Sandlot Haiku and the Democracy of the Internet

First written in 1998, when these thoughts were more of a pressing issue. In recent years, of course, several highly respected online haiku journals have emerged, which is wonderful, but I think the same “sandlot” problems remain with many of the online haiku discussion lists (now including Facebook), with all their “aren’t we great” fiefdoms, even if their participants don’t realize that’s what happening. I might have posted this message to an online discussion list, but I don’t remember. Otherwise, these comments are not previously published.

 

One issue that causes problems online is the relative “democracy” of the Internet. Anyone can say anything. There are usually no editors. Editors are fallible, of course, but in newspapers, magazines, and books, editors functioned as filters—and I don’t just mean filters of biases, but filters of authority and quality. What appears on the Internet shifts the burden of determining “authority” (credibility) onto the reader. Too many readers don’t realize this, and gullibly believe whatever they encounter online. There is a wealth of misinformation about haiku online, so haiku is a perfect case in point. On the Shiki list (for example), when someone says “your haiku is good,” what does that really mean? There are many good poets participating on the Shiki list, so it might be worthwhile to hear such a comment. But wherever you have a growing group of woefully misinformed haiku poets saying “good job” to one another, it only reinforces stereotyped and misinformed notions of haiku. I’ve had, for example, people send me haiku for Tundra where they’ve said that “many people praised it on the Shiki list” (or elsewhere). I’m only one editor asserting an informed opinion, but the poems fell well short of the mark of quality I expect for publication—and not just in my journal but in most other haiku journals too.

        As one person put it to me once (after a Shiki list discussion), it’s good for the “pros” to realize what is simply “sandlot” haiku. Just as pro baseball players are in the “big leagues,” some haiku writers play in haiku “big leagues” too (such as that is). Much Internet haiku is simply “sandlot” haiku. In one sense, we should leave it alone, because good “players” will emerge. On the other hand, part of me doesn’t want to see them trying to play baseball with a football (which often happens, metaphorically, with what passes for “haiku”). What’s to be done? The cost of freedom, as one dead president once said, is eternal vigilance. On the Internet, the newbie needs to understand his or her inherited burden of filtering so he or she can take responsibility for the democracy of the medium. Consider your source! It’s not an easy task. At the moment, a lot of eager haiku folks wandering onto the Internet are probably not even aware of this burden. It extends beyond haiku, of course. But, for the sake of haiku, taking responsibility for this burden can affect the very nature of haiku itself.