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The Two Authors of What Light There Is

Started by Lorin, April 29, 2017, 02:29:56 AM

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Noting, today, that What Light There Is by Sylvia Forges-Ryan received an Honorable Mention in the 2016 Touchstone Distinguished Books Awards

I can't help but wonder if the Panel, Randy Brooks, Tom Clausen, Rebecca Lilly, Michael McClintock and Julie Warther (all Americans) are aware that I have a book of the same title, what light there is, published in 2009 and cached on the A Hundred Gourds website, or even aware of my original haiku from which my book takes its title.
Granted, mine is an e-chapbook, not a print book. Should that matter? The haiku my title is drawn from is:

rain beads on a bare twig what light there is
first published in Shamrock Haiku Journal #3 (2007); a wattle seedpod (PostPressed,2008) 3Lights Gallery e-chapbook what light there is (2009),Red Moon anthology Carving Darkness (2011), Haiku in English (Norton 2013) and included in my sample haiku on the THF Registry from 2009 or 2010.
If you look up the F surnames in the Registry, you'll find that the link to my page is located between those of Seanan Forbes and Sylvia Forges-Ryan, both of which were later entries. I find it unlikely that anyone checking out their Registry page wouldn't be curious enough to read at least the haiku by the people filed close to their own names.
What if I'd planned to title a future print book what light there is? What if I'd planned to publish it through Red Moon Press?
These two haiku are in Sylvia Forges-Ryan's book (there may be more):

   what light there is
What light there is --
      mornings the sparkle of dew
      evenings the glow of fireflies
I can't help but note that Sylvia has taken both senses of "what light there is" in my haiku:

rain beads on a bare twig what light there is

and spread them over two haiku, allocating one meaning to each. In doing so, she's lost the ambiguity ... the double sense of "what light there is"... that distinguishes my haiku, yet she's used both, and also brought them together in her book title. It's this that gives me the impression that she has read mine and 'worked' it rather than it being accidental or an example of what MDW terms 'cryptomnesia'.
Though it might still be 'cryptomnesia'. Here's Michael Dylan Welch (from one of his many articles on the subject of plagiarism) from 'A Spade's a Spade: Plagiarism and Déjà-ku':
"We should indeed feel free to get our inspiration wherever and whenever we can. But at some point we should assess our work and ask ourselves some questions — where did that come from, and did I just restate someone else's ideas or images in different words?" - MDW
I'm pretty certain that if Sylvia Forges-Ryan had been a relative newcomer to haiku, someone would have picked up that her book title and the two related haiku I've given here are based on my haiku & book title, but when I look at her credits, I see she's been around a very long time:
"Sylvia Forges-Ryan, former editor of Frogpond, has not published a volume since her award-winning Take a Deep Breath a decade ago. Instead, she has been shaping the threads of her writing — haiku, senryu and tanka — into the cohesive whole that is What Light There Is, . . .
Where does one stand if the 'important ' people overlook or decline to recognise plagiarism when they see it, or remain unaware of a truly original and widely published haiku such as this of mine to the extent that someone very experienced ( no 'newbie' excuses are possible) can come along and not only use the guts of it (albeit in two haiku instead of one), but have a book published under the title of what light there is? What can one do?
My own bleak conclusion in this case is that one can do bugger-all apart from reminding people of the original and bringing up the topic, but I welcome suggestions, opinions...anything!

- Lorin

light pilgrim

Hi Lorin,

It does seem that the onus is on the poet whose work has been used without any acknowledgement.  A message of acknowledgement from the poet who has used the line from you haiku would dispel so much grief and sense of unfairness.

"Borrowing" or using another person's work is not uncommon. For instance, there is a whole line of haiku about "Wanderer's Willow" from Saigyo to Basho to Buson. But in this instance, there is a recognisable allusion to the previous poet's haiku. The American novelist and essayist, Henry James (1843 - 1916) openly acknowledged that he often "used" people from real life as characters in his work. His sister Alice and a close family friend, Grace Norton, were templates for his heroines in "The Portrait of a Lady" and "Daisy Miller."

I do hope that this issue is resolved for you.

light pilgrim


If I had a book of haiku, I think I would probably check to see if another had been published using the same title I was considering. But how would one know for sure? An e-book might escape such a search.

What could account for Sylvia Forges-Ryan using this title, or writing two haiku which feature the line "what light there is"? We may never know.

In my opinion Lorin's poem is considerably better than either of Sylvia's, for what that's worth.

And for what it's worth, the Irish poet Eamon Grennan in 1987 published a book with the same title.

But Lorin, I think you are right to set the record straight.



Thanks for your kind comments, light pilgrim and Meg.

Yes, using elements of other people's work is common, and there are honorable ways of borrowing.

I felt, in this case, completely unacknowledged. A reviewer remarked upon Forges-Ryan's "excellent title", the THF Touchstone Panel awarded the book an Honorable mention, but no-one, it seems, is/ was aware of my haiku which preceded or my preceding e-chapbook. It is the lack of acknowledgement that sets off feelings of hurt and of having been, quite possibly, plagiarized.

However, using an advanced search after a friend did the same & let me know, there is yet another poetry book (not haiku, though) with the same title which precedes both: What Light There Is by Eamon Grennan, an Irish poet, published in the 1980's. (Gallery Books, Ireland, 1987)

So my title isn't as original as I'd thought! And Meg, I see, has mentioned the same book here. (Thanks, Meg) One day I might try to find a copy and read the poems!

I was about to contact Sylvia Forges- Ryan (having found her email address in her Registry entry) and point out the title & the resemblance of her two poems to my one-liner when I found out about Eamon Grennan's book, but I don't think I have a case now & can just put it all down to experience.

It's all transient, all ephemeral, all "a world of dew" anyway. I'm glad to be reminded of that. :-) And I do appreciate that you both took the time and care to write your comments.

- Lorin


ps. the header on this thread should now read "The Three Authors of What Light There Is"

Sounds like the title of a Borges story!  ???

- Lorin

Jan Benson


I am so very glad for this thread, and also the links to MDW's article on Plagerism/copyright.

Recently, (three times in the last month) images of mine were absconded with.
Two of those were because I trusted the integrity of a friend/poet in private conversation, Workshopping.
The other impunes the integrity of an editor who may have (innocently) tipped a galley copy of an upcoming journal issue to another poet for review.

All very personally hurtful. And lessons learned on my part, for sure.

Jan Benson
---1st Prize_The Italian Matsuo Basho Award 2016 (Int'l Foreign Language)
---A Pushcart Nominated Poet, (haiku "adobe walls").
---"The poet is accessible, the poet is for everyone." Maya Angelou


Hi Jan,
          It's no comfort to you. but the issue of image plagiarism (re haiga) is a real one. It came up many times, over the years, on Jane Reichhold's AHA Forums. I'm very sorry to hear you've been subject to this.

I'm shocked that a reviewer would make unfair use of an image in a yet to be released issue of a journal! I hope you've at least received an apology from that reviewer.

It is    hurtful and distressing to find one's work claimed by and attributed to someone else.

best wishes,


Michael Dylan Welch

I'm coming to this conversation a little late, but here are my observations, as they occur to me in reading through all the commentary in order:

1. It's unfortunate that two haiku books would have the same title, but you can't copyright a title, so there's nothing legally wrong with this, even for two haiku books. Perhaps not good marketing, but nothing legally inappropriate with it. It's immaterial that one book is an ebook, the other printed.

2. Nor do I think there's anything morally wrong with the books having the same title, whether a later book's author is aware of the earlier book or not. But again, not good for marketing—for example, it would be stupid and impolite (but not morally or legally wrong) for someone other than William J. Higginson to publish a book titled The Haiku Handbook. I can imagine that some folks might consider this to be morally wrong, as an affront to the earlier author, but perhaps that's a personal opinion.

3. The phrase "what light there is" seems common enough to be in anyone's domain to use in a haiku, but of course the phrase may bring to mind earlier poems using that phrase if the reader happens to know them. This is a good kind of deja-ku (allusion, even if accidental), not a bad kind (this much of a use isn't plagiarism, since the phrase seems pretty common).

4. I believe there are actually three poems in Sylvia Forges-Ryan's book that use the "what light there is" phrase (not just two). I gave the book a mini-review in Frogpond 40:1 (winter 2017), which you can read at If I had known Lorin's book, I would have mentioned the matching title, but I believe I would have given a neutral reaction to the similarity, except to note that the title was probably chosen without awareness of Lorin's earlier book.

5. Where things get more interesting is at the level of Sylvia's individual poems that use the same phrase. It could be a case of cryptomnesia, if Sylvia had read Lorin's poem but forgot the source. However, I believe the phrase is common enough that she could easily have written it independently. Or she might have deliberately used the phrase and hoped it might serve as an allusion—although not a very effective one because Lorin's earlier poem isn't really famous enough to warrant such an intention—even though widely published. If I had remembered Lorin's poem, I would have mentioned it as a case of deja-ku. But please note that deja-ku is not a pejorative—it's just one haiku that brings to mind another in any of various ways. I don't see plagiarism here. It would be interesting to note when Sylvia first wrote the three "what light there is" poems in her book. If any of them predated Lorin's publication, then this is clearly independent creation. If they came after, then a question can be raised about influence, if any. But I don't think we have any clear answer. The fact that she wrote three poems with the same phrase tells us, though, that the phrase clearly arrested her imagination, just as it did Lorin's if she too chose to title her book after it.

6. I would be careful in claiming that Lorin's poem is truly original—it's surprising what you can find in very old haiku journals, or other poetry publications too. At, blogger Linda Flashinski has a column titled "In What Light There Is." At, a note about the author says that the column's title comes from a poem by John Ciardi: "And still, I look at this world as worlds will be seen, in what light there is." Since Ciardi died in 1986, that obviously predated Lorin's poem. What are we to make of that? What we should not do is presume any kind of plagiarism or even excess similarity. It's a common enough phrase and no doubt others have used it before and after Lorin and Sylvia, and probably before John Ciardi too. And as meghalls pointed out, in 1987 Eamon Grennan published a book with the same title (was this influenced by Ciardi?). On and on it goes.

7. It doesn't matter one whit how "important" or well-seasoned one poet or the other may be in relation to the other in cases of excess similarity. Being an old-hand at something gives no one a free ride on plagiarism or excess similarity. Nor does being an abject beginner, although in such a case the whole idea of deja-ku is probably new to the beginning poet, thus some education may be in order that wouldn't apply (one would presume) to the more experienced poet.

8. I'm not sure when Lorin's ebook was added to the Haiku Foundation's digital library (such dating would be a useful addition to the book's page at, but its appearance there would suggest that Jim Kacian, publisher of Sylvia's book with Red Moon Press (and director of the Haiku Foundation), would have known of Lorin's earlier collection. However, my understanding is that Garry Eaton is in charge of digital library additions, working with webmaster Dave Russo, so it's possible that Jim wasn't aware of Lorin's ebook (or that it wasn't added to the Haiku Foundation website until after Sylvia's book was published). It would be easy enough to ask about the timing, but it could also be true that Jim chose to publish Sylvia's book with the same title simply because one can't copyright a title, and that he possibly felt that the manuscript was too heavily tied into the title to warrant changes (or, given the fact that Red Moon Press titles are usually author-funded, the author retained primary control over the title and its contents). Independent creation is possible, no matter how much one might not like it (and I know I wouldn't if it were my book in this horse race).

9. I recognize that there's an emotional issue here. Lorin clearly feels put out by Sylvia's poems, and the use of a key phrase in both books titles. I sympathize, and I would feel bothered by it too if I had written the earlier book. But I think these things can happen—without any ill intent. If this is independent creation, then I think we just have to chalk it up to similarity and move on. Sylvia seems to have been less active in haiku circles in the last decade, so it could easily be possible that she'd never seen Lorin's poem or book before writing her own "what light there is" poems.

10. Yes, this is all "world of dew" transience, but there are still feelings involved. One of the biggest things that has intrigued me with my extensive study of deja-ku (which includes plagiarism, cryptomnesia, excess similarity, sharing similar topics such as season words, allusion, parody, and homage) is the emotional response relating to this phenomenon. Given all the various types of deja-ku, and the fact that one can be the "offended" poet, the "offending" poet, or a third-party reader, the issues and feelings can get very complex. Again, I certainly sympathize with Lorin's emotional reaction, and her feelings of not being acknowledged, so I think she's right to bring up this issue. Ultimately, though, I have to conclude that there's nothing legally or morally wrong with Sylvia's book title, except to say that if she had known about Lorin's earlier book, she probably would have changed her title—even though she would not have had to do so.

Lorin, I'm sorry this happened to you.


In light of this discussion, it is very interesting to come across two haiku in the June edition of The Heron's Nest:

sweltering heat
a hole in the backyard
bleeds scorpions
                                       Anthony Itopa Obaro

and this one:

heat shimmer
a stick on the verge
of snake
                                        Lorin Ford

For sure, the strong similarity here is purely coincidental-- no question of any kind of conscious or unconscious hanky panky. But damn interesting, especially as one poem is Lorin's-- a very good one I think. The other is also good, but because the editors gave it their top award, it does invite comparison.

I would say Obaro's the most visceral-- it is all sensation. (I should say here I did not read the editor's commentary). It does have a bit of the psychological, the author experiencing or imagining the earth as a body (which can bleed, as he can), but this mostly enhances the physical experience.

Lorin's is also visceral, but I think the psychological, or even mythic, dimension is more present. I sense it in the word "verge", creating a threshold or liminal space where the inanimate may become animate, and where the beholder may question her perceptions of what is real and what is not. And where the world is not an objective or solid thing, but "shimmers".

Very interesting to see these side by side. Other comparisons can be made, but my child is crying.


Michael Dylan Welch

I'm not sure why, Meg, that you see these poems as having a "strong similarity." I don't see that at all. I'd think of the similarity as slight, if at all. One has scorpions, the other a snake, both at a hot time, but that is all. It seems likely that one would encounter both creatures in a hot environment, and that heat could be described as sweltering and shimmering, so there's no surprise there. In my decades of accumulating examples of deja-ku (poems that bring to mind other poems), I would not consider these two as anywhere close to being examples. Still, I recognize that you noticed something similar between them, which I hope is something worth celebrating rather than decrying.


Hello Michael. Well, for my part I'm not sure why you think I'm decrying anything. I'm not. In fact, I thought I was celebrating the two poems. Maybe I should not have posted in this particular thread, where the context is "deja-ku" (and other phenomena which you have shed much light on)  as this might lead some to think that I am suggesting there is a problem here. Not my intent.

I do see a strong similarity, though it may reside a bit more in the depths rather than in the details. The similarity I see, however, or experience, is probably not one that furthers the discussion at hand.

Michael Dylan Welch

You are quite right, Meg, that I was reading into your post a possible decrying of the similarity, although I did say I hoped you were celebrating the perceived similarity rather than decrying it. But usually when people point out a "strong" similarity between haiku, they usually mean that it's excessive, so that's what some people might think you meant. Glad to know you meant to celebrate the two poems. I'm happy to celebrate them too, but not because of much similarity -- I see them as much more distinct. It's obviously subjective how "strongly" a similarity might be perceived. It's not strong to me, at least compared with hundreds of other examples I have in my Deja-ku Database.

Michael Dylan Welch

For what it's worth, I just received the latest issue of The Aurorean, 22:1, spring/summer 2017, which has a short haiku section, as usual. On page 51, this issue also has a longer poem by Bill Brown titled "What Light There Is" (which is also the poem's first line). I'm sure the phrase has appeared in many other poems, too, if not haiku.

Seaview (Marion Clarke)

A highly interesting thread.

Although only four words long, the (seeming increasingly popular!) phrase "what light there is" is loaded with potential emotion, both negative or positive and I'm sure it's been used on other occasions.  However, disregarding any other instances of its use, I would be rather reluctant to employ it after Lorin's "rain beads" monoku, which is beautiful and full of hope.

On the subject of cryptomnesia/deja ku/plagiarism/ and at the risk of exposing myself to potential ridicule,  I must admit to having experienced possibly one of the worst and most embarrassing cases of cryptomnesia ever. I once unknowingly posted a haiku of Jane Reichold's - wait for it - on her own poetry forum!  It is all on here on the advanced mentoring feature (if anyone wishes to read about it, just look up "river mouth")

I only realised what had happened when I came across the original haiku some weeks later as I was flicking through the pages of Symbiotic Poetry, a voluminous collection of Jane and her husband Werner's work. Almost a year earlier, Jane had sent me a review copy which I had been dipping in and out of, making notes, before getting round to writing the piece (subsequently published in Frogpond) 

Below is the haiku. Although I hadn't noted it specifically for the review, it must have just been 'filed' somewhere in my brain and forgotten about.

river mouth
the lovers stop
for a kiss

At the time of researching the article, I was working outdoors on an oil painting, a landscape featuring the mouth of the lough here in Warrenpoint. This may have pulled Jane's haiku to the surface as I slept one night. Anyway, I woke up with it in my head, loved it and wrote it down in order to post it on AHA and here on THF, where I asked if anyone found it familiar as it had literally appeared overnight. They didn't and on both sites some members posted very complimentary comments, and others suggested alternatives.

Once I discovered the original haiku myself, I contacted Jane immediately to explain. She hadn't seen it on AHA and was very gracious. I still have her message:

"I am not one who is sensitive on the issue. I feel my haiku are 'given to me' ... and do not feel that they are 'mine' in any way."

But it was still a most embarrassing experience and I now know the feeling of dread when something like this happens to a poet, so I would have died of shame if I'd been accused of plagiarism at the time. As Jane pointed out, "I am so glad you found my haiku yourself and no one bothered you!"

Lesson learned: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. :)

Seaview (Marion Clarke)

After writing this, I went looking for the haiku I posted on THF and then consulted with Jane's haiku in Symbiotic Poetry to discover I hadn't even remembered hers properly! I wrote:

river mouth
two young lovers
stop to kiss

and Jane's was ...

river mouth
the lovers stop
for a kiss

As Don Baird rightly pointed out in a comment, the 'two' in my version isn't necessary. :)

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