. But when you don’t realize that you’re remembering rather than creating the words that fit that experience, you succumb to an unwitting act of plagiarism. Worse yet, it can be next to impossible to tell the difference between true creation and merely remembering someone else’s already fitting words for a particular experience (the fact that it can be difficult to feel that difference does not excuse plagiarism in the slightest, please note).
Seeing a bird’s legs getting shorter in water after a rainy period is a case in point. Bashō has already written about that (for the sake of poetic effect, it does not make much difference that he wrote about a crane rather than a heron). What Bashō wrote is a memorable and widely quoted poem. And so, forever after, anyone seeing that experience, when publishing his or her haiku, must surely defer to Bashō as having already written definitively about that experience. One has to write in a sufficiently fresh way about that experience, or write about a different experience to avoid this problem. Ernie Berry has not done either with his heron poem. What’s more, he entered the poem into a contest as if it were his own. What would you call that?
In contrast to plagiarism, allusion is where you refer to an existing poem, place, or event to enlarge the context of what your poem says. Allusion is not to be confused with parody, where one uses an existing poem, but changes it in significant ways, typically to have fun with the poem, or to poke fun at some other target (although parody, of course, still “alludes” to something else). For example, when Alan Pizzarelli changes Nick Virgilio’s famous lily poem to say “her suit” instead of “itself,” he radically transforms the poem from referring to a flower to one that refers to a buck-naked bathing beauty named Lily: “Lily: / out of the water . . . / out of her suit.” While this is similar to allusion, in that it brings to mind the other poem, parody is a form of deliberate revision where the full effect of “getting” the poem requires that the reader know the original poem—and to know that someone else has written that other poem. Everyone is in on the trick, in on the joke. Again, that wasn’t what Ernie was doing in his use of the Bashō poem, where he seems to have no intent at all to add to Bashō’s poem, and no intent for readers to think of Bashō’s poem when reading his. It’s not a conversation between poems at all, but a restatement of Bashō’s words and experience with Ernie’s name after them. Quite simply, it isn’t his poem. But by putting his name after the poem, Ernie clearly intended to pass the poem off as if he wrote it.
In his gem of a book, The Little Book of Plagiarism (New York: Pantheon Books, 2007, in which I found the Donatus quotation that starts this essay), judge Richard A. Posner of the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals writes that “Concealment is at the heart of plagiarism” (17). Ernie’s poem conceals Bashō as the original author. Parody is not concealment because, as Posner adds, “the parodist will plant clues so numerous and unmistakable that the reader will recognize the copying, for otherwise the parody will not be recognized as a parody” (18). But there are no clues here that Ernie intends a parody, such as changing the original in some humourous way. Likewise, Posner tells us, “Allusion is not plagiarism, because the reader is expected to recognize the allusion” (18). Astute readers will recognize the source here, to be sure, but it’s not an allusion because the poem is, again, essentially a restatement of Bashō’s original poem, with only incidental differences (and I would suggest that even if one wishes to argue that the differences are more than incidental, enough of the rest of the poem is still excessively similar). Ernie Berry may have had the experience that he describes, but he has not used original words to describe that experience. He has stolen Bashō’s words for that experience (in Hass’s translation). Quite simply, Ernie Berry has plagiarized. And the plagiarism does not end here. Rather, this is one of many examples that show a most unfortunate pattern of plagiarism.
No One Owns Experience
Yet no one owns experience, so what are we to do? That is the endless challenge with haiku and experience. The solution is to write from the heart, to write as freshly as possible, and, before publishing, to know the literature as best as one can to prevent oneself from submitting poems that are too similar to existing poems (and to accept the help of editors and contest administrators in pointing out excessive similarities—as was offered here by the North Carolina Poetry Society, yet objected to defensively by Ernie in response). It’s also vital to keep good records of one’s drafts, submissions, and publications, to help prevent sloppy repetitions or the submission of previously published work.
From his experience, would Ernie have come up with the words on his own for the heron’s legs getting shorter, or did the presence of the words in his subconscious mind make him aware of the experience when it happened? I have little doubt that Ernie saw a tall bird that seemed to be shorter in the water after rain. But Bashō has already written a poem about that, and not just any old poem, but a definitive and memorable one. And even if it were an obscure poem, it would likely still be cryptomnesia if Ernie had read that poem, as I believe is the case here with Hass’s book. Furthermore, even if he had not read an obscure poem on this subject, the problem would still remain that his version is excessively similar, and thus a copyright infringement of Hass’s translation (if not others). The case for plagiarism is even stronger when the poem is not obscure, as in this case, and stronger yet when the translation in question is from one of the most prominent and widely selling books of haiku translation yet published in the English language—one that Ernie surely has read.
So from all angles, there’s no defense here. One should simply apologize, withdraw the poem, and move on—as is done even by prominent haiku masters in Japan, as well as by those who are less prominent. Haiku is short enough that we are bound to repeat each other with independently created haiku, and these are withdrawn in Japan if they are found to be excessively similar to existing poems. But of course such acts are relevant to truly independent creation, which isn’t the case here. Ernie readily admits the similarity to Bashō and—in his words—the “lack of originality” in his version. Yet, by defending himself despite the similarity, Ernie has not demonstrated any sort of graciousness.
From a decade of being a judge and organizer with the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival’s annual Haiku Invitational contest—for haiku on the theme of cherry blossoms—I know from reading thousands of cherry blossom haiku how easy it is to repeat what others have already thought and written. So many of the entries fail to see freshly, and repeat the common tropes of equating falling cherry blossoms to confetti or snow. It’s been done to death. Some of these poems can be okay, but the best haiku on the theme of cherry blossoms see far more freshly than that. This is a case of sharing the same topic in haiku (as with other kigo, or season words), but this by itself is not plagiarism, parody, or allusion. Again, Ernie’s poem is not merely on the same topic as Bashō’s poem. Rather, the central experience and the expression of that experience are both too similar to an existing poem, in this case the translation by Robert Hass. For comparison, here’s Tom Lowenstein’s translation, from Classic Haiku (London: Duncan Baird Publishers, 2007; 66):
and the crane’s legs
have grown shorter
And here is Hart Larrabee’s translation from Haiku: Classic Japanese Short Poems (New York: Chartwell Books, 2016; 9):
The crane’s legs
Grow shorter in the
Early summer rain
Ernie’s criticism of Hass’s translation misses one point, which is that Bashō wrote in Japanese about the heron’s legs getting shorter, and it’s the Japanese that matters first—and the experience behind it. Ernie’s poem is too similar to the concepts in the Japanese original, and could be compared to many different translations, such as the Lowenstein one. Hass’s is just one of them, albeit the most similar or prominent one. So one could argue that Ernie’s poem fails by not seeing freshly in terms of experience and in not respecting the literature about that experience. I care about these matters. A second and separate point is the direct similarity not just to the experience that Bashō rendered in Japanese, but the similarity of a particular translator’s translation of the original poem, which is significantly similar. Let’s please call a spade a spade, and consider that plagiarism.
Posner writes that “The reader has to care about being deceived about authorial identity in order for the deceit to cross the line to fraud and thus constitute plagiarism” (20). Certainly, in Ernie’s case of ripping off Bashō, we care. And if anyone does not care, they should.
Robert Hass’s Translation
I find it telling that Ernie criticizes the translation that his poem is the most similar to, as if to suggest that his “version” is acceptable because it’s “better.” But that’s fundamentally irrelevant. For all of the “failings” that Ernie believes to exist in Hass’s version, it was Hass’s translation that came to mind for Ernie, in what seems like an obvious case of cryptomnesia. So Hass’s version clearly succeeded by being memorable to Ernie. I doubt that this was a deliberate plagiarism, so it has to be accidental plagiarism—but it’s still plagiarism. It doesn’t matter how deeply and how long one might live and breathe haiku, either; plagiarism is still plagiarism.
Later in this essay I’ll look a little closer at Hass’s version, and will explore the fact that the quality of one version versus the other is irrelevant to whether plagiarism has occurred. Perhaps Hass’s version is a little wordy. And yes, it does read as a single sentence, with no cut, but the original Japanese does not have a cut, so Ernie is wrong to criticize Hass’s version for reading as a single sentence. But all of this is utterly beside the point—Ernie has copied it, even if by an act of faulty memory. Even if he has improved on it, he has presented it as his own haiku, which of course it isn’t. That offends me, and it should offend other readers too, if they are to take the act of creative expression and publication through haiku as professionally and as seriously as possible. Thank goodness the North Carolina Poetry Society took offense enough to rescind Ernie’s award for this poem.
Posner observes that “there seem always to be people willing to leap to the defense of the detected plagiarist” (92), as there may well be for Ernie Berry—and they may do so by comparing Ernie’s version with Hass’s, perhaps dwelling on what’s different rather than on what’s the same. Such defense may speak more to how much we may appreciate Ernie as a person, and appreciate the quality of his nonplagiarized work. But that needs no defense. The plagiarism remains, and is still plagiarism.
The North Carolina Poetry Society’s Response
Perhaps the case could be made that Ernie’s poem is not even a sufficiently original translation, still being too similar to an existing translation. However, if Ernie had offered his heron poem as a translation of Bashō, I would have said bravo, because it does an excellent job of rendering the original experience (but lacking the seasonal reference in the original, so a notch weaker on that point, not to mention changing the bird species). But he offered the heron poem as his own original haiku, which strikes me as fraud, especially when trying to win contest money in such an effort.
Posner says that “A judgment of plagiarism requires that the copying, besides being deceitful in the sense of misleading the intended readers, induce reliance by them” (19), something that he refers to as “detrimental reliance.” Readers rely on Ernie’s poem to be his own original creation. To violate that reliance by appropriating a significant amount of text from another writer (or translator), and passing it off as his own, is simply fraudulent.
The North Carolina Poetry Society’s website removed its reference to Ernie as the third prize winner of the 2014 Griffin-Farlow Haiku Award (see http://www.ncpoetrysociety.org/winners/), but the poem does still appear (on page 53) in Pinesong, the printed anthology of various 2014 NCPS contest winners. Richard Krawiec, a well-established haiku poet who is also a board member of the society, discovered the infraction and immediately brought it to the society’s attention, although this did not occur until after the book was printed. The society made the right choice by rescinding the award and not awarding the prize money. But it could go farther by putting a sticker over the poem in the printed anthology, or by inserting an errata sheet. If it explained the reason for the disqualification of the poem, doing so would send a clear and necessary message to others who might enter the same contest or other contests. The society could also find a new third-place winner to replace the one that would have been there were it not for Ernie’s deception—a poet who has been directly harmed by Ernie’s action.
On behalf of poets everywhere, the North Carolina Poetry Society has a duty to act professionally and to demonstrate zero tolerance for plagiarism. It has not (yet?) gone far enough in correcting the problem, and could also employ more experienced haiku judges who would more likely spot problems of appropriation. The resolution on the matter quoted by NCPS board member Richard Krawiec (see https://poetrysociety.org.nz/affiliates/haiku-nz/haiku-poems-articles/archived-articles/how-close-is-too-close/) is as follows:
The majority decision is that most haiku poets would want to be told if they submitted as original work a poem that so closely parallels the published work of another poet. We also agree that such a close resemblance would disqualify the later poem from being published as original work under existing Copyright law. Since (Berry’s) poem so closely parallels the Haas [sic; they should have said Hass] translation of Basho in The Essential Haiku (published by Ecco Press, Penguin Books Canada, and Bloodaxe Books, Ireland) we unfortunately must withdraw the award to minimize any potential conflict with those publishers.
This shall be the NCPS sole response, ie. no public notice via Emuse or web posting. If people should later remark on the poems’ similarity we simply provide them with this response to Mr. Berry and the two web links. [Richard clarifies that “The reference to ‘web links’ refers to columns written on plagiarism in haiku by Sandra Simpson [see https://poetrysociety.org.nz/affiliates/haiku-nz/haiku-poems-articles/archived-articles/cleaning-up-our-act/], and another by Michael Dylan Welch [see https://poetrysociety.org.nz/affiliates/haiku-nz/haiku-poems-articles/archived-articles/a-spades-a-spade-plagiarism-and-deja-ku/].”]
Despite this being voted as their “sole response” on the issue (and voted on unanimously, Richard indicates), I would suggest that the organization needs to go farther in decrying the fraud of submitting plagiarized poems for its contests. They might also ban Ernie Berry from submitting ever again, a ban that other contests and journals might also consider.
Translations versus Rip-offs
It also misses the point, perhaps more deeply than anything Ernie has written about this issue, to hold up Hiroaki Sato’s One Hundred Frogs to cite all the different variations of Bashō’s famous frog poem there. Those are nearly all translations of one single poem, and everyone knows that it’s Bashō’s poem—except for the obvious parodies or take-offs also included in the book, which are instead obvious allusions, not even counting the context of being included in Sato’s book. Translations of one single poem have nothing at all to do with another poet trying to pass off another poet’s poem as his or her own, which is what Ernie has done. Nor do they have anything to do with a new poem alluding to an older poem. To misunderstand this distinction seems like a massive failure of logic, sorry to say. More on this misunderstanding later.
When Sandra Simpson wrote earlier about issues of plagiarism and what I’ve dubbed “déjà-ku” (haiku that bring to mind other poems in both good and bad ways), she referred to a well-known poet who advocated the reuse of other people’s work. Here is what Sandra wrote (see https://poetrysociety.org.nz/affiliates/haiku-nz/haiku-poems-articles/archived-articles/cleaning-up-our-act/):
A number of years ago when I was a still a fresh-faced newcomer to haiku I was at a workshop listening to a senior poet who said words to the effect that “if you see a line or phrase you like, write it down and reuse it” and “if you change one word in a haiku, it’s yours”. I can still remember the frisson of shock that went round the room, generated by the more experienced members of the audience. No one said anything but the disapproval was palpable.
She adds that “It seems to me now that it was an opportunity missed. Disagreement should have been voiced—it may not have deterred the speaker, but it would have set things straight for the less-experienced writers.” In my response to Sandra’s essay, I speculated that that well-known poet might have been Cid Corman. But the other shoe has now dropped. It is obvious that Sandra was referring to Ernie Berry, and she has confirmed with me that this is the case. That fact seems even more obvious when her essay also quotes the following poems under the heading of “Cryptomnesia”:
a pine cone waddles
toward the shore
Allan Burns, The Heron’s Nest IX.1, 2007
a pine cone waddles
to the pond
Ernest J. Berry, Third Prize, Kaji Aso Competition 2012 (see http://www.kajiasostudio.com/webroot/haikuContest_2012.cfm); also in Inside Out: Home and Garden Sequences (no place or publisher, no date (2016?). p. 25, from a PDF ebook available at http://www.thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/items/show/1806)
If I were Allan, I would feel ripped off. As a reader, I feel deceived. But wait, there’s more. Take a look at this pair of poems (Sandra shared them with me via email on 8 July 2014):
in the cat’s mouth
keeps on singing
Vanessa Proctor, A to Zazen: Haiku Anthology by the Zazen Group, Vanessa Proctor, ed. Tauranga, New Zealand: Kiwiana Publishing, 2004, p. 56 (Ernie is a member of this group and his poems appeared in the same volume)
the cicada in its teeth
Ernest J. Berry, Honorable Mention, Kaji Aso Studio Contest, 2006 (see http://www.kajiasostudio.com/webroot/haikuContest_2006.cfm; and despite clear evidence of plagiarism, the poem continues to appear on the New Zealand Poetry Society’s showcase page for Ernie at https://poetrysociety.org.nz/affiliates/haiku-nz/nz-haiku-showcase/ernest-j-berry/)
Has your jaw dropped yet? It should. There’s clearly a precedent here, and to me the plagiarism is egregious. In addition to this evidence of a pattern of plagiarism (even if truly “accidental,” via cryptomnesia, although still plagiarism), let me add the following examples, to show an even deeper pattern:
after the quake
pointing to earth
Michael Dylan Welch, Frogpond XIII:1, February 1990, p. 23 (and widely published in numerous other books and journals before the following poem).
a frozen weathervane
points to his grave
Ernest J. Berry, Haiku Headlines #136, 12:4, July 1999, p. 1.
old folks’ home—
the square of light
crosses the room
Michael Dylan Welch, Harvest (Haiku North America anthology), 1991, p. 15. Also in Haiku World, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1996, p. 315.
the window takes 2 1/4 hours
to cross the carpet
Ernest J. Berry, Haiku Wine (written with an’ya). Prineville, Oregon: The Natal*Light Press, 2003. p. 52; also second place winner in the 2000 Jack Stamm Award. The poem also appears in Haiku, Green Tea & Sushi (Blenheim, New Zealand: Prisma Print, 2016), p. 141, but all flush left, with “convalescing” spelled correctly and followed by an ellipsis, and with the length of time reduced to just “2 hours.” [Note: The intended indents of some poems are not appearing correctly in parts of this essay.]
the window takes 12 minutes
to cross the carpet
Ernest J. Berry, Inside Out: Home and Garden Sequences. No place or publisher, no date (2016?), p. 11 (from a PDF ebook available at http://www.thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/items/show/1806); also in Getting On. Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2016, p. 24 (without the tilde); note that to fully cross the carpet of a room, twelve minutes would surely not be possible, which indicates sloppiness (or invention rather than experience), so that would explain the more accurate variation in the 2003 version, but does not explain the retained “12 minutes” in the two 2016 versions.
stained glass saints cross
the altar cloth
Ernest J. Berry, Haiku Wine (written with an’ya). Prineville, Oregon: The Natal*Light Press, 2003. p. 72 (note that this is in the same book as the previous example, indicating a ready willingness to repeat even himself).
I know of the preceding examples because they are similar to my own prior poems. And I have to wonder: What other poems by Ernie are too similar to poems by other poets? A one-off accident may be forgivable, especially if the offender makes amends. Or maybe even two accidents are forgivable. But a repeated pattern of such “accidents” points to a fundamental misunderstanding of the issues and responsibilities involved, especially when coupled with comments such as Ernie saying “I frequently confuse what I’ve read or heard with what I originated” (see https://poetrysociety.org.nz/affiliates/haiku-nz/haiku-poems-articles/archived-articles/how-close-is-too-close/), and even more so when he says “if you see a line or phrase you like, write it down and reuse it” and “if you change one word in a haiku, it’s yours” (quoted above). I’m appalled that anyone would be teaching this irresponsible thinking to anyone. This is grossly misguided thinking, and even suggests that Ernie knew he was appropriating others, and was attempting to set up a defense for it. But there’s no defense for plagiarism such as this.
There’s even further evidence that Ernie’s “reuse” of poems by others is willful, even when not outright plagiarism. In Forgotten War: Bulldozers Remove the Memorial (Post Pressed), 2000 (a second edition of the original book, under a new title, featuring haiku about the Korean War), Ernie provides the following statement: “Haiku nos 25, 70, 86, 116, & 131 were influenced to some degree by the book Haiku Iz Rata 1995 by the Croatian Haiku Association” (3). Such an acknowledgment indicates that Ernie knows better (or at least knew better at one time) than to steal willfully. This reference to intentional borrowing is evidence, therefore, that at least some of Ernie’s later acts of plagiarism are unintentional, even if they resulted from sloppy record-keeping or advancing age (one of his latest haiku books, published by Red Moon Press in 2016, is tilted Getting On, which we might easily take to mean “getting on in age”—Ernie was born in 1929). Nevertheless, it is worth looking a little more closely at the war poems that Ernie says “influenced” him. Here are the five poems from Forgotten War on the left paired with poems from Haiku Iz Rata: War Haiku (Marijan Čekolj, editor, Samobor, Croatia: Croatian Haiku Society, 1995) on the right that I believe were the influencing poems (bear in mind that these translations are sometimes a little awkward):
refugees wearing their homes
he wears a hat only in their eyes—
she the home the refugees
Robert Bebek (22)
ancient temple the destroyed roof
without a roof of a church—look at
the night sky the sky the same
Alojz Buljan (27)
pronounced dead A fallen soldier.
the continuing tick How loud the ticking
of his watch of the watch.
Enes Kišević (44)
waif Out of the crowd—
the eyes the big eyes of a girl
ask why asking just: why?
Emilija Kovać (45)
lilies on his cross early frost On the chrysanthemum
. at the grave of a warrior
. too early frost
Tomislav Maretić (49)
It may be a bit of an understatement to say that the earlier poems “influenced” the later ones in Forgotten War. Rather, each of Ernie’s poems might be considered as “rewrites” of the other poems. Some observers might equate this, if they wish to be generous, to an art student taking an easel into a gallery to copy a great master’s painting, for the sake of learning. But I don’t think that’s the situation here. Rather, in writing his own often powerful poems about his Korean war experience, Ernie found inspiration in the haiku poems from another war and wrote his own versions of some of them, with no intent of learning as a painter might do when trying to repaint a master painting. Trying to rewrite another poet’s poems may well prove instructive, but I would not seek to publish such poems, unless the new poet cites his or her sources or explains the process. Ernie did exactly that here, which is better than nothing, although some readers might still find the poems to be too similar, regardless of the acknowledgment. But this might have been acceptable if it had stopped here, or if future poems also acknowledged sources where an allusion isn’t obvious. But that has not been the case.
It has been said that poetry is a conversation, with each new poem contributing to the dialog. Responding to another poem, or even riffing off it by going in a new direction, has a long and respected history among poets. In that sense, Ernie’s war poems, with a citation of their influences, might be considered acceptable. They also connect his often powerful and moving Korean war haiku with the more recent war in Croatia—itself a sad statement about human nature and the persistence of war. If Ernie had cited sources for all of his other poems at issue in later contests and journals, the issues under discussion here would at least be minimized (provided that he did not submit these “rewrites” or “riffs” to contests, where one does not expect to cite influences), but this repeated practice, even if sources are cited, still raises red flags.
In any case, the war poems are not an isolated instance of “borrowing.” If it were, I would not bat an eyelid at Ernie’s appropriate acknowledgment of his sources. However, when seen in the larger picture of other borrowings, especially where no source or influence is cited, my sense is that the poems in Forgotten War are an early marker of an emerging pattern. I appreciate Ernie’s acknowledgment of his sources at least in this case. Nevertheless, with at least some of his poems, he later exhibits a clear habit of crossing the line beyond mere inspiration and allusion to excessive copying of work by other poets, and presenting them as wholly his own. Even when a rare acknowledgment of sources occurs, as in Forgotten War, it contributes to a pattern of blurring the lines between what may be acceptable and what is not.
Furthermore, such patterns of deception warrant correction, and if the poet won’t correct himself, then it’s up to the community to offer its corrections—just as the North Carolina Poetry Society did by rescinding its award. The Kaji Aso haiku contest might also want to rescind the awards it gave Ernie in 2006 and 2012 for his poems that are remarkably and significantly similar to the 2004 poem by Vanessa Proctor and the 2007 poem by Allan Burns. We may now wonder about similarities in other publications, and in other contests (Ernie enters haiku contests more than anyone I know, so there’s a financial issue at stake here, not just legal and moral concerns). While surely most of Ernie’s poems are not plagiarized, the shadow of a question mark has now descended upon them, and the haiku community can no longer rely on their originality.
I recall a line of Nola Borrell’s poem, “Classic Haiku: A New Zealand Perspective” (see http://www.graceguts.com/poems-about-haiku/classic-haiku-a-new-zealand-perspective), in which she says “look at Ernie who can write / forty haiku without leaving his desk / and wins all the competitions.” She deliberately invokes the term “desk haiku” as a pejorative in referring to Ernie’s prolific writing and “contest-whoring”—and the “Ernie” reference is clearly New Zealander Ernie Berry. I have no objection to writing from various influences and with well-crafted allusion (see my essay “How Do You Write Haiku” at http://www.graceguts.com/essays/how-do-you-write-haiku), but plagiarism is not among them.
On the similarity between Ernie’s 2012 Kaji Aso contest poem and the prior poem by Allan Burns, Ernie wrote (see https://poetrysociety.org.nz/affiliates/haiku-nz/haiku-poems-articles/archived-articles/cleaning-up-our-act/), “Was I aware of the first haiku? There are degrees of awareness. I read so many haiku that I don’t always know if what I’ve written is mine or if I’ve read it somewhere. It’s a hazard and it’s always worrying me. The last thing any artist wants is to be accused of plagiarism or even suspected of it.” Well, apparently Ernie hasn’t been worrying enough. And I think, by necessity, we’ve moved beyond suspicion and accusation to conclusion: Ernie Berry has plagiarized. Repeatedly.
Negligence versus Accident
It’s also interesting to note the timing of the preceding comment about the hazard of plagiarism that is “always worrying him.” It was published on the New Zealand Poetry Society site in October of 2013, thus it was obviously written and on his mind before then. Yet the deadline for the North Carolina Poetry Society’s haiku contest was not until 10 January 2014, so Ernie was not even following his own advice to be vigilant. Since I have no reason to believe in intentional plagiarism here, the timing of this particular misstep underscores the likelihood that his copying was not deliberate but accidental—or rather, negligent.
There’s a pattern to this negligence, though, and it smacks of sloppiness, if not greed. On 24 September 2016, on Facebook, Alenka Zorman publically posted results from the 18th Apokalipsa Association haiku contest in Slovenia. First prize (tied) was given to Ernest J. Berry for this poem:
a wisp of baby hair
Yet compare this to another of Ernie’s poems, which won first place in the 2008 James W. Hackett haiku competition sponsored by the British Haiku Society, and was also reprinted in the 2008 Red Moon Anthology, White Lies (Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2009, 16):
a wisp of baby hair
It’s a wonderful poem, in either version, but it’s really the same poem, and thus violated the later contest’s requirement that entries be unpublished. Accordingly, on learning about this violation (not from me), the Apokalipsa Association immediately rescinded the award, and notified Ernie, but who knows if the message is getting through to him. See Sandra Simpson’s 28 September 2016 discussion of this poem on her blog at https://breathhaiku.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/errors-made/. Such recycling, even with a variation, seems vastly inappropriate for contests—and very poor judgment. Or maybe it’s sloppiness. Or greed.
As already mentioned, Ernest Berry was born in 1929, so we may wonder if mental health is an issue here. Since I have never met him in person, I am hesitant to speculate, but I would suggest that such possibilities, even if true now, do not explain the length of this repeated pattern, which seems to have begun fifteen or twenty years ago. Nor is senility or Alzheimer’s an excuse for plagiarism. Furthermore, even as he nears 90 years of age, he remains perfectly capable of submitting poems to numerous contests and journals, and has recently published several books, which surely would be difficult, if not impossible, with any mental challenges. Ernie shows tremendous enthusiasm for the haiku art, as so many of its addicts do, but this enthusiasm needs to be tempered with responsibility, which includes keeping careful records of submissions, and to think more rigorously about the influences upon one’s poems and whether one should seek to publish poems that are clearly influenced by other sources in ways that are not allusion.
Here’s yet another example of reuse, and again it’s a sloppy and unethical reuse of the same poem (or nearly so) in two different contests. In the 2016 British Haiku Society’s haiku contest, the judges gave a “special mention” to the following poem by Ernie:
one liquidambar leaf
Yet almost exactly the same poem, also by Ernie, placed in the 2014 Yamadera Bashō Memorial Museum English Haiku Contest (on page 40 of their PDF results booklet, available at https://www.slideshare.net/debeljackitatjana/6th-yamadera-basho-memorial-museum-english-haiku-contest-38019468):
one liquidambar’s last leaf
One cannot help but roll one’s eyes. Because of Ernie’s violation of the contest rules, his poem has been removed from the BHS contest results (available at http://britishhaikusociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/RESULTS-OF-THE-BRITISH-HAIKU-AWARDS-2016-edited-Copy.pdf).
And yet there’s more, returning to what many readers would consider plagiarism of others. Ernie’s latest book, Haiku, Green Tea & Sushi (Blenheim, New Zealand: Prisma Print, 2016), offers this poem (7):
the names of the dead
For my tastes this is excessively similar to Eric Amann’s classic poem:
The names of the dead
sinking deeper and deeper
into the red leaves
Amann’s poem is famous. It won grand prize in the 1978 Yukuharu Haiku Contest, the first haiku contest sponsored by what is now the Yuki Teikei Haiku Society in California, judged by the preeminent Japanese haiku master, Shugyō Takaha. It also appeared in the society’s Haiku Journal, and was published in Amann’s book Cicada Voices: Selected Haiku of Eric Amann, 1966–1979 (Battle Ground, Indiana: High/Coo Press, 1983, 38). It further appears in several anthologies, notably in the second and third editions of Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology. Ernie has surely seen the poem in at least one of these incarnations. Yet he seems to feel no hesitation in “borrowing” as freely as he likes.
This next example may be independent creation, but it still illustrates a pattern. The following poem is also from Haiku, Green Tea & Sushi (159):
the top of a kangaroo
For me this is too similar to Carlos Colón’s “ground fog / a pair of headlines / leaving the cemetery” (Brocade of Leaves, Foster City, California: Press Here, 2003, 12). Even if one does not consider the similarity excessive (perhaps it could be considered an amusing parody), the preponderance of examples like this suggests repeated influences that Ernie is sloppy with. It could well be that this is a case of independent creation, but numerous other examples are clearly not independent.
What does Ernie gain from these infractions, especially when they result from plagiarizing others if not the recycling of his own poems? What does he gain by plagiarizing Bashō? Perhaps there is a better question to ask. Posner writes that “harm results not from the plagiarism but from its discovery” (44). Thus, it would seem better to ask, who has Ernie harmed? At the very least, he has harmed another poet who could have had his or her poem selected for each contest, as already mentioned—a moral, ethical, and financial harm. But the harm does not stop there. He also harms the contest organizers who have to deal with a thorny and unsavory situation. Ernie also harms the haiku community in general by disrespecting another poet’s original expression (the fact that it’s a Bashō poem simply made the infraction more easily discoverable, not more important). He also harms himself by diminishing the reliability readers may place on his haiku. Finally, Ernie harms haiku as a genre, if his behavior is considered tolerable in the haiku community when it would be grounds for disciplinary action in other settings, such as expulsion from college or job termination.
We may also wonder about Ernie’s motives, but it’s probably more relevant to wonder about the causes of this situation. I’ve already said that I do not think the plagiarism is willful, but I do not understand why he would resubmit old poems in direct violation of contest rules. Perhaps the problem here can be explained by what is known as Hanlon’s Razor, a philosophical way of eliminating unlikely explanations for a phenomenon. As Robert J. Hanlon once said, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Instead of stupidity, we might say sloppiness or incompetence, and they have produced most unfortunate consequences.
Ernie had four other poems selected for the 18th Apokalipsa contest, and now they can’t be trusted. Ernie’s rip-off of Bashō seems (one hopes) to be a clear case of accidental copying, via cryptomnesia, but, as Posner notes, “Plagiarism can be deliberate or negligent, but . . . it is never unavoidable” and emphasizes that “Negligent copying can do the same harm as deliberate” (78). Indeed, “negligent copying” is a more accurate and better term than “accidental copying” because “negligence” emphasizes the unfortunate consequences that result from such appropriation, and underscores the responsibilities that the usurper has neglected. The copyist still has the burden to prevent the consequences of his or her negligence. Where the term “accidental” would seem to absolve the copyist of wrongdoing or responsibility, it’s more accurate to recognize cryptomnesia as negligent rather than accidental. The negligence lies in the poet failing to recognize the prior expression, and the harm caused to others by the negligent version, whereas the term “accidental” suggests that the copyist could not help it, even to the point of seemingly having no duty to be responsible for recognizing prior expression or unintentional harm, or to make amends. As Posner points out, even negligent plagiarism is “never unavoidable.”
Nevertheless, I would agree that negligent copying is not quite as serious a problem as intentional copying—although it’s still very serious. And perhaps Ernie forgetfully copied himself with his “family bible” poem, rather than doing so willfully. As Posner puts it, “Unconscious plagiarism is a sin of neglect rather than of intention and, therefore, less blameworthy” (97), but he hastens to point out that “when plagiarists are caught they invariably argue that their plagiarism was unconscious” (97), as if attempting to lessen their crime, so to speak (and when it really wasn’t unconscious, such rationalizations diminish the relevance of actual cryptomnesia). In Ernie’s recycling of Bashō, Ernie himself does not have to argue that point, at least not with me, because I myself already believe the plagiarism was unconscious, or at least I hope it is. Nevertheless, we may still wonder if it was conscious and deliberate. I’m inclined to think it was not, because poetry as short as haiku readily lends itself to unconscious copying—an occupational hazard of this sort of poetry. However, it is still plagiarism, no matter how unconscious.
Ernie’s Attempt to Defend Himself
Let’s take a closer look at Ernie’s defensive response, from 2014. I’ll quote it here in its entirety (from https://poetrysociety.org.nz/affiliates/haiku-nz/haiku-poems-articles/archived-articles/how-close-is-too-close/), interspersed with my comments and corrections. I’m no doubt saying what most readers could conclude for themselves, but I’ll spell this all out anyway, leaving no stone unturned. Please note that words appearing in square brackets are also by Ernie, and that Sandra notes that she has made “minor modifications to change his distinctive email style into more readable English.”
A shocking, painful but not totally surprising experience which I can only explain as follows:
Should we presume it’s “not surprising” because he’s been aware of doing the same thing previously? I would wish no further pain on Ernie, but as I said in my previous essay on the matter (see https://poetrysociety.org.nz/affiliates/haiku-nz/haiku-poems-articles/archived-articles/a-spades-a-spade-plagiarism-and-deja-ku/), we should call a spade a spade, and not shoot the messenger who delivers the uncomfortable but responsible and necessary news. I do want to sympathize with Ernie that this experience is shocking and painful to him, but he has brought it upon himself—and he doesn’t make things easier on himself with the rest of his defense. To wit:
After 2 decades of total immersion in haiku I tend to fantasise it, dream it, think it, talk it, read and write it to the exclusion of nearly all other creative activity to the point where I frequently confuse what I’ve read or heard with what I originated.
So what? Ernie is hardly alone in immersing himself in haiku like this, although others seem to do a much better job (most often perfect) of not confusing the memory of someone else’s work with their own original creation—even those who have been at it far longer, and just as prolifically. However, it does not matter whether one has been living the haiku life for two minutes or twenty years—or two hundred, for that matter. The fact remains that confusing what you’ve read with what you’ve originated is no defense. It’s still plagiarism. Indeed, the longer a person has been at the haiku game, the less tolerant we should be of this sort of error. A poet who takes his or her art seriously will learn how to behave professionally and responsibly. We may be inclined to be more tolerant of this issue among those who are new to haiku, but those who have been at it longer should be held to a higher standard. Here Ernie is really saying that he’s sloppy at keeping things straight, and I personally feel that such sloppiness violates the trust I believe poets have in each other to present work that’s as original as possible while also making effective allusions as part of poetic conversation. We can no longer rely on Ernie’s poetry as being original, even if the great majority is. At least Ernie admits that he “frequently” confuses what he’s read with what he’s originated. I wish his comments had stopped there, that he had graciously withdrawn his poem, admitted to other similar cases, withdrew those poems too (and returned prize money where relevant), and humbly apologized. That could easily put the matter to rest, along with future diligence—and I’d suggest the same course of action to anyone else (even myself) if they happened to do the same thing. But, alas, he goes on:
This is similar to my [and countless others’] experience with Shakespeare . . . almost everybody unwittingly uses the bard’s words and phrases (which constitute about 85% of our language) without acknowledgement.
This is a massive and wanton misunderstanding of the issue of plagiarism. For starters, it’s not unwittingly. And quoting Shakespeare is exactly that—quoting him. Ernie was not intending to “quote” Bashō. He was fraudulently offering Bashō’s words as his own, even if an actual experience of herons rather than cranes changed one of the poem’s essentially arbitrary details. Quoting is not plagiarism in the slightest. And when people quote Shakespeare in everyday speech, they employ bits and pieces, not whole soliloquies, and never claim them to be their own writing. Nor do they claim contest winnings with such arrogance. And in printed text, they put these bits in quotation marks or, when quotation marks are omitted, they use material that is now so common as to be known as Shakespeare’s words (as with any effective allusion) or that has so thoroughly entered the language as to no longer need attribution. To make a claim of plagiarism against those who quote Shakespeare is naïve and laughable, which is why no one seriously does that. Many phrases from Shakespeare have entered the language, but it’s absurd to consider it plagiarism whenever one says “a fool’s paradise” (where Ernie seems to be living) or any of a hundred similar phrases (you can see a list of these at http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/phrases-sayings-shakespeare.html). Furthermore, to alter or quote certain Shakespeare phrases where people do recognize the source is actually parody or allusion, and again not plagiarism, such as when I say “To pee or not to pee” or “to write plagiarized haiku or not to write plagiarized haiku.” If I were to think that merely quoting Shakespeare was plagiarism, I would be mortally embarrassed by such a misunderstanding. But I’d also be very grateful to learn of my error so that I might correct it.
Ernie’s percentage is way off, too. At http://www.folger.edu/template.cfm?cid=3762, the Folger Shakespeare Library indicates that Shakespeare’s vocabulary, while large, was similar to rather than greater than the vocabularies of his contemporary writers. What’s more, the number of words in the English language is vastly greater than all the words Shakespeare used—about ten to twenty times greater. Nevertheless, let’s leave Ernie’s careless percentage alone, except to note that it’s a symptom of faulty logic, a faultiness that rears its ugly head in other statements.
Thus I had not the faintest idea that I was quoting anybody – let alone the recognisable Basho when I wrote the verse in question – to do so would have [as it turned out to be] been poetic suicide.
It’s high time Ernie started having some of those faintest ideas that he has plagiarized other poets, and not just the Japanese masters. Note, too, that Ernie admits that the Bashō poem is recognizable. He refers to the act of “quoting” Bashō (let’s presume he means doing so deliberately) as poetic suicide. I’m not sure about that, although Ernie himself thinks so with his parenthetical comment (again, the comments in square brackets are Ernie’s), but he does at least recognize the dire consequences of passing off the poem as his own. Yet the direness of those consequences have apparently not deterred him in his pattern of appropriation, not to mention what I now know to be his stated advice to deliberately “reuse” phrases by others if you like them, and that changing one word somehow makes the poem yours—a problem also evident in the haiku of fellow Down Under poets Graham Nunn and Vuong Pham (see https://rochfordstreetreview.com/tag/vuong-pham/, among other sources), who we may now wonder if Ernie had influenced.
As a quick aside here, I should point out that Jane Reichhold has shared similarly misguided advice. In her book Writing and Enjoying Haiku (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2002), she says that someone else “Changing one word or inverting the line order makes the poem new, and no longer yours” (90). In his review of Reichhold’s book, from Modern Haiku 34:2 (Summer 2003), William J. Higginson wrote of this statement that “While some participants in grammar school haiku contests may try this, such deliberate plagiarisms soon come to light if published, and are universally despised throughout the literary world, not just the narrow niche of haiku” (see http://www.modernhaiku.org/bookreviews/reichhold2003.html). Indeed, Reichhold’s stance is deeply misguided, and fails to understand the context of honkadori, or allusive variation, where readers would know the source poem and know that such changes employ allusion—and usually amount to much more than merely changing one word.
In any case, for Ernie to call what he did “quoting” is not accurate. When I quote a source, I routinely cite the source or I expect the audience to be informed enough to know the source or allusion (that distinction, in fact, is the art of allusion versus quotation). Again, I wish Ernie had stopped here, if not earlier, admitted his mistake, among other mistakes, and withdrew the poem. But again, he goes on:
Since you have been to my Picton home, you may recall our ‘resident’ herons – the blue, white-faced and white [kotuku] which it was my privilege to contemplate and haiku-ise in all seasons year after year in the course of which I employed every available phrase to idolise our avian icon.
Ernie now turns defensive, first by appealing to camaraderie, as if to elicit sympathy (“you wouldn’t turn on a chum, would you?”), or so it feels—if one wants to be cynical. Let’s try to avoid such cynicism and consider Ernie’s reference to Sandra having visited his home as being purely a fact. However, what follows is then an attempt to defend his use of words to describe the heron. Actually, this is natural, and I’ve seen exactly the same step taken by others in defense of their plagiarism (usually cryptomnesia). As mentioned before, Posner says that plagiarists invariably point to unconscious plagiarism (cryptomnesia) because it’s “less blameworthy” (97). Any extended experience with herons or cranes is sooner or later bound to come to that experience, the one that Bashō wrote about. And there are obvious words one would have to use to describe elements of that experience. But Ernie’s description of his experience with herons is clutching at straws. The main problem remains that Ernie’s version of expression is excessively similar to Hass’s version, and that he’s passed it off as his own writing rather than Bashō’s, a moral problem that is much aside from the legal problem of seemingly infringing on Robert Hass’s copyright. Too much is similar, and even partly identical. If nothing else, it’s an ethical violation. But, as Posner notes, “Plagiarism that infringes copyright adds a clear legal violation to an ethical violation” (48). Note that Ernie refers to employing “every available phrase to idolise” the heron. Apparently, employing every available phrase includes stealing someone else’s words, and too many of them—in a manner that, unflinchingly, we should call plagiarism.
Again, Ernie would have done himself a favour if he had stopped there, but he digs an even deeper hole for himself, which Richard Krawiec rightly refers to as petty (Richard could have said other things, too, and I’ll go ahead and say them for him in a moment):
Even had I been aware of maiku’s lack of originality,
Let’s stop here for a moment. The idiosyncratic term “maiku” is presumably Ernie’s term for his haiku (his emails are often far more idiosyncratic and cryptic than this). I’m guessing here, because I do not know what he means by the term, or what he’s trying to differentiate it from. Does he write his versions of other people’s haiku as a routine habit? (Thank goodness Sandra has already made modifications to change Ernie’s “distinctive email style” into more comprehensible English, but she hasn’t changed anything here.) I did a search online, hoping to find some widespread or even obscure precedent for the term “maiku” in relation to haiku that I was somehow unaware of. Instead, at the Urban Dictionary site (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Maiku), I found this definition of the term: “A short, often nonsensical remark, used as a defense mechanism to sustain the self-absorbed notion that one’s own perception of reality—misguided and uninformed as it may be—is consistently superior to the collective intelligence of the global Internet community.” I’m not making this up. And I’m trying not to laugh. Yet this seems to be exactly what Ernie is doing—self-absorbed defense mechanism and all—even though he surely intends a different meaning for the term, perhaps merely meaning “my haiku” by using the idiosyncratic portmanteau of “maiku.” But let’s move on:
there are countless precedents where famous haiku or haiku by the famous are paraphrased/borrowed/pruned/improved/ or otherwise monkeyed with without comment or censure . . .
Apparently, Ernie is feeling the pressure of “censure.” And well he should. More significantly, he is confusing allusion, including the Japanese practice of honkadori, with plagiarism—plain and simple. He seems not to know the difference, or how they are different in practice. Note his defensiveness here in claiming that the appropriate use of allusion (which is not what he did) is not censured, clearly indicating that he feels that he does not deserve censure. I believe that he does. He had just admitted the “lack of originality” in his poem, and yet he says with his next breath (see below) that there are “zillions” of poems that apparently “lack originality” because they are “paraphrased/borrowed/pruned/improved” and are thus defensible. Not only is the number overinflated, but why would there be so many zillions of them if they truly lacked originality? Rather, the entire point of allusion and parody is to create originality while also connecting the new poem to something old. Indeed, all those “borrowed” poems are allusions, where each author knows that the reader will know what he or she is referring to—such as if I were to start out a haiku with the phrase “new pond”—it’s an obvious take-off on Bashō’s old pond. Where Ernie refers to “zillions” of examples, his overstatement is actually referring to allusion, not plagiarism, so his logic is off, but then his logic goes even further off the rails in what follows (an aside is that I’d like to know which poems Ernie has in mind by his parenthetical comment):
one of a zillion examples [including some of mine, one of which came to light just today] is Hiroaki Sato’s One Hundred Frogs – which has versions of Basho’s ‘old pond’ by a hundred luminaries including the likes of Blyth, Henderson, Higginson, Ginsberg, Suzuki, Yasuda, Shiki et al. There are few well-known haiku which have not been thus been treated as public property.
Here is what may be Ernie’s most telling lack of understanding. As mentioned already, Sato’s book is a collection of translations (with a few parodies thrown in). Sato makes this abundantly clear, although it’s self-evident from the poems themselves. Every reader knows that these are variations of Bashō’s poem in translation, not Blyth or Henderson et al passing off someone else’s poem as their own. To miss this massive distinction would seem to explain everything in Ernie’s behavior, and his prior comments on this matter (especially when he said, far too cavalierly, that “if you see a line or phrase you like, write it down and reuse it” and “if you change one word in a haiku, it’s yours”). Ernie quite simply does not understand the difference between translation and allusion, as well as the difference between allusion and plagiarism. But anyway, things are about to get a notch worse.
My poem: extended rain/ the heron’s legs/ get shorter . . . is a haiku! Whereas the Hass translation is but a fully punctuated sentence, ie, The crane’s legs/ have gotten shorter,/ in the spring rain. – the sort of thing a beginner would write before learning any of the basics!
Like every haiku master, Bashō has written his stronger and weaker poems, but this heron poem is widely appreciated as one of his better poems, and is widely quoted online, in translation by Hass and others. When Ernie says his poem (note that he still seems to think it’s his, not Bashō’s) is “a haiku” (with an exclamation mark), it would appear that his point is to imply that Hass’s version is not a haiku, or fails as such. One can quibble with Hass’s translation (every translation has to make compromises, and fixing a problem with one translation choice will inevitably create another compromise), but the real point here is that Ernie is denigrating Hass’s translation (a petty, desperate move, as Richard Krawiec noted), as if to say his version is better. No “if” about it—Ernie clearly does feel that his version is better, referring to Hass’s version as an abject “beginner” failure (never mind that Hass served two terms as poet laureate of the United States, and that his book The Essential Haiku has been one of the best-selling and most prominent books of haiku translation in the English language since it was published in 1994—and even if less known down under than it is in North America, it’s such a prominent and influential book that not to know it and the appearances of its many translations online would seem to be a serious dereliction of duty for any prominent or conscientious English-language haiku poet). If we were talking about original poems here, I might actually agree with Ernie, not that Hass’s version is a failure in the slightest, but that Ernie’s version is possibly better. However, as Posner emphasizes, “a verdict of plagiarism is pronounced without regard to the quality of the plagiarized original or, for that matter, of the plagiarizing copy” (109). If Ernie’s poem were offered as a translation, meanwhile, it would need to say crane rather than heron, “summer rain” instead of “extended rain,” and “has gotten” instead of “gets” (to match the nuances of the Japanese, which I’m about to explore), in addition to losing the juxtapositional structure, and possibly reverting to Bashō’s original image order. At the risk of repeating myself again, offering a translation is not what Ernie did; rather, regardless of whether the act was unconscious or conscious, he claimed the Bashō poem to be his own, with a tweak or two to “improve” it—although tweaking would suggest conscious knowledge of the original, whereas I suspect the tweaking was done without any conscious intent. And again, despite Ernie’s denigration of Hass’s translations, the quality of one version relative to the other is irrelevant to the charge of plagiarism.
In any event, let’s look a little more closely at the original Japanese poem to consider the reasons Hass translated it as he did, and thereby debunk Ernie’s hasty criticism of it (a nod of thanks to Emiko Miyashita for help with a question I had about the original Japanese, and confirming whether this poem has a cutting word):
samidare ni tsuru no ashi mijikaku nareri
Bashō wrote this poem in 1681 when he was 38. Any student of Japanese haiku will recognize that the poem contains no cutting word, so the poem should typically read as a single sentence in translation, thus Ernie has unwittingly and incorrectly criticized Bashō with his comments, not Hass, when he complains that it’s a “fully punctuated sentence.” In Traces of Dreams (100), Haruo Shirane lists numerous kireji, or cutting words (Henderson also lists many of the same kireji and other particles in his appendix to An Introduction to Haiku): kana, mogana, zo, ka, yo, ya, keri, ran, tsu, nu, zu (su), ji, se, re, he, ke, ikani, and shi, none of which are present in the Bashō poem (the word 足, ashi, sounds similar to the cutting word し, shi, but ashi means leg or foot, and is not itself a cutting word). To clarify, consider the following breakdown of the Japanese:
五月雨に May rain (五月 is “fifth month,” actually summer in Japan by the old lunar calendar used by Bashō, which had New Year’s Day in February; David Landis Barnhill and Jane Reichhold more accurately translate “fifth month” by saying “summer rain” rather than Hass’s “spring rain”; indeed, the rainy season in Japan is early summer—Bashō may have even been alluding to this so-called “plum rain” of the rainy season because it is referred to as tsuyu, a term that sounds similar to tsuru, the word for crane)
の of (possessive)
なれり has become (meaning that the action has already taken place, thus a translation of this poem should not use the word “gets” that Ernie uses)
For Hass to say “spring rain” is a misstep (which Ernie doesn’t mention—and is probably not even aware of); Hass seems to have overlooked Bashō’s use of the lunar calendar rather than our current solar calendar. Hass’s version also reverses the image order, putting the rain at the end, but this is done commonly when translating from the Japanese (not just in poetry) because of how the Japanese syntax and grammar work. Here’s a possible translation I might offer: “in plum rain / the crane’s legs / have gotten shorter” (note, by the way, that Reichhold says “leg” in the singular, but Barnhill uses the plural). However, in recognizing that the poem lacks a cutting word, Hass is right to avoid the two-part construction Ernie used (and which I avoid with my version), and so Hass’s uncut phrasings seem perfectly defensible to me in representing the way the original poem was written.
Moreover, the line-breaks are meaningless, there’s no rhythm, merit, resonance or aha moment . . . and as it stands it could never have won a contest or merited publication.
Gee, isn’t that arrogant? Shall I dare to disagree? These offhand statements are cavalier, discourteous, and absurdly speculative, not to mention unfounded. The line breaks are completely natural—they are no more “meaningless” or rhythmless than Ernie’s. Hass’s translation has an easy and natural cadence (one of the reasons his versions are so popular), and of course Hass’s version has merit and resonance, and of course an aha moment—the same resonance and moment that Ernie “borrowed.” Ernie seems to have blinders on, failing to recognize that Japanese haiku without cutting words, or with cutting words at the very end, are supposed to read as a single sentence, with no internal cut or juxtapositional structure. In fact, no-cut haiku are rather difficult to do well in English and thus less common, which could easily lead an inexperienced poet to believe that one always has to have a two-part juxtaposition even in English-language haiku, which is not the case. I would expect a poet with Ernie’s experience to know this.
To start wrapping up this discussion, I can’t help but cite another poem of Ernie’s, this one about plagiarism itself:
my old haiku
This poem appeared in Inside Out: Home and Garden Sequences (no place or publisher, no date (2016?), p. 15, from a PDF ebook available at http://www.thehaikufoundation.org/omeka/items/show/1806). I would think that “plagiarizing” oneself is impossible—it’s called “revision.” The Japanese masters are known to have done several versions of particular poems over many years. That’s not plagiarism. If this poem might be a confession or larger sins (plagiarizing others), being open about it still does not absolve him. In addition to seeing this poem as an indication of guilt that goes beyond this poem, we can also take it as a joke. Making a joke out of this issue underscores Ernie’s apparent disrespect for the actual plagiarism in some of his verses, and demonstrates that Ernie does not really understand the issue—or, apparently, take it seriously.
A metaphor to conclude. Most of us who drive cars typically hold the opinion that we drive better than other drivers. But that cannot possibly be true. Rather, I believe we all have our idiot moments while driving. It’s just that we experience far more other drivers and their occasional idiot moments than we experience our own idiot moments. There’s no other way to explain why the majority of people believe that they are better drivers than others, which of course cannot be possible. I mention this because we all have our moments. And I’m not talking haiku moments here. We all goof up and make mistakes—me included. With his haiku, Ernie Berry has shown a significant pattern that indicates not just sloppiness but plagiarism, even though the great majority of his poetry may be fine. It’s just that he’s run through a few too many stoplights—and the rest of us should find that unacceptable. It’s a safety issue while driving, and an issue of ethics, integrity, and respect in poetry. While no small children will be dying as a result of his poetic stoplight-running, a significant minority of his actions show disrespect to his fellow authors and to the poetry to which he is deeply dedicated, even if that disrespect is unintentional. His words and actions also demonstrate a misunderstanding of allusion and translation versus plagiarism. I imagine that most of us don’t fancy ourselves to be the Haiku Police, but when the occasion warrants, I hope we would fire up our sirens and pull over any stoplight runner—the way George Swede did when he was systematically plagiarized by Adrian Saich (see “Plagiarism—The Haiku Community Delivers Swift Justice!” at http://simplyhaiku.com/SHv3n3/tracks/tracks_v3n3.html; see also http://www.tempslibres.org/tl/en/alert.html and http://blogs.harvard.edu/ethicalesq/2006/02/14/plagiarized-haiku-george-swedes-tale/). Surely we would at least do what we can to stop a crime in progress. Even if we don’t have a siren to activate or a badge to wave, I hope we would all speak up against “traffic violations” (or worse) such as plagiarism. Bad things happen when good people do nothing. Or, as Edmund Burke put it, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Ernest Berry is far from evil, but plagiarism, no matter whose it is, still smacks of malevolence or irresponsibility. That’s why I think we should all speak up whenever we encounter it. Plagiarism should never be tolerated. I’ve surely let the siren run longer than is necessary here, but I have wanted to clarify all the issues as I see them—and would welcome other perspectives.
A word of caution here is that others, including me, may occasionally be in the same boat as Ernie Berry—accidentally or negligently. Posner observes that “old ideas are constantly being rediscovered by people unaware that the ideas had been discovered already” (100). The trending term for this longstanding phenomenon is “Columbusing” (see http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/07/06/328466757/columbusing-the-art-of-discovering-something-that-is-not-new and http://www.collegehumor.com/video/6976820/columbusing-discovering-things-for-white-people)—derived from the notion that Columbus “discovered” America, when of course there were already people living there. The point here is that there’s nothing new under the sun (see, there I go quoting something that has been written previously to make my point about many things having been written previously). Yet we do our best to express ourselves as freshly as we can. If we do find ourselves in that boat of Columbusing someone else’s haiku (whether via independent creation or cryptomnesia)—as will surely happen to many haiku poets at some time or another—the action to take is to immediately withdraw the poem, apologize, and make necessary amends, or never publish or share the poem in the first place. We can minimize the problem, too, if we take care to keep meticulous records of all poems we submit and publish. Such meticulousness needs to start when we write our poems, in fact, because it can be so easy to forget what led to a particular poem of ours when we encounter it in a notebook years later.
One wonders if Ernie Berry graciously accepted the NCPS decision to deny giving the heron poem any award, or if he appealed it and didn’t agree with the decision. Same with the Apokalipsa award, even though in this case he copied himself rather than Bashō. His response would seem to say a lot about his character, or at least whether he truly understood the gravity of what he had done in literary and moral terms. Denigrating Hass’s essentially accurate translation would seem to be a move of naïve desperation that indicates, despite contradictory prior statements, that Ernie does think his plagiarism is defensible and acceptable. But no, it isn’t. And the haiku community should stand up against such acts of plagiarism, as kindly and factually as possible, which is what I’m attempting to do here, no matter how beloved the offending poet might be otherwise. We should follow the lead of poets such as Ira Lightman, who has brought numerous cases of plagiarism to light in longer poetry, or has commented extensively about specific cases (including Andrew Slattery, and in haiku circles more recently, Graham Nunn and Vuong Pham). Neal Bowers has written an excellent book, Words for the Taking: The Hunt for a Plagiarist (New York: Norton, 1997) about how his poetry was systematically plagiarized (a problem first pointed out to him by haiku poet Carrie Etter, I might add). I have a bookshelf filled with similar books on copyright, infringement, cryptomnesia, and intellectual property, and could quote from them just as much as I have Posner’s book. As already mentioned, George Swede has written about how his haiku were plagiarized. Robert Spiess would not tolerate plagiarism in haiku, and said so—once even leaving a blank space in Modern Haiku with a note saying, as I recall, that the poem he had intended to print there was removed when he discovered it to be plagiarized. Sandra Simpson and Richard Krawiec have now joined their ranks. Whistleblowers like these should be applauded for taking a difficult step. Any complaints should be directed at the offender, not the whistleblower. If such whistleblowing makes any observer feel uncomfortable, well, it should, because the acts of fraud, plagiarism, or excessive similarity are uncomfortable to begin with. Even if you are not the direct victim of such plagiarism, it’s worth standing up against it because someday the victim might be you. Fraud, plagiarism, or excessive similarity are unacceptable and need to be called out judiciously—and their perpetrators should be held appropriately accountable. As the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox said, in her 1914 poem “Protest,” “To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men.”
A new wrinkle that has come up recently is that Ernie’s latest book, Haiku, Green Tea & Sushi, includes two of the aforementioned poems, but now with attributions. The poem “extended rain / the heron’s legs / get shorter” now has “with a nod 2 basho” after it, and “hot wind / a pine cone waddles / to the pond” is now given “a nod to Allan Burns.” This is a step in the right direction, but far from enough. And the book introduces new problems, covered earlier in this essay.
Ernest J. Berry has plagiarized. This is evident not just in the heron poem that was rightfully stripped of its contest award and prize money by a unanimous vote, but also evident in additional examples—and there may well be more that aren’t accounted for here. It seems the best thing for him to do is to be extra vigilant with all future submissions to journals and contests. Better yet, he should graciously admit these errors, withdraw the relevant poems by notifying the publications or contests where they appeared, and return all relevant prize money. Nor should he publish these or any other plagiarized haiku in any of his books or other publications. For their part, editors and contest organizers would be well advised to give Ernie’s submissions extra scrutiny, if they don’t ban him from submitting altogether. However, perhaps an outright ban would not be necessary if Ernie makes appropriate public and private apologies and other amends for his plagiarism, his unethical resubmission of published and prize-winning poems, and other infractions. I certainly hope that he does, and that we can continue to read and enjoy Ernie’s many other fine haiku.
I had submitted this essay to be published on the website of the New Zealand Poetry Society, which had previously published other commentaries of mine on the subject of déjà-ku and plagiarism. Because of its sensitive nature, the essay was reviewed by the society’s entire leadership committee, which responded on 8 August 2016 with a “resounding no” to publishing this piece on their site. Ernest J. Berry is apparently a lifetime member of the society, an honour bestowed upon him at least in part for his financial contributions, so it is perhaps understandable that they would choose not to publish my evidence and observations, despite the society’s website having already published prior essays by me and Sandra Simpson that point out Ernie’s plagiarism, although with less detail. While I do understand their decision (because who wants to throw one of their own under the bus?), I know that they and others are not blind to the fact that Ernest Berry has still plagiarized, no matter how well loved he might be or whatever his age. It’s unfortunate that he has persisted with his pattern of plagiarism and sloppy record-keeping, even if it has affected just a small minority of his prodigious output. The truth is, I have every reason to like Ernest Berry and his poetry, including his two books that collect his prize-winning haiku, Getting On and Haiku, Green Tea & Sushi (both 2016), but this liking of him should never lead me or anyone else, including the New Zealand Poetry Society, to gloss over any act of plagiarism on his part. Plagiarism should never be taken lightly. Fortunately, that “resounding no” from the society has softened—I have learned that the New Zealand Poetry Society has sent Ernie a letter of censure and did not accept his submissions for its 2017 poetry contest, so one hopes that Ernie will heed their message. It’s a message, too, that all of us may learn from.