Tag Archives: Yu Chang

Watching Haiku: Other Creatures

GoodIn my essay “Watching Haiku: Cats,” I offered sixteen poems about watching cats watch something else, sometimes with a circular sort of awareness that makes watching a conscious act. Each poem offered empathy for something smaller than the observer, sometimes with hints of danger or foreboding. Many other haiku are similar to these poems, although not about cats. Sometimes they’re about other creatures, large and small. For example, the first few of the following poems are about a frog, a squirrel, a rabbit, robins, and a mouse. Humans also appear, but each verse here features some sort of creature in addition to the watching human (read more about humans in “Watching Haiku: People”). These poems, despite their similarities, are uniquely told celebrations of a common phenomenon—noticing something that notices something else and writing haiku about it. We need not shy away from writing poems that share this surprisingly common observation, so long as we write what we experience and convey what we feel in fresh ways that we make our own. I’ve arranged the following poems chronologically by year.

green and hazel eyes
watching their first frog watching
green and hazel eyes

Elizabeth G. Hood published the preceding poem in Modern Haiku 3:1, 1972, page 23. There may well be earlier English-language poems that offer this experience, but I haven’t yet discovered them. The first and third lines undergo a sort of transformation, because we may wonder if they describe the frog’s eyes or the child’s eyes. Perhaps both. And surely this is a child, since it’s their first frog, giving the poem extra delight. Surely the frog and the child (I picture a girl) both have the same eye colour.

Cold, blustery day—
a squirrel at the pecans
spies me—spying him.

This poem is by Louise Somers Winder, and it appeared in Haiku Six, edited by Phil Garland, the sixth collection of winners from an annual haiku contest run by the Washington Poets Association (Tacoma, Washington: The Rhododendron Press, 1980. page 22). There’s a measure of delight in this poem too, in noticing something that is clearly paying attention to something else—or, in this case, you. We are left to wonder if the poet will shoo away those squirrels to protect the pecans.

Watching
the rabbit watching
the falling.

This poem appeared in Ten Years’ Collected Haiku, Volume 1 (Fanwood, New Jersey: From Here Press, 1987, page 16), by William J. Higginson. Out of context, the poem does not make it clear what is meant by “the falling.” However, it appears under the heading of “3 Poems at Niagara,” so “the falling” is obviously the great waterfall. We can wonder how conscious the rabbit is of the falling water, let alone its fame and magnificence, or if it’s just looking in its direction. That speculation may well be on the author’s mind as he is watching the rabbit. For humans, and perhaps rabbits too, the endlessly falling water is mesmerizing.

Watching
Robins watch
the snowfall

The preceding poem, by Richard Balus, was published in Haiku Zasshi Zō, Winter/Spring 1989, page 11. Here we feel the poet’s empathy for the robins, for surely that snowfall is cold, and a danger to their survival. And yet, by extension, cold temperatures are also a challenge for people. Or perhaps we feel a contrast, in that what is a nuisance to small birds is perhaps beautiful to human observers.

watching the mouse watching me

Joanne Morcom’s one-line poem saw first publication in Frogpond 17:4, Winter 1994, page 20. As with so many of these poems, the watched thing is vulnerable and wary. The watcher and watched are trapped in an instant of stalemate, and we may wonder who will twitch first.

at picnic tables
people watching gulls
watching people

This haiku, by Gordon Dickens, appeared in 2000 in the Mainichi Daily News. There’s a mutual wariness here, with both the people and the gulls deeply aware of each other. The people want to protect their food at the picnic tables, and the gulls are watching for an opportunity to snatch something to eat. The poet is another unspoken observer, watching the people who are watching the gulls watch the people.

watching my daughter
watch the sparrows
at the feeder

It amazes me how many variations this theme can take. This poem by Susan Scholl appeared in Crinkled Sunshine, the 2000 Haiku Society of America membership anthology, edited by D. Claire Gallagher. Just as the mother has compassion for her daughter who is intently watching the sparrows, so too the family demonstrates compassion for the sparrows by stocking a birdfeeder. In so many of these poems, something being watched is either something vulnerable, such as these sparrows, or a predator (in other poems), such as a cat.

Watching the gulls
watching the fishermen
watching the sea

This poem, by Ken Stein, was a “work of merit” in the 2003 R. H. Blyth Award sponsored by the World Haiku Club. In this case the stated watching begins with seagulls rather than with a person, but the unstated watching begins with the person who sees the seagulls. The fishermen are watching the sea to determine if the weather will permit them to go fishing, and if they do, surely they will bring back spoils that the gulls can enjoy too. A similar poem is the following, by Elizabeth Crocket, published online in Chrysanthemum #16 in October 2014 (and thus presented here out of chronological order):

watching the osprey
watching the fisherman
watching the fish

The details have changed but the here the fishermen have returned from a successful trip, and the bird, itself a fisher, is eager for a share.

watching the rat
watch me—
we both run

Doris Thurston gives us some humour here. I published this poem in the 2005 Haiku North America conference anthology, Tracing the Fern, which I edited with Billie Wilson (Sammamish, Washington: Press Here, 2005, page 18). Again the poem speaks of empathy, with both the human and the rodent being afraid of each other, a shared feeling, even if the poet has no sympathy for the rat.

dragonfly
watching me
watching him

Those dragonfly eyes are multifaceted, so their watching is very different from the poet’s, both in vision and in understanding. Marie Summers published this poem in White Lotus #2, Spring/Summer 2006. This is a fleeting moment, too, for surely that dragonfly will soon dart away. And yet, the other “watching” poems here are just as fleeting too, even if the creature being watched isn’t as fleeting as a dragonfly.

cold morning
a pair of ducks watching me
watching them

Yu Chang wrote the preceding poem, and it appeared on the Cornell University Mann Library’s Daily Haiku website on 4 December 2006. It also appeared in his book Small Things Make Me Laugh (Rochester, New York: Free Food Press, 2016, page 5). Haiku poetry has a tradition to write about established season words. Haiku poets and readers do not hesitate to repeat any of these common seasonal subjects, such as cherry blossoms or icicles. We should similarly not hesitate to celebrate other subjects repeatedly as well, of which this poem is another example. It takes its turn to express what the poet saw, without worrying about whether others have seen the same thing too—or perhaps doing so because others have seen it too. Here the ducks and the poet are mutually aware of each other, and perhaps the ducks are also wary of the poet—or perhaps the ducks are eager for a handout, and maybe the poet is feeling guilty for not having any bread to toss.

whales
watching
people

D. Boyer’s poem surfaced in Bottle Rockets #16, 8:2, 2007, page 16. In this case it’s clear that the people are whale watching, where they are seeing the whales (apparently) watching the people. The watchers are being watched too.

flaring nostrils
smelling me
smelling the horse

This poem goes in a different direction, speaking of the sense of smell instead of sight, but its structure is reminiscent of the watching poems. Jerome Cushman wrote this haiku, and it appeared in his book Amidst (Windsor, Connecticut: Café Nietzsche Press, 2007, page 37). Somehow the horse smelling the human makes us more deeply aware of how the horse must smell—and our nostrils must be flaring too.

desert path
a coyote watches me
watch a coyote

In Proposing to the Woman in the Rear View Mirror (Baltimore, Maryland: Modern English Tanka Press, 2008, page 13), James Tipton offers the preceding take on this surprisingly common haiku trope, this time with a coyote. The poem’s last word introduces an ambiguity—is it yet another coyote that isn’t aware of being watched, or is it the same coyote that is watching “me”? Either way, the poem creates tension, a tension that may be deepened by that ambiguity, which suggests that there could be more than one coyote nearby, increasing the danger to the observer. On a desert path the poet has encountered at least one coyote, and they are both suspiciously eyeing each other—and we don’t know what will happen next.

southern shore
watching a penguin
watching me

Nola Borrell published this poem in Taste of Nashi: New Zealand Haiku (Wellington, New Zealand: Windrift, 2008, page 67), a book she edited with Karen Peterson Butterworth. New Zealand has three species of penguins, which you can see on the South Island, thus the reference to the southern shore. Tourists, of course, are fascinated by these birds, but the birds may be just as fascinated with human visitors.

boy watches heron
watching for a glint
on the water

Alegria Imperial entered this poem in the Shiki Internet Kukai (anonymous haiku contest) in May of 2010 to fit the theme of fishing. That glint on the water will no doubt indicate a fish, which the heron will surely strike. The poet is an unstated observer here, watching the boy watching that heron, which is intently watching the water.

watching the deer
watch my morning train
pass by

Mark E. Brager’s poem was published in The Heron’s Nest 13:4 in December 2011. No doubt the person in the poem is on his way to work or some other obligatory destination and momentarily envies the deer’s idleness and its lack of obligation—or at least he empathizes with the deer.

me watching
something big
watching me

Previous poems have identified specific creatures that are being watched. But here we have a mystery—just something “big.” That uncertainty creates additional tension—the creature being big and unknown increases the danger. This poem, by Stephanie Baker, was published in Mariposa #32, Spring/Summer 2015, page 10. It brings to mind the following poem, by Issa, here in David Lanoue’s translation (from his http://haikuguy.com/ website):

我を見る姿も見へてうすがすみ
ware wo miru sugata mo miete usu-gasumi

that shape’s watching me
watching him . . .
thin mist

So as you can see, haiku poets have been inspired by this watching theme for centuries, and surely there are many further examples in Japanese. In Issa’s poem, like Baker’s, we have the mystery of not knowing what “that shape” might really be, made a notch more ominous by the mist.

on the one-holer
starting at his campsite dog
staring at him

after midnight mass
spotting the winking star
winking back

The preceding two poems appear together in Guy Simser’s Shaking the Bashō Tree (Edmonton, Alberta: Inkling Press, 2016, 56). The one-holer is a kind of outhouse, and this one must not even have walls around it, suggesting that this is a remote location. Perhaps no humans can see the person using the facilities, but the dog can, and the interaction suggests an understandable level of self-consciousness. In the second poem, in the context of a midnight mass, it seems as if that star is none other than God winking at the observer, and the observer returns a conspirational wink. Unlike the other poems here, the winking star is not a creature, but anthropomorphism makes it seems as such.

The solstice
I watch an owl
watching the moon

Christina Sng’s owl poem appeared on the Asahi Haikuist Network online on 16 September 2016. To me it feels like it must be the winter solstice, because of what I perceive to be a cool moon, but it could also be summer. When not modified in Japanese haiku to indicate otherwise, the moon is normally an autumn season word, but here the solstice puts this poem on the cusp between autumn and winter. Again we feel tension in wondering what the owl might be seeing by moonlight, and thus about to devour.

watching the deer
watching me
morning moon

This would seem to be a delicate and contemplative time of day, when one can see the morning moon. Perhaps the moon’s light is enough for the deer to see, if it’s not a day moon. The poet sees the deer, which is watching the person, and in that context the moon is also mentioned. The poet, John Hawk, does not need to specify whether either he or the deer are watching the moon, but that is still possibly implied. John’s poem placed in the Ninth Yamadera Bashō Memorial Museum English Haiku Contest in 2017.

rainy day
I watch you watching
an ant

Christiane Ranieri’s poem can be found in Wild Plum 3:1, Spring/Summer 2017, page 15. We feel at least a little empathy for the ant on this rainy day, and perhaps that’s what the “you” in this poem feels, and by extension so too does the observer of that person watching the ant.

We watch the falls—
it watches us,
a lone monkey

The preceding poem, by Hisashi Miyazaki, appeared in Persimmon, the 2017 anthology from the Hailstone Haiku Circle based in Kyoto, Japan (edited by Stephen Henry Gill, page 80). In this case, although the people are looking at something else (a waterfall), they are still aware of being watched by a monkey. What matters to the people is not what matters to the monkey.

warm breeze
watching your eyes
watch a butterfly

Jeannie Martin wrote the preceding poem, and it appeared in her book Blue Iris (Deerfield, New Hampshire: Nut Hut Books, 2019, page 16). The three W sounds give the poem an auditory (and visual) unity, and the near rhyme of “eyes” with “fly” adds further sonic compression. The warm breeze suggests a warm relationship and a touch of love, whether the person being watched is a lover or perhaps a child.

whale
watching
us

This poem by Patricia McKernon Runkle is from Bundled Wildflowers, the 2020 Haiku Society of America members’ anthology, edited by Bryan Rickert, page 72. It plays on the phrase “whale watching.” It’s remarkably similar to D. Boyer’s “whales / watching / people” quoted previously, from 2007, though surely created independently. Runkle’s poem feels more successful for focusing on a single whale, for retaining the “whale watching” idiom, and for making it personal (“us” instead of “people”). While we typically think of humans normally doing the watching, here the phrase is turned on its head, as the whale is watching humans—who are of course watching it. The whale is no doubt wary.

falling snow—
a warbling vireo watching me
watching him

This poem, by Stephen Page, appeared in Hedgerow #134 in early 2021 (page 30). Readers may wonder if the bird is looking to the human for birdfeed or some other handout amid the increasing cold and possible danger from the falling snow. This haiku feels like it moves beyond mere watching to suggest that the bird is imploring the human for help. And maybe the human becomes self-conscious, too, in that it may feel the need or desire to help, or at least feels empathy for the bird. (In this same issue of Hedgerow, another watching poem also appears, by Lee Gurga: “hotel mirror / watching you / watching us,” which I quote in my “Watching Haiku: People.” essay. The editor , Caroline Skanne, feels no hesitation in publishing both poems, each one with a sufficiently unique take on the idea of watching the watcher.)

watching me
watch the train
vagabond dog

Bryan Rickert penned the preceding poem, from Last Train Home, edited by Jacqueline Pearce (Vancouver, British Columbia, 2021, page 145). He also edited the Bundled Wildflowers anthology from which the previous poem by Patricia McKernon Runkle is quoted. Bryan may have written his poem before editing his anthology or perhaps after, but either way, the common subject emphasizes that the existence of either poem first did not give him pause to write his own version of this experience or accept a poem by someone else expressing this moment. This choice demonstrates the spirit of celebration we can employ in welcoming haiku about shared perceptions.

looking down
at us looking up—
owlets

Sheila Sondik wrote this haiku, and it’s from Paper Mountains, the 2020 Seabeck Haiku Getaway anthology (Bellevue, Washington: 2021, page 54). Whether watching or looking, this poem celebrates another connection between humans and animals, with a hint of empathy for that moment when those young owls might leave the nest.

those eyes
watching us watching them
baby owls

Here’s another owl poem. This haiku by Sarah Paris was printed on a postcard in September of 2021. Even without seeing the postcard, you can imagine the piercing eyes of those baby owls, and of course, we can’t help but watch right back.

watching the gray heron
watching
the waterfall

This poem is by Robert MacLean. It appeared in Wintermoon, his 2022 haiku collection from Isobar Press (Tokyo, Japan, page 15). Many birds appear in poems that employ this “watching” trope, and here we can enter the speculation as to why the heron is watching the waterfall. Perhaps it’s a small waterfall where fish might jump up the falls. Surely the heron is hoping to find a meal, so no wonder it’s fascinating for the person to watch this heron.

Whenever we write about our experiences, those experiences are very likely to have been shared by others. In fact, for haiku, we hope that they have, because that sharedness, that empathy, lies at the center of haiku appreciation. There’s a point when poems about similar topics might cross a line and be excessively similar, but I don’t find that to be the case with the preceding “watching” poems. Instead, we can celebrate their sharedness, celebrate their commonality, and revel in how each poet takes a turn to say, in his or her own way, what they hope others have experienced too.

Note: Some poems do not appear with indented lines as originally published, due to a limitation in the WordPress blog software. See also “Watching Haiku: Cats” and “Watching Haiku: People.”

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Do Not Resuscitate: A Case of Haiku Similarity

In Geppo XLI:4 (August–October 2016, page 2), the following poem immediately grabbed my attention, not the least because of its subject:

winter twilight
the weight of a pen
for the DNR

UncertainA “DNR,” of course, is a “do not resuscitate” order. Signing such a directive is a difficult—weighty—decision, and such a somber moment echoes poignantly with the setting of winter twilight. This poem was presented anonymously in that issue of Geppo, as its submissions mostly are (so that favourites can be voted on anonymously), but I’ve since learned who the author was. But here’s the twist. It wasn’t just the poem itself that grabbed my attention, but its similarity to another poem, by Yu Chang, first published in The Heron’s Nest XI:2 (June 2009), where it was an editor’s choice selection, and republished in numerous other places, including in Jim Kacian’s widely available anthology Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (Norton, 2013). This is a famous haiku:

bearing down
on a borrowed pen
do not resuscitate

I initially wondered if the first poem might have been influenced by Yu Chang’s, where the person in the poem feels so helpless than even the pen must be borrowed. Might the more recent poem have been a case of cryptomnesia, or remembering someone else’s work but forgetting the source (and thinking it to be one’s own)? I doubted that it might have been deliberate plagiarism, but the possibility did cross my mind (since at first I did not know who the author was or anything about the poem’s circumstances). Or was it independently created? But even if so, was the similarity excessive? I raised the issue with Geppo editor Betty Arnold, and she let me know that the poem’s author was Bruce H. Feingold. He has since explained how this poem arose out of his direct personal experience as a clinical psychologist. “I remember writing this haiku very vividly,” Bruce said in an email to me on 8 December 2016. “I wrote it several years ago on the spot when a patient told me about signing his wife’s DNR and relating how the pen, which is so light, felt so heavy in his hands.” Bruce also said that he was unaware of Yu’s poem when he wrote his, although he did say it was possible he might have seen it, though unlikely. Nevertheless, the poems do seem to have been written entirely independently. This is what I would expect with Bruce’s work, since I have the utmost respect for his integrity.

Yet still the similarity remains. Is it too much? Even though two poems may be written independently, at what point is similarity excessive? Can anyone be “first to the patent office” with haiku? This is a subjective question, and your feelings may differ if you wrote one or the other of the two poems in question (as a “victim” or “perpetrator”), or if you’re a third-party reader of both poems (an “innocent bystander”). Ultimately, what may seem excessive to one reader may not feel excessive to another, especially when these two poems aren’t alone. Indeed, other poems have been written along this vein. Betty asked Charles Trumbull to check his haiku database, and she sent me Charlie’s results, including two directly similar poems (with publication credits for the first one):

by the light of the pine do not resuscitate

John Stevenson,
Roadrunner VIII:3, August 2008; this poem also appeared in Haiku 21, Lee Gurga and Scott Metz, eds., Modern Haiku Press, 2011, 165

“do not resuscitate”
moonlight outlines
a left-over cloud

        Mark Hollingsworth (previously unpublished)

John Stevenson and Yu Chang are both members of the Upstate Dim Sum haiku group, and we may wonder if Yu had seen John’s poem (published about a year before Yu’s, which Yu told me was written about his stepmother), and speculate on whether it was any influence on the later poem, but apparently not. John told me in an email of 5 January 2017 that “when I first read [Yu’s poem] (at one of our monthly Dim Sum sessions), I thought of two poems immediately. One was mine, and the other was an earlier poem of Yu’s: ‘lichened pine / my poet friend asks / for a pencil.’” It’s invigorating how poems resonate and echo like this, in personal ways, but they do seem to have been written independently. John also said, “I remember writing mine—vividly. And yet I would find it hard, and perhaps perverse, to attempt to explain it. I was staying at Jim Kacian’s house, in one of the guest rooms downstairs. Had turned the lights out and was about to go to sleep when the words came to me. I got up and wrote them down and then went back to bed. There was a pine tree outside the window and the window was open. Perhaps ‘do not resuscitate’ related to ‘stop thinking about everything and get some sleep.’ It came in one of those twilight moments of consciousness, which is not quite wakeful and not quite dreaming.” For his part, Mark Hollingsworth said in an email of 6 January 2017 that he wrote his poem on 27 January 2005. “I can’t recall if the incident was personal or professional (I am a pastor),” he said, “but I do recall the feeling after making the decision in the hospital, walking outside and seeing a lone small cloud in front of the moon, the front had passed and all the other clouds were far to the east.” He also said he wrote the following poem on 12 October 2005, almost a year later (also previously unpublished):

do not resuscitate
blot at the end
of her signature

And now, of course, the subject extends to Bruce’s poem, and beyond, and all of them seem to have been written independently. We can dwell in the serendipitous mystery of how they each came to be, and celebrate their shared subject, even if sad and traumatic.

Charlie’s haiku database results also included the following poems about a pen’s weight:

another death—
the weight
of a pen in my hand

        Carolyn Hall, Frogpond 34:3, Fall 2011

His hand trembles
On the will’s last page
Heavy gold pen

        Herb Batt, Brussels Sprout 11:1, January 1994

And surely there are more, and they reverberate with us because the point of haiku is to commemorate shared experience. These are simply shared subjects, much like sharing the same season word. Such similarities are usually of no concern, except to note that they may well enrich a poem if they help to bring to mind other poems that share the same season word or subject. This cross-pollinating resonance, in fact, is one of the virtues of the season-word tradition in Japanese haiku. Similarity or a common sharedness (provided that it does not go too far) adds possible reverberations to each poem and shows each haiku to be a part of a larger poetic conversation. DNR topics are clearly fraught with emotion, so it’s no wonder that the subject, difficult though it may be, would draw the attention of a number of haiku poets, especially those who may have to deal with these issues in a professional capacity, such as Mark as a pastor or Bruce as a psychologist.

What else are we to make of this similarity? One observation is that similarities between haiku are certainly not isolated, which I’ve written about extensively. A further example involves another of Bruce’s poems—although in this case his poem came first. The Autumn 2016 issue of Frogpond (39:3) carried this note: “Bruce H. Feingold’s poem, ‘Egotesticle,’ was a 2012 Haiku Now finalist in the Innovative Haiku Category, which should have precluded Cynthia Cechota’s submission, ‘egotesticle,’ from being published in Frogpond 39:2” (127). This is a polite way of saying that the similarity was excessive, and leaves aside the issue of whether the later poem was possibly plagiarized or (as I would hope) written independently. In this case, though, even if written independently, the second poem is excessively similar to the previous poem (only the capitalization differs), and thus it was rightly “withdrawn.”

I could cite many other examples, but here’s just one more, also very recent, starting with the following poem by Irish poet Anatoly Kudryavitsky, from his book Horizon (Red Moon Press, 2016, page 39). Prior to this book appearance, the poem appeared in World Haiku Review in August of 2012, so this poem is the earliest of the poems I’m about to discuss here.

unscheduled stop
a scarecrow welcomes us
with open arms

Compare this with the results of the 18th annual Haiku International Association haiku contest, which included the following honorable mention by Kwaku Feni Adow of Ghana:

arriving on the farm—
the open arms
of the scarecrow

It’s remarkably similar to the following poem by Arvinder Kaur, from India, from the September 2014 issue of Cattails, later published in her book, Dandelion Seeds, in 2015 (page 108):

homecoming—
a scarecrow’s open arms
in the fields

And in October of 2015, Shrikaanth K. Murthy (new editor of the British Haiku Society journal Blithe Spirit) won second place in the kigo category of the Shiki online kukai with the following poem, later appearing in Sailing into the Moon, the 2016 Haiku Canada members’ anthology, published in May 2016 (page 26):

returning home—
only the scarecrow
with open arms

Before commenting on Shrikaanth’s poem, let me share yet another scarecrow poem, by Duro Jaiye, published in Persimmon, the 2017 anthology from the Hailstone Haiku Circle based in Kyoto, Japan (edited by Stephen Henry Gill, page 24):

In the winter fields
beneath Mount Atago
a scarecrow with open arms

The number of these poems, about scarecrows with “open arms,” demonstrates that this expression (not just experience) is a common enough trope in haiku, but at what point do similar poems become excessively similar? And might earlier poems have inspired any of the later poems? Shrikaanth told me he submitted his poem to the Shiki kukai a month before Arvinder sent him a copy of her book, and that he believes he created his poem independently (he said he hadn’t seen the poem in Cattails, even though he’s now a proofreader for Cattails). So perhaps Shrikaanth’s and Arvinder’s poems are independently created, despite obvious similarities, but what about the poem by Kwaku Feni Adow? It’s impossible to know from the poem itself, and I doubt that much would be gained by asking the poet. Kwaku seems to be rather new to haiku, and I’ve seen others who are new to haiku who have “borrowed” haiku and passed them off as their own when they’re first learning to write, but I have no idea if that’s the situation here—I would rather assume independent creation. I do not see Kwaku’s poem as any kind of allusion to the earlier poems, but is it excessively similar? Indeed, is the similarity of all of these poems excessive? Or should we just note the shared subject—and perhaps even celebrate it—and move on? Ultimately, it’s our emotional responses to these situations that may matter most, especially when we may never know the facts of whether similar poems were created independently or not, and may interpret those facts differently even if we did know them for certain.

This is an issue I’ve been tracking for two decades. The Essays page on my Graceguts website has several essays on what I call “deja-ku,” as does my “Deja-ku Diary” blog. For many years, too, I’ve been maintaining a Deja-ku Database, and have classified many hundreds of examples in two broad categories. The bad kind include plagiarism, cryptomnesia (a sort of “accidental” plagiarism), and excessive similarity (which is the most subjective and hardest to define). The good kind include shared subjects or season words, allusion (or honkadori, as it’s called in Japan, which can include judicious borrowing of widely known content), parody, homage, and a couple of other less common varieties. A note about honkadori is that it’s also called allusive variation. A key point with this technique in Japanese haiku is that the variation of an earlier haiku is deliberate, and readers are expected to know the earlier poem—and thus all be in on the game, the way we all know the Shakespeare reference whenever we make creative variations of “to be or not to be.”

A side note here is that I was more concerned about Bruce’s DNR poem before I learned who the author was. As soon as I found out it was Bruce’s, his reputation, integrity, and profession as a psychiatrist all came into play—ruling out, for me, any possibility of plagiarism. This change of feeling as a result of learning the author’s name goes to show how the name under most haiku acts as a “fourth line,” providing information outside the poem that can inform and enlarge the poem, such as gender, nationality, and other details that readers may know about the author, including biography, geographical location, the type of haiku he or she usually writes (his or her “brand,” as it were), and more. The anonymous judging process used in Geppo and most haiku contests is completely defensible, of course, but I also like finding out who the author is, because that usually expands most poems for me, as was certainly the case for Bruce’s DNR poem.

There’s one more wrinkle to the DNR story. After Bruce H. Feingold’s haiku appeared in Geppo XLI:4 (August–October 2016), it was voted on as one of the top ten poems and was reprinted in the following issue, Geppo XLII:1 (November 2016–January 2017), page 9. And then another DNR haiku appeared in the next issue, in Geppo XLII:2 (February–April 2017), page 2, by Ruth Holzer:

Father’s Day—
he signs
the DNR form

The timing may have been a pure coincidence, but the poem might also have been reactionary, written in response to Feingold’s poem. Reaction poems are perfectly defensible, because poetry is, after all, a conversation, and the addition of “Father’s Day” adds a sad twist to the experience, whether real or imagined. A useful ambiguity also arises in the word “he”—does it mean a father signing the form on behalf of a child who is gravely ill? Or is a child signing the form on behalf of an aging or sick father? Either way, the “he” is surely signing the form as a father or for his father, making the date of this event especially poignant. On the deja-ku continuum, I would consider this poem to be a shared subject rather than excessive similarity or plagiarism.

As mentioned, we might easily assume that this new poem was written in direct reaction to the previous poem. However, in an email of 23 June 2017, Ruth told me that she wrote the poem “about seven years ago, directly from the experience,” and added that “when I read Bruce’s haiku [in Geppo], I thought hmm . . . that sounds something like mine—how we are all subject to the same misfortunes. Of course, I voted for it.” As sad as this experience is, there’s something celebratory in sharing such an experience—we are not alone.

Twenty years ago, I never spoke up about another case of deja-ku in the pages of Geppo, and I wish I had. It happened in Geppo XIX:4 (July–August 1996), page 2. Yvonne Hardenbrook offered the following poem:

carolina wren
its morning song larger
than itself

It ended up getting the top number of votes from readers of that issue (by far), and was reprinted in Geppo XIX:5 (September–October 1996), page 6, as the best poem of the issue. It bothered me that most readers were apparently unaware of its antecedent, by John Wills, which is one of his most famous poems:

larger
than the wren himself
the wren joy

The Wills poem appeared in the second edition of Cor van den Heuvel’s The Haiku Anthology (New York, Fireside, 1986, page 298). It also appeared in Wills’ book Reed Shadows (Burnt Lake Press/Black Moss Press, 1987, page 42), and was probably published prior to this in a journal. What’s more, I also featured the poem in my journal Woodnotes as the tribute poem to Wills when he died in 1993. Yvonne would have definitely seen at least two of these publications, if not all three (she was an avid Woodnotes subscriber and reader, and had also read Cor’s anthology). There is no way she couldn’t have read Wills’ poem before writing hers, and she told me that she obviously must have, even while defending her poem—she wrote me a two-page single-spaced letter explaining the circumstances of its composition, believing it to have been written independently. But I don’t believe it was, even if it was accidental. This, in my opinion, is a case of cryptomnesia, and it can be insidious because you think you’re writing something original when you’re not. The very real experience she had brought the Wills poem to mind, but as I see it she forgot that she was essentially remembering someone else’s work rather than writing something original—the way most of us, upon seeing a frog in a pond, might think of Bashō’s “old pond” poem (and typically also remember that it’s Bashō’s poem, not our own). I could imagine a case where Yvonne’s poem could have been written independently, but not when there is irrefutable evidence (that she herself acknowledged) that she had read the original Wills poem in at least two prominent places.

Yvonne’s poem may be an accidental sort of plagiarism, but cryptomnesia is still plagiarism, and we should be watchful for it—in the haiku we read and in the haiku we write. Similarity to previous poems is an occupational hazard for the haiku poet, and it will happen to all of us at one time or another, whether we’re “victims,” “perpetrators,” or “innocent bystanders.” The “accidental plagiarism” of cryptomnesia is especially likely to happen with poems as short as haiku, and thus we should be forgiving towards such situations (up to a point). Aside from the deliberate similarity of allusion or parody, it is even likely that we will unintentionally write in a similar way about shared subjects—there are only so many ways to crack an egg. As the poet Dobby Gibson says in his book Polar, “It may be true that everything / has already been said, / but it’s just as true that not everyone / has had a chance to say it.” The trick is to take your turn at saying something but to do it in as fresh a way as possible. We can’t always know what’s fresh, of course, but we can do our best.

The good news is that most cases of deja-ku are positive, such as sharing the same subject or season word, or in alluding to or parodying another poem. In the case of Bruce Feingold’s striking “DNR” poem, like Yu Chang’s and the other poignant examples, the moment resonates so deeply it’s no wonder that more than one person has written about it.

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