The following text is from a handout I’ve shared at occasional workshops on the topic of déjà-ku, which are haiku (and senryu) that bring to mind other poems in various ways, whether negatively, as in plagiarism, cryptomnesia, or excess similarity, or positively, as in allusion, parody, homage, and sharing the same topic or season word. Not previously published. Please also read An Introduction to Déjà-ku and Selected Examples of Déjà-ku. See also my Deja-ku Diary blog.
Cid Corman, in The Next One Thousand Years: The Selected Poems of Cid Corman (Guilford, Vermont: Longhouse, 2008, page 90), offers the following six-line poem:
You quote my own words to me
and I think they must be yours—
they are beautiful. Of course
they are yours—as they return
through your affection. I wish
all our words could be shared
William J. Higginson, in his book, Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac (Kodansha, 1996), includes the following two remarkably similar haiku as examples of the season word of “pheasant” (pp. 70, 71):
startled in tall grass pheasant drumming
the pheasant’s wings beat in time with the blood
faster than my heart pounding in my ears
These poems, written by Jackie Hardy in England (first) and Janice M. Bostok in Australia (second), present essentially the same image. A startled pheasant has startled the person whose physical response (a sharply increased heart rate) is identical in both cases. One would think Higginson might include just one or the other poem to avoid repetition in his saijiki, but he no doubt included both because he found delight in their similarity despite their independent creation. How amazing that two poets who live at opposite ends of the earth could have such a similar experience, and write such amazingly similar poems. Higginson did not suppress one poem over the other, but chose to recognize and enjoy their unintentional similarity. It seems to me that this is the way to respond to such independently created similarity in haiku—to celebrate it!
I know of yet another similar poem—this, by Connie Donleycott, from Frogpond XXIII:3 (Fall 2000), p. 29:
the startled quail
This poem differs from the two in Higginson’s book, yet has a great deal of similarity to them as well. Rather than dismiss such poems merely for their similarity, if they have sufficient artistic merit, as I believe they do, we can celebrate them.
In She Was Just Seventeen, a collection of haiku by Billy Collins (Lincoln, Illinois: Modern Haiku Press, 2006, page 9), the poet includes the following poem:
If I write spring moon
or mountain, is that
And finally, here are four lines of a poem by Dobby Gibson, from a book titled Polar (Alice James Books, 2005):
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.
How we respond to déjà-ku, in all its forms, is something I believe haiku poets must grow into. The negative types of déjà-ku (plagiarism, crymptomnesia, and excess similarity) are an occupational hazard of the haiku poet, but whether we are a potential “offender,” or the “offended,” I believe it’s possible to find the right balance between being blasé and freaking out. And for positive types of déjà-ku, we can celebrate shared experience. No doubt, an assessment will always depend on each individual poem, and will be a subjective reaction based on each person’s own comfort level with the type of déjà-ku at hand—plagiarism, cryptomnesia, excess similarity, parody, homage, allusion, or simply having the same subject or season word.
Note: I would be grateful to receive the details of any examples of déjà-ku you care to share with me (please include publication details if possible). Please contact Michael Dylan Welch.
Does our discussion of the following poems change if the poets themselves are among us?
Now consider these:
The second poem below is clearly (and intentionally) a parody of the first, but what about the third poem? Parody, allusion, or rip-off?
When similar poems appear like this, should we assume influence, or just similar experiences and thoughts?
Notice that the following pairs of poems were published in the same issue of Frogpond.
Is the following simply a shared experience, or excess similarity? What is the responsibility of each poet (and of editors) to know the literature? Should the later poem be avoided or not? Why or why not?
The following is one of my most famous poems, so I like to think that a lot of people have read it. Should I feel proprietary about it? Some of the following poems, such as Vanessa Prcotor’s, feel excessively similar (the editors of The Heron’s Nest either didn’t think so, or didn’t remember my poem), whereas most of the other poems feel sufficiently different.
Is Jim Kacian’s poem below excessively similar? Several poets have since parodied Jim’s poem, perhaps without realizing that Jim’s “borrows” from Mainone’s poem. Or is Jim’s poem a deliberate parody or allusion? Or independently written?
Here’s a case of similar syntactical structure as well similarity in some of the words.
Now consider these:
A deliberate pairing of poems (not intended as haiku, incidentally) on opposite pages of the same book:
Note the slightly different versions of Fay’s poem that were published in Heron’s Nest and then in Frogpond (the later publication was in an article by Fay). Look also at the timing of her translation of the Sumio Mori poem (which she probably worked on prior to her own “fail to become a swan” poem). In the issue of Frogpond where Fay presents her poem as well as the Mori translation, she says “this is an allusion to a haiku written by Sumio Mori.” Yu Chang’s poem is a deliberate parody of Fay’s.
When I first published chris gordon’s poem in Tundra, I didn’t realize it had any connection to Paul Reps, even though I’m a big fan. What does the poem gain when I learn that it’s a variation of the Reps poem (or really, an intentional response to it)?
I wrote my poem below in 2006, and first read Gibson’s poem a few months after writing mine. Should I publish my poem or not?
Notice that the following poems both appeared in the same anthology: