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Haiku Maven: What To Do About Partially Pilfered Haiku

hm_logo Dear Haiku Maven, A person I know is a haiku e-zine publisher and also a haiku poet. One or two times a year a special issue of the e-zine is published on a selected theme. For the past couple of years I have been sending in haiku submissions for these special theme issues. None of my haiku has even been selected. A few weeks ago I noticed that the publisher has won a few haiku contests. I do not usually enter haiku contests and only recently noticed the similarity between my haiku and the contest winners. The strange thing is that the winning haiku seemed to be a cut-and-paste of my haiku submissions for the special theme issues. One line from one of my haiku is the first line, with the publisher/poet’s own work for the remaining two lines. I went back and checked some of my other haiku submissions for the special themed issues and discovered similar borrowings of my work by this publisher/poet. All of my borrowed first lines were unusual in some way so they are easy to identify. Does this qualify as stealing my work?

Signed, Feeling Cheated

Dear Feeling Cheated, Haiku Maven’s initial response is to be aghast that the publisher/poet used portions of your haiku submissions as a jumping off point for a work which he/she then passed off as original. The fact that these partially pilfered haiku went on to win contests adds insult to injury. Haiku Maven knows more haiku editors and publishers than one can count. There is a tendency among a handful of publisher/poets to remember certain unique lines of submitted haiku. Some then use these same haiku phrases in their own haiku without realizing where they first set eyes on them. This also is Haiku Maven’s more measured response to your dilemma. Now that you know the culprit, Haiku Maven hopes your submissions to this publisher/poet are at an end.

The Haiku Maven posts each Friday to The Haiku Foundation blog. Haiku Maven offers advice about awkward situations involving haiku poets. The word maven comes from the Yiddish meyvn, meaning “one who understands.” Please use our Contact page to send a question. Haiku Maven will select a pseudonym for you based on your question. Click this link to see the Haiku Maven archive. Feel free to leave comments.

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Unlike some of the posters above, I don’t find this sad story hard to believe. Yes, anyone can set themselves up as a haiku editor … even I have done it :)
    Seriously, though: someone being a haiku editor doesn’t mean automatically that s/he is an honest or good person, although the majority are. For example, I have been at the receiving end of racist abuse from a fairly well-known name in the haiku world. In another case, I have seen haiku published in an online journal (in translation, and quite poor translation at that, although that was not the main issue) without their authors’ permission. When one of the authors objected, the editor responded rudely and refused to remove the work until we both – the poet and me – had protested again and again at this breach of copyright.
    So yes, there are rogue editors about whose behaviour is shameful. Fealing Cheated is entitled to feel aggrieved.

  2. When I was fairly new to haiku I remember being startled by a piece of “advice” a well-known poet gave – you can use anything, including haiku by other people. This person wasn’t talking about using someone else’s poem as a jumping off point either.

    I can still recall how uncomfortable I felt about those words, but was unsure of myself in haiku so sought out some people whose work I admired and asked their opinion. Without fail they said the equivalent of “tosh” and weren’t surprised at where it came from.

    This well-known poet is still writing and is regularly placed in haiku contests. I have seen two haiku above that name that I know to be “pilfered”. Once, okay, maybe it was “deja-ku”, but twice? (On one occasion the pilferer and the pilferee were in the same workshop group.)

    It’s sad for more than just the obvious lack of ethics on display but also because, for me at least, it calls into question every one of that person’s haiku. Feet of clay and all that.

  3. Hi Michael,
    Thanks for clarifying. I do see what you mean, but also think it should be remembered that *anyone* can set themselves up as a publisher/ editor and yet not observe industry standards of etiquette on many counts. In other words, not everyone will always take a clearly professional attitude to the job. And it *is* a job, whether paid or unpaid, in which we need to be aware of the rights of others. Some may even be ignorant about some of the aspects, some of the responsibilities, or simply haven’t stopped to think them through.

    The precise situation given by ‘Feeling Cheated’ , involving a publisher/editor/poet, is not one I’ve experienced personally, but it’s not an impossible situation. It doesn’t matter to me whether any of the problems or concerns are based on things that “really happened” or not, because if something seems unlikely to me I can take it as a hypothetical case.

    But then, I read ‘advice columns’ in women’s magazines as a teenager. ;-) They were an education to me. As an extreme example, I vaguely recall a letter from someone who claimed to have been abducted by aliens and now was pregnant, and was wondering what to tell her husband. Given such a circumstance, what would *you* tell your husband? :-) Given that you were ‘Dear Dorothy’, what advice would you give to ‘Perplexed of Port Fairy’?

    (Demanding that ‘Perplexed’ provide identification of said aliens would seem to be beside the point.)

    – Lorin

  4. MDW said, “Did an EDITOR really steal, in wholesale fashion, a bunch of lines from submitted poems, and present this work as the editor’s own? I find that hard to believe, because I have great faith in nearly all editors working in the haiku realm.”

    I’m wondering, Mr. Welch, if you said this sarcastically or not, because, quite frankly, if you thought haiku editors are above such things, then . . . Of course they are capable of stealing someone else’s work! It is rather naïve to think otherwise. The question in the Haiku Maven post is what to do about it, not whether it is done.

  5. Does it matter, Lorin, if the stories brought up here are really true? Yes and no. No, not if they bring up useful real-life issues—which is usually the case here. But yes, it does matter if they’re not true and happen to bring up red herrings, or things that don’t actually happen (or extremely rarely) in the real world. In other words, I wonder if some of the issues brought up here actually are “real issues.” That’s all. It’s fine not to name names, but I do encourage accuracy and discourage the invention of “problems” that aren’t really problems. Did an EDITOR really steal, in wholesale fashion, a bunch of lines from submitted poems, and present this work as the editor’s own? I find that hard to believe, because I have great faith in nearly all editors working in the haiku realm.

  6. This is a topic that interests me because I recently wrote a haiku using the first line of a well-known dead haiku poet. It is my understanding that borrowing from already-published authors is considered honkadori, and that it meets with the approval of those in the haiku community. I also recently considered borrowing a first line from a well-known living poet. Many haiku have the same or very similar lines. This seems natural in a tiny poem that often references universal human experiences, seasons, etc. Think of all the cherry blossom haiku. However, Feeling Cheated is talking about another kettle of fish. Because the offender was an editor, he had the obligation to either publish the original work or return it to its owner. For me the main issue here is that the work was unique and previously unpublished. Had the work been published and the original author given credit for his unique and original creative ideas, I would consider the editors borrowing honkadori. But the theft of original, unpublished creativity and ideas is simply wrong.

  7. This topic interests me because I always thought that if you used a line from a published poem it was honkadori and therefore approved of in haiku circles. Many haiku have the same or very similar lines. That seems to be a feature of the tiny haiku. However, Feeling Cheated is referring to a situation where the editor is not emulating him/her, but rather stealing unique and valuable ideas from poetry that has not been published and which will therefore not be recognized as the author’s original work and ideas. I recently considered using the fresh and original first line of a well-known poet, but he had already published. For me, that’s the deciding factor. I think there is room for the appropriate borrowing which results in honkadori, but not with unpublished, unique material.

  8. Michael, does it matter whether the stories presented in the letters are entirely factual, based on fact but exaggerated or entirely hypothetical?

    In the time-honoured tradition of advice columns in newspapers and magazines, the letters bring up issues to do with ‘haiku life’ for readers to consider, replies to the perplexed by Haiku Maven and the opportunity for anyone else to add their own two bobs worth.

    I enjoy this column. I often find humour in it as well as real issues that do exist in some form or other, but are not usually discussed in public. A stroke of genius, imo, to have an ‘advice column’ that raises issues which we can take with a grain of salt or seriously engage with, perhaps as hypotheticals, perhaps as experienced realities.

    Naming names or pointing fingers is not in the tradition of ‘advice columns’. The benefit of such columns is that they can bring a community together to consider typical problems, real or hypothetical, without the danger of guns being drawn, lawsuits or all-out war. Nobody gets hurt in a column such as this.

    yours truly,

    – Opinionated of Brunswick

  9. “One or two times a year a special issue of the e-zine is published on a selected theme.” –Feeling Cheated, writing to Haiku Maven

    What e-zine would this be?

  10. “And for what it’s worth, honkadori is an appropriate form of borrowing because it functions as an ALLUSION (or sometimes parody). Consider Alan Pizzarelli’s brilliant parody of Nick Virgilio’s famous poem:”Lily:
    out of the water
    out of her suit

    This is not pilfering, because the typical reader will KNOW the original source. ” – MDW

    Correct, Micheal, and I’m sure we could all come up with various examples of appropriate allusion, including some we’ve written ourselves. Please note that it’s not the use of the term, ‘honkadori’, in itself, that I mentioned as a problem in my previous post, but rather an *interpretation* of the term which seems to attempt to legitimise the inclusion of lines from *any* haiku one sees, even unpublished work.

    This has nothing to do with allusion, parody, pastiche or homage, nor with genuinely forgetting that one has read the appropriated lines before. Nor has it anything to do with chance occurrence. Unfortunately, it is too easy in haiku circles to rename dubious practice (plagiarism) with an exotic name, the meaning of which has been misapprehended.

    – Lorin

  11. Yeah I have read 2 lines (not sure how many words) from one of my haiku and in the very next issue
    The same 2 lines with a different third line, but I can see this happening since most of my haiku
    are fairly short. You have to trust your editor.

    These are all valid replies.

  12. I have to wonder if Haiku Maven’s stories presented here are really true. Some of them, like this one, seem a little too far-fetched to believe. Really? An editor would do this? To do so once or twice could be an accident (and is not necessarily plagiarism or pilfering), but to do so systematically is shameful, and the “person” (if not fictitious, as I suspect) who is “writing” to Haiku Maven should have the gumption to confront the editor directly. That the person did not do so is surprising, and therefore suggests that this story is fictitious. Can we trust the letters to Haiku Maven to be true? I think it would be appropriate to call a spade a spade and name names, as Sandra suggests.

    And for what it’s worth, honkadori is an appropriate form of borrowing because it functions as an ALLUSION (or sometimes parody). Consider Alan Pizzarelli’s brilliant parody of Nick Virgilio’s famous poem:

    out of the water
    out of her suit

    This is not pilfering, because the typical reader will KNOW the original source. And this new poem does something completely new and diferent, so the change, though small, is significant and surprising. This is the difference between honkadori and pilfering, and the issue raised here is all about pilfering unpublished work rather than appropriately borrowing (and thus alluding to) published and usually well-known work.

  13. “All of my borrowed first lines were unusual in some way so they are easy to identify. Does this qualify as stealing my work?” – Feeling Cheated

    imo, yes it certainly does and I would be giving that publisher/poet a big miss in future. The key is that the pilfered lines were unusual or original in some way.

    Sandra is right: unfortunately, it’s not just blatant examples like this one of a publisher/ editor that we have to contend with. I’ve had the ‘best’ lines from some of my haiku that I’ve posted on workshopping forums lifted, over the years.

    The problem lies within what I consider to be an importation of the Japanese practice of ‘honkadori’ without the knowledge base and authoritarian structure within which ‘honkadori’ operates in the Japanese context. Somewhere along the line, the idea has taken hold that all one has to do is alter one word of anyone’s haiku, well known or not, published or unpublished and it’s your haiku.

    As Ellen mentions, there is a strong tradition of allusion in Western poetry, but the allusion needs to be to a *published* work that can be assumed to be well-known enough for the allusion or homage to be recognised. It’s false thinking, imo, to consider that ripping off one’s peers can be disguised or excused by the term ‘honkadori’.

    – Lorin

  14. Many years ago, when I taught writing in education, students asked about when to reference a source, and when something was common knowledge. Sometimes they also wanted to quote someone, who was quoted by someone else. I said to always err on the side of including the reference, and to try and track down the original source.

    This issue arises in blogging as well. On a positive note, some bloggers have given me credit for inspiring a post, and then linked back to my site.

    Sometimes I’ve included a line from the Psalms in a haiku, in italics, and then provided the reference. The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible is in the Public Domain. I think this makes for an interesting poem. I’ve recognized language from the KJV in the work of authors – Thoreau and Dickinson, for example – without references, because it was expected to be common knowledge for their readers at that time.


  15. Unfortunately, it’s not only publisher/poets who do this. The haiku community seems very forgiving on the topic of plagiarism or “pilfering”, more so than the poetry community at large, I suspect. Names are not named (and therefore shamed) and so those who think it’s acceptable to work like this carry on their merry way.

    The forgiving nature of the haiku community, while admirable, may perhaps be a mixed blessing.

    PS: As far as I know, I have not had any work recycled by another.

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