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Haiku Maven: The Trouble with Masters

hm_logoDear Haiku Maven, I have been getting personal email on a weekly basis from a haiku master. In the email I am asked to order the latest book by this master haiku poet and am directed to a book-order link.

Or I am told about an important haiku contest the master has just won. Or a review the master has published. Just once I would like the haiku master to email me and ask, “What’s new with you?” Am I asking too much?

Signed, Bitter and Resentful

Dear Bitter & Then Some, Allow me to borrow a little wisdom from F. Scott Fitzgerald about the rich and apply it to haiku masters: “They are different from you and me. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.” Yes, they are different. They have written more books, essays and reviews, won more awards for their work, judged more contests, etc. But for some haiku masters, common courtesy has been lost in the rise to the top. So the next time you get a promotional email from a haiku master, remember the power of the delete button.

The Haiku Maven posts each Friday to The Haiku Foundation blog. Haiku Maven offers advice about awkward situations involving haiku poets. 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. Ah yes. . . the ubiquitous solicitous email. Respond! Be bold! Level your accusations of piety. . . if tomorrow you find your in-box full of penny stock offers you can (& should) change your email.

  2. Wow, so many wonderful perspectives and takes on the problem of “masters/gurus”. This is a tough problem, because we all want to believe the best in people. If I detect any sort of ego (and this sure sounds like a big one) I lose interest. My best teachers/instructors are the ones who show me “an alternative” to my way of thinking and creating. On top of that, they work with me to insure my success. It’s a win-win situation. There are so many great poets out there to “follow”, but only because they keep creating small nuggets of beauty.

  3. Dear Bitter and Resentful,
    Your problem begins with your acceptance of this person as ‘a haiku master’, rather than ‘an accomplished haiku poet’, ‘a well-known haiku poet’, ‘a prolific haiku poet’ or ‘a haiku poet whose work I admire’. Since you call this person a ‘master’, you might also be putting yourself in the position of ‘disciple’ and consequently expecting a personal relationship with ‘the master’.

    If the person does not regard himself/herself as a master, he/she may not be aware that you regard yourself as a disciple, and therefore need or consider yourself entitled to his/her personal attention. The person may not be aware of the implied personal relationship that you consider exists between the two of you and might be horrified to learn of it.

    If the person *does* regard himself/ herself as a ‘haiku master’, or claims to be one, wake up! There are all kinds of nutters and power freaks in the world and this person might be one of them. It’s not only the rich who are ‘different’.

    If it’s just someone bugging you with too much self-promotion, yes, the delete button is quick & simple. 🙂

  4. Dear Bitter and Resentful,

    I think I know where you’re coming from, but perhaps part of the solution is for you to work on the root of your bitterness. I’ve had this struggle myself, and will again.

  5. I think it can be really hard to grow in many ways at the same time. I recall my teaching career and times when I had 5 minutes to give someone, when 15 would have been so helpful. Then when life asked other things of me for a decade or so, I had time to look out the window, and catch up in other ways. Meanwhile, other areas couldn’t grow. So I am learning to think in larger time-frames (I hope).

    We each have our own stories to tell, in our own voices. The Video Archive brings this aspect of haiku so to life. I think of Francine’s interview with Jim, as one example of many, where she spoke of how writing is what we do all the time, and how the fallow times yield growth.

    What is beautiful about haiku is anyone can begin, and no one can ever reach the end.

    Best wishes, Ellen

  6. Isn’t it interesting what becomes part of the unconscious life?

    There is a parallel in shamanism and some other service and personal growth communities… folks gotta make a living and so they make a choice about putting out the begging bowl.

    Meanwhile in at least some parts of the US culture, a friend is someone who has your back and won’t drain you of funds without at least some reciprocity. (Hence the weird world of Western dating.)

    Sounds like the master-disciple relationship is providing koans for all.

  7. Here’s where I love to read the book reviews in the journals. Ads are one thing, but unless you’re familiar with a haiku poet’s work you can go through a lot of things that don’t mean a thing to you. But the reviews are a gift for finding poets who say things you want to treasure.
    Another way of finding poets that have the jewel for your day is to take time to read the journals and you will find that the poets that speak to you will leap off the page. Then you can see what books they are writing by visiting some great presses out there. There are so many great little presses of haiku… and often they will give you some really good tips about what is just up your alley. To tell you the truth I often wish I were rich so I could indulge in all the marvelous books I come across.
    But I suppose “Bitter and Resentful” would feel much better if that poet who kept wanting to sell him/her books, would instead have a place where B&R could jot down B&R’s latest haiku … send it off to the “master” and then the two of them enter into a dialogue. 🙂
    Now we all can’t live in a perfect world…. so find the jewels that are hidden and don’t waste too much time on things of no value.

  8. Hmm…perhaps this may be true of some haiku ‘masters’, but as a whole I find haijin to be a humble and subtle lot, in accordance with the genre. There is sometimes a slight pressure to purchase books and periodicals or to join groups, but when I say slight I say it affectionately. We do after all, support each other, are buoyed by and inspired by one another’s work.
    And who knows, that little purchase may hold the next ‘keeper’ of a poem, which burns into memory and is carried through life. It can only be known through the reading and the pleasure it gives.

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