Selected Examples of Déjà-ku

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.

 

                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. 

 

 

a bike in the grass

one wheel slowly turning—

spring afternoon

               Lee Gurga

    abandoned bike—

one upturned wheel

    revolving slowly

               Eric L. Houck Jr.

In shallow water

     half of the minnows

          are only shadows

               David Priebe

Half of the minnows

     within the sunlit shadow

          are not really there

               James W. Hackett

frigid morning:

geese squat together

without any heads

               Wally Swist

A bitter morning—

     sparrows sitting together

          without any necks

               James W. Hackett

painting

only sky

the widow

               Francine Porad

painting more blue

into the delphinium

the widow

               Elizabeth St Jacques

my sandals

worn and summer

almost done

               Marianne Bluger

In the sand

One sandal print:

and summer’s

 

gone

               Tomi Nishimura

pausing

on the bridge—both ways

in mist

               Alexey Andreyev

                                  bridge

         at both ends

mist

               George Swede

 

summer breeze

the bridge goes

nowhere

               Jim Kacian

over the border

their shadows

await them

               (one of five unspecified renku writers)

Passport check:

my shadow waits

across the border

               George Swede

monastery

the all-white room

hoards the sunlight

               Francine Porad

overcast day

my opal hoards

the sunlight

               Mary C. Taylor

thorn bush thicket—

remains of a split rail fence

hidden within

               Michael Ketcheck

Barely visible

    beneath the morning glories—

        the chain-link fence

               Tom Tico

cold morning—

the man at the bus stop

swallowing his neck

               Giovanni Malito

a bitter morning—

sparrows squating together

without necks

               Helen C. Veale

        Year after year

on the monkey’s face

        a monkey’s face.

               Bashō (translated by Robert Hass)

Scene after scene

     on Groucho’s face

          a Groucho face

               Rich Krivcher

Late night in Chinatown

the ceiling fan’s blades

in my tea cup

               Lynn Atkins

whirling lazily

in my spoon—

the ceiling fan

               susan delaney mech

damp morning

cash for a journey

warm from a machine

               Dee Evetts

toll booth lit for Christmas—

from my hand to hers

warm change

               Michael Dylan Welch

 

The bridge toll-booth—

from the dark a hand collects

rain on the coins

               David E. LeCount

express line

the customer behind me

counting my items

               Jeanne Cassler

express checkout—

the fat woman counts

the thin man’s items

               Michael Dylan Welch

hot summer night—

the click of the dog’s toenails

on the kitchen floor

               Michael Cecilione

distant thunder—

the dog’s toenails click

against the linoleum

               Gary Hotham

 

snowed in

the dog clicks

from room to room

               Roberta Beary

all alone

the telephone rings

once

               R. A. Stefanac

in the burning house

       the telephone

              rings once

               Michael Dylan Welch

entering the house

I hear deep in its quiet

ringing telephone

               Dion O’Donnel

the telephone

rings only once

             autumn rain

               nick avis

gone thirty years—

I rewind the pocket watch

just to hear it tick

               Jeanne Emrich

found in the attic:

granddad’s pocket watch

ticks once in my hand

               Michael Dylan Welch

broken clock—

from the Goodwill bag

the sound of ticking

               Helen K. Davie

after his funeral

my father’s watch still ticking

in a dresser drawer

               Adele Kenny

cool of the cave—

          I raise my hand

to the hand of the ancient one

               Jeanne Emrich

sweeping snow

from ancient petroglyphs

a hand to fit my own

               Ruth Yarrow

as night falls

     so too

          does the snow

               John Preston III

 night

falling

 snow

               Michael Dylan Welch

the updraft

blowing his ashes

back to us

               Don McLeod

from a granite cliff

letting wind take his ashes . . .

some blow back to me

               Margaret Molarsky

his ashes scattered

what to do

with the box

               Paul Watsky

ashes scattered—

what’s to be done

with the box?

               Merrill Ann Gonzales

cold moon

     inside the scarecrow

     crickets singing

               Michael Cecilione

a cricket

lending the scarecrow

a voice

               John Stevenson

a cricket chirps

in a sleeve

of the scarecrow

               Chigetsi-ni (translated by Hiroaki Sato)

        Cricket

chirping

        in a scarecrow’s belly.

               Issa (translated by Robert Hass)

fresh-mown hayfield

meadowlark nest

unscathed

               David Gross

   a farmer’s mown field—

circles of grass remaining

   where meadowlarks brood

               Robert Spiess

(both published in Modern Haiku under the heading “Two Haiku Written Independently”)

two lines in the water

not a word between

father and son

               Randy M. Brooks

not speaking

my son and I

on the sandstone bluff

               Lee Gurga

 

graduation day—

my son & I side by side

knotting out ties

               Lee Gurga

old wok—

onions falling into

sound of oil

               Kenneth C. Leibman

old pond

a frog jumps

water sound

               Bashō

Titan  i

            c

            e

               Ernest J. Berry

titaniceberg

               R. A. Stefanac

washing windows

seeing myself

more clearly

               Dorothy McLaughlin

Clear about

everything

the window washer

               vincent tripi

tide pool

     a crab disappears

     under the moon

               Christopher Herold

two crabs claw

       to claw in the tidepool

the flashlight dims

               Michael Dylan Welch

a white swan makes a path

through fallen cherry blossoms

floating in the moat

               Kenneth Tanemura

       The water-fowl swims

Parting with her breast

       The cherry petals.

               Roka (translated by R. H. Blyth)

nearly dusk . . .

the shadow of her tombstone

reaches his

               Charles Trumbull

dusk approaches . . .

her tombstone shadow

reaches towards his

               Giovanni Malito

beneath the ice

the waterfall

still falling

               Jeanne Emrich

waterfall

so many ways

for the water to fall

               John Thompson

forgetting:

she sets the table

for two

               Valerie Broadhurst Woerdehoff

forgetting—

I set your place

at the table

               Joann Klontz

coming home

flower

              by

                     flower

               Jane Reichhold

that dot on her wing

I follow the butterfly

                       flower     by     flower

               Selma Stefanile

hot night

turning the pillow

to the cool side

               Cor van den Heuvel

Hot summer night—

turning my pillow over

to the cool side

               Sydney Bougy

Abandoned grain elevator;

holding the snow

held by it

               vincent tripi

Holding the water

    held by it—

        the dark mud

               William J. Higginson

July morning

the slow muffled beat

of a carpenter

               Paul MacNeil

summer’s end

the quickening of hammers

towards dusk

               Dee Evetts

        Winter solitude—

in a world of one color

        the sound of wind.

               Bashō (translated by Robert Hass)

      winter solitude

in a world of one color

  the taste of peaches

               Wendy Smith

Old frog

   up to his ears

      in moonlight

               Robert Mainone

ground fog—

up to my ankles

in moonlight

               Jim Kacian

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.