Skip to content

Haiku Maven: See No Evil

hm_logo Dear Haiku Maven, A poet I know took first prize in an international haiku contest in the English-haiku category. The submission guidelines stated that the contest haiku “must be original and not previously published.” I know that the winning haiku was published several years ago in a journal since I have a copy of the journal and the same poet is listed as author. The journal is no longer published. I wrote to the winning poet with this information but have not received a reply. The contest was held in a country where not many people speak English. I hesitate to contact the contest administrators. Not a Teller of Tales

The role of tattletale is not suited to haiku poets. Neither is the role of avenging angel. That being said, Haiku Maven knows those whose favorite pastime is to ferret out these types of injustices, regardless of whether or not the offence was unintentional. By writing to the poet, Haiku Maven thinks that your conscience should be satisfied. Now let the ferrets do their work.

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 9 Comments

  1. I agree with Mr. Welch. If haiku is to be taken as seriously as mainstream poetry, then it needs to have the same ethical standards as mainstream poetry. As an example, the Boston Review runs an annual poetry contest that awards $1500 to the winning poem. The contest rules specify the poem must be unpublished.

    One thing I think is worth considering is that virtually all well-published, well-established mainstream poets don’t enter such contests. How many well-published haiku poets continue to enter such haiku contests? Is there a difference between what I would call a ‘beginner’ haiku contest, and contests for well-published haiku poets? Should there be two separate categories of haiku contests: ones for previously unpublished haiku poems, and ones open to all haiku, including the previously published? Or different categories within the same contest?

  2. “Now let the ferrets do their work.” – Haiku Maven

    I think we need a few more ferrets in the haiku community and a few less weasels.

    That said, at least the poem in the case NaToT presents was the poet’s own. There’s the possibility that the poet concerned hadn’t taken the time to read the instructions on the paint tin. (This certainly happens enough with journal submissions, so I imagine it might happen with comps, too, from time to time)

    A quiet word to the poet is perhaps in order for a one-off mistake, but repetitive behaviour of this sort calls for whistle-blowing, which can be both awkward and dangerous to the person objecting.

    – Lorin

  3. What’s the point of the “not previously published” rule? It’s because most poetry journals (not just haiku journals) publish just new work, with only occasional exceptions, and that’s what readers expect. The journal’s “promise” to readers is that they’ll be reading new work. It’s usually not a copyright issue at all. As a reader, I confess to feeling a bit cheated if I read a poem in a journal that I’ve read in a published source before. It’s a simple workflow:

    New poems => journals
    Republished poems => anthologies, etc.

    One’s own books could have both new and republished poems, of course.

    As for the issue of accidentally submitting previously published work, all you need to do is keep good records. You can read about my system at

  4. Several things come to mind as I think about this situation, First: what is the purpose of the “not previously published” rule? Is it that the contest organizers want to recognize truly new work? Or to avoid potential copyright issues with previous publications? Or??? Sadly the reputation of the poet as a person who continues to write “new work” (or more than one good poem) has been damaged in the mind of at least one person — perhaps adequate deterrent to future erroneous submission. If it’s a copyright concern: rights usually revert to the author, no? (I acknowledge the author’s submission may be legal but still be unfair to the first publication….)

    Secondly: it’s intriguing that “legacy” haiku continue to win contests: otherwise I would wonder about the malleability of criteria used for deciding that a haiku is “first-rate..” 🙂

    Finally: as my memory ages and the number of forums increases it’s harder to remember what was “published” where. I love the opportunity to share haiku: but my nightmare is that I will inadvertently re-submit poems….. this situation reminds me of the importance of both good record-keeping and humility….. Thank you, Haiku Maven 🙂

  5. What’s the point of the “not previously published” rule, anyway, anymore? A haiku is either good or bad whether it has been seen in the-now hundreds of places it can be, or entered in the now-plethora of contests, right? It is the editor or judge who determines whether to include a haiku in the publication/contest and does so based on merit, no? In fact, I think the student who submitted an Issa haiku and won the **perfect** example of how a good haiku is a good haiku is a good haiku, and I’m wondering if there might be a rethink on the whole notion of the “not previously published” instruction. Everyone, I suspect – poet, editor, reader – would be happily released from such a debarment, would they not?

    I would, however, keep to the letter the good (and sensible) rule that a submission to one publication/contest not be under consideration anywhere else at the time of the entry until the poet is notified of its acceptance or return, yes?

  6. Once a student of mine, entered a haiku contest on Honshu and unbeknownst to me and my Japanese colleagues, he had copied an Issa haiku…he won first place. We were all embarrassed, mostly because we didn’t recognize the puppy rollin’ in the leaves haiku…
    The Japanese way,… ignore it. Pretend it did not happen. Do not draw attention to it. Embarrass no one. This was good advice, ancient advice. My first Japanese lesson.
    My student denied having copied the poem. I did not press him. I told him to write one true haiku and give it to me. He never did. I am waiting, with hope…of course, with the years, I realize now he was only trying to gain my respect, my love, and approval…the fault was in my practice…this event changed the way I teach…


  7. I had a similar experience when I was a judge of a particular contest. I had selected a poem for a top prize, and thought it was a wonderful poem — and still do. However, I found out a few years later that a slightly different version had been published before (I think it had placed in another contest). I was very disappointed in the poet when I learned this, although I’ve never mentioned it to the poet. And while I still think the poem is very good (and better in the version I selected than in the other version), every time I read it I can’t help but feel a little bit cheated — as contest judge and on behalf of readers of the winning poems. There might be an explanation that could shed more light on the situation, but generally I don’t think what this poet had done was ethical. I’ve chosen not to say anything to the poet because too much time had passed when I learned about the reuse, but I would suggest that a good lesson for any poet is to keep good records, and to not recycle poems in new variations (at least not for contests).

    I should say that I too find the comment “The role of tattletale is not suited to haiku poets” to be disingenuous (it even smacks of bullying the tattletale). What is it about HAIKU that makes such an action inappropriate, where it might be appropriate for other kinds of poetry?!? That completely baffles me. Haiku is no port in a storm, and haiku poets should be held to the same ethical standards as any other sort of poetry (you can bet that if this situation happened with longer poetry, it would be brought to public attention in an appropriate way — as well it should).

    We want to be nice to each other, of course, but to say that the role of tattletale is not suited to haiku poets also makes the whistle-blower feel unnecessarily guilty when he or she does nothing wrong by mentioning a problem. I think ethically the submission of previously published poems should not be done, of course. Someone reading a particular poem that’s been previously published may have special knowledge — which they may even have a moral obligation to share (politely and usually privately, of course). I realize we make mistakes sometimes in our record-keeping, and the situation described here may simply be an accident. If it wasn’t, then let the experience stand as an example to rest of us of what not to do. But I agree that sitting on one’s hands and not pointing out an issue is a bit irresponsible. Not doing anything about it, to my mind, does disservice to everyone (contest organizers, judges, readers, and especially the poet) by tacitly allowing such action when it shouldn’t be tolerated.

  8. There will be no reward for the one who publicly exposes the cheater, but a private word to let him know his subterfuge has been detected will perhaps discourage a repeat. It might even elicit an explanation. But no reply will suggest guilt, and in that case maybe an anonymous tip to the contest organizers will help avoid unpleasantness, and provoke the cheater to quietly renounce his ill gotten reward. Certainly a tough one for the maven, and hopefully a rare occurrence.

  9. I find Haiku Maven’s answer rather disingenuous and provocative, likely to be deliberately so on both counts to initiate discussion.

    The haiku community is very kind and generous and I don’t doubt for a moment that there are those who take advantage of the kindness and generosity, maybe not as serial offenders but who do it nonetheless.

    Are we (that is, anyone who spots one of these transgressions) supposed to sit on our hands, say “oh dear” to ourselves, shaking our heads sadly as we sip a herbal tisane? Or should we Do Something About It?

    The latter is certainly the more difficult option. It means naming names, laying a complaint, possibly having our name passed on to the person being complained about … and it could all get rather nasty.

    I have no time for cheats or liars or bullies and regard such behaviour as beyond the pale. So my decision is made for me. What about you?

Comments are closed.

Back To Top