Thanks to Francine Porad, Christopher Herold, Lee Gurga, Charles Trumbull, and others for their assistance in suggesting a few of the following déjà-ku poems to me. Not previously published. Please also read An Introduction to Déjà-ku and Some Thoughts on Déjà-ku. See also my Deja-ku Diary blog.
one has to write a little about everything or everything
about a little
—Anselm Hollo, “Ghost Dance” (in Near Miss Haiku, Yellow Press, 1990)
In the third edition of The Haiku Anthology (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), Cor van den Heuvel offers the following comment: “The writing of variations on certain subjects in haiku, sometimes using the same or similar phrases (or even changing a few words of a previous haiku), is one of the most interesting challenges the genre offers a poet and can result in refreshingly different ways of ‘seeing anew’ for the reader. This is an aspect of traditional Japanese haiku which is hard for many Westerners, with their ideas of uniqueness and Romantic individualism, to accept.” The following are some examples of similar haiku (and senryu), all published except possibly for two, which I have dubbed déjà-ku. I have collected many more examples, by the hundreds, so these selections are just a sampling, but I hope they give a thorough taste of the issues of déjà-ku.
Some of these poems may be “remembered” haiku (known as “cryptomnesia”), and some are parodies or allusions, or perhaps merely strong similarities, to varying degrees of excess. Most, however, seem to be independently written (I suspect that only one or two of them are deliberate plagiarisms, although several seem to be cases of cryptomnesia and thus may accidentally plagiarize). Which poems would you consider to be which sort of déjà-ku? Try assigning them to the categories of Remembered, Parodies, Allusions, or Similarities. I’ve deliberately left off publication information and have randomized the order of the earliest version of similar poems so as not to bias you in favour of any particular poems.
More important to me than “who copied whom,” if that’s anyone’s fear, is the overall emotional and psychological impact of these occurrences. How should we, as haiku poets, react when we have written a poem that we think someone else has already written? And how should we react when it feels like someone else has written a poem remarkably similar to one of our own? These are not easy questions to answer, but because déjà-ku is an occupational hazard for every haiku writer, they are questions that must, at some point, be confronted by the conscientious poet.
Note: If you know of examples of déjà-ku (please include all relevant publication details), or if you have any other comments on these sample poems, please contact Michael Dylan Welch.
In his book Haiku in English (Tuttle, 1967), Harold G. Henderson presented two remarkably similar poems. The first, by D. Martin, was the third-place finisher in the 1964 Japan Air Lines haiku contest:
Sandpipers chased by the sea
Turned and chased
The sea back again.
This, of course, is remarkably similar to the following poem by James W. Hackett, which was first published in 1963:
the fleeing sandpipers
turn about suddenly
and chase back the sea
Henderson calls this “a curious coincidence” and says that the two poems were written “quite independently.” To some readers, this might be considered a case of plagiarism, and it may well be, despite Henderson’s generous comments, but as we consider poems that are remarkably similar, let us likewise celebrate our commonality of experience, and be similarly generous in avoiding any rushes to judgment.