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Haiku Maven: Between Friends

hm_logo Dear Haiku Maven, A friend who has written several haiku chapbooks helped me with one of my haiku at my request. He completely changed the last line and made it much stronger. I thanked him. I entered that same haiku, as revised by him, in a big haiku contest. It won a prize, my first, and I was mailed a beautiful certificate. When he saw the certificate he said it was nice to see our haiku on my wall, even if he had to squint to see it. I could not tell if he was joking. Was I wrong to enter that haiku in a contest? I have been writing haiku for about a year and he was the one who introduced me to it. Prize Winning Poet

You are not the first haiku poet who has benefited from the editorial skills of a more seasoned writer. Haiku Maven thinks your poet friend was giving you a little grief about how you chose to display your first prize. Many haiku poets help edit the haiku of close friends and some even do the same for acquaintances. These poet editors have received many haiku prizes and other haiku awards but do not usually display them. They save them for their short bios.

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 8 Comments

  1. “The gist was, happy to help … and in time you’ll be able to do this yourself (ie, see where improvements may be made).

    My plan is not to let him down.”

    I agree with sandra, and also with h gene murtha’s feelings about poem workshopping.

    I think there is a time when any poet can benefit from these kinds of input but at some point in time one has to learn to do revision on one’s own. For better or for worse.

    “Poetry by committee”, was what one of my teachers called it when a poet relied too much on the workshop process and not enough on personal time spent revising a poem. Of course there is merit in the Iowa Method, it is widely taught and respected. Not so many teachers address the mechanics of sitting alone with one’s poems, always with Suzuki’s “beginner’s mind”.

    “Remember, we are all awful poets”, was another insight given to me by another teacher.

    IMHO, in the long run, it is probably more genuine not to enter heavily workshopped or edited poems into contests.

  2. Yes, any suggestion we offer to improve a haiku is a gift for the receiver to use or lose as they see fit, and I know that I’ve felt good when I’ve seen haiku that’ve incorporated my suggestions published.

    I must say though that when I found a haiku I’d significantly improved by providing (if I may say so myself) an inspired first line had been entered into, and had won, first prize in a major competition, with both money & big kudos involved, I felt somewhat shocked. I realised, though, that my feelings were based on the simple fact that I wouldn’t do that, which was a tad naive. (But I don’t enter many competitions anyway, & especially have never entered those with fees, requirements for specific American sizes of file cards & postal entries only)

    Perhaps the ‘mentor’ involved in ‘Prize-winning Poet’s’ case simply felt a little surprised, nonplussed, as I did, but was more forthright in his/her initial, ambivalent response. (It seems ambivalent to me, by the reminder that the haiku wasn’t all ‘Prize-winning Poet’s own work) In my case it wasn’t someone who’d consider me a mentor, but a peer. Some people are simply more competitive than others, one realises as one goes along. They’re not in the wrong to do this sort of thing. The implicit contract is that if I make a suggestion, it’s yours if you want it.

    I don’t know quite why I made/ make a distinction between submitting such a haiku for publication and entering it into a major contest, but I do. It feels like an ethical grey area, to me. I disturbed about it, because I hadn’t imagined it would happen. Water under the bridge now and I know the person a lot better.

    – Lorin

  3. If your mentor is worth his salt, he was joking, sounds like it from the “squint” remark. And if he is truly a mentor, you can discuss with him how you’re feeling about those comments.

    My first experience of having a haiku reordered (rather than rewritten) came at the hands of the late Cyril Childs, a man with a gentle manner and a formidable reputation as an editor and writer. He was asking permission to use one of my haiku in an anthology but was suggesting it be turned round a little bit. The improvement took my breath away.

    As we weren’t living in the same country at the time and I was still new to haiku, I emailed him and suggested that it was now his haiku. Oh no, was his reply, all I’ve done is a little bit of an edit using your idea and your words. The gist was, happy to help … and in time you’ll be able to do this yourself (ie, see where improvements may be made).

    My plan is not to let him down.

  4. More editors should follow in Bob Spiess

    As Billie has graciously pointed out, the friend
    may have been joking?

  5. Some time ago, I corresponded with a haiku friend about this issue, so I’m going to mostly repeat what I shared then: I believe there is a difference between a suggestion from a fellow poet that includes a possible revision – and one that is general guidance (such as saying a poem might benefit from including a reference to nature or the addition of juxtaposition). The first time I experienced a suggested revision was from my first mentor, Bob Spiess, in response to my first submission to a major haiku journal. I was shocked and truly offended that anyone would revise poetry. While I had experienced and even welcomed editorial suggestions for prose, somehow poetry seemed untouchable. While perhaps naïve, that was my initial response. Fortunately, my reaction evolved to a sense of challenge as I vowed to learn how to write better haiku.

    Back to Haiku Maven’s column regarding an actual revision suggested by another poet. The time I remember most vividly was through correspondence with Peggy Lyles when we were on the old Shiki list. She wrote me offlist with suggestions about improving a haiku I had shared there. As all who knew and loved Peggy can well imagine, the tone of her suggestions was gentle and loving. What she suggested made such an obvious improvement, I was really kind of stunned. I wrote back and thanked her, asking if it would be okay to submit the poem with both of our names. She responded that the poem was all mine and would always be all mine – the idea was mine, the initial wording was mine. All she did was help it realize its potential. She said this was one of the aspects of the haiku community that it made it so special – this willingness to freely share ideas in this way. Over the years that have passed since that fortuitous exchange, I have come to deeply appreciate these well-intentioned offerings from other poets.

    While I do not expect to ever be as skilled at mentorship as those who have mentored me, I am always willing to try. When I offer suggestions to newcomers, I always try to convey that I respect their work and have no intention of telling them they should change it. But that if they like my suggestions, they are welcome to them: the heart of the haiku will always be theirs in whatever form it takes.

    (By the way, it is entirely possible that Prize Winning Poet’s mentor really was joking. Tone of voice does not always come through the written word. This is why so much of my correspondence is peppered with smiley faces, quotation marks, and other attempts – for example, saying “our” haiku, to indicate their previous friendly sharing, not any kind of real claim to the haiku itself.)

  6. In my view, the only wrong act was performed by the mentor when he stated that it’s “nice to see OUR haiku on my wall.” (emphasis added). The haiku belongs to the writer above, not the mentor; its hers, not theirs. In providing advice, unless otherwise made clear upon its provision, the default must be that the completed and “assisted” poem belongs to the advice seeker. The act of giving advice is, in itself, presumed to be one of generosity, not a quid pro quo (again, unless otherwise decided, or as a matter of custom, e.g., with the provision of tax advice by an accountant). Query whether this newbie poet will seek out the advice of the mentor again — I would think not (and would recommend not). Accordingly, in stealing some sunshine from the winner, the mentor’s actions are not simply selfish, but counter-productive. Ergo, nice going, “mentor.”

  7. I’ve only been around since 1999, with a few awards in several
    genres, so consider me a rooky.

    For about decade and a half i have watched poet’s win awards and
    a number of them only threw an idea on a board and watch their work
    develope onto a complete poem, which is one of the reasons that i
    am not a huge fan of workshops. Come on, at least try to write your
    own poetry. We have editors today that cannot write a haiku.y

    If anyone offers a suggestion, you still own the poem, no one else
    does, unless you are like me, and a suggestion or total rewrite is so
    far off from what you’ve intended that you give the poem away.


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