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Haiku Maven: The Trouble With Translators

hm_logoDear Haiku Maven, Maybe you have met me in your travels. I live half the year in my parents’ homeland and half the year in an English speaking country. Because of this I am fluent in English.

Here is my “gripe”: I submitted five of my haiku, in both languages, to an international haiku print publication. I never heard back from the editor. Yesterday I got my subscription copy. Three of my haiku were published as I wrote them in my first language, and in English, but not with my own translation. My three published haiku read in English as if they were written by someone who knows how to read English but not how to speak it. I feel ill-used by this editor. Besides never submitting to this so-called international haiku journal, what must I do to safeguard my reputation as an English language haiku poet?

Signed, Bilingual Und Fluently Fluent

Dear BUFF, Your situation is not as uncommon as you might suppose. Haiku Maven has received reports and rumors of similar fractured English translations by misguided editors of international haiku. You have three options. The first is to request/demand a correction. This might not work to your advantage as it may have the unfortunate effect of getting on the bad side of this editor. Editors can be a prickly breed and more than one has been known to hold a grudge. The second option is to resubmit those haiku with your own English translations to a different publication (along with a note to the editor explaining the prior editor’s clumsiness.) This option carries some risk of alienating the prior editor. See first comment. The third option is to ignore the editor and publication. This has the virtue doing what Haiku Maven calls “taking the high road.” If more haiku poets took the high road, Haiku Maven would be out of a job. Whatever you decide know that there always will be someone who is not satisfied with a translation. Haiku Maven has the email to prove it.


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 4 Comments

  1. Not enough information. Did you make it clear when you submitted your haiku that the English-language haiku were your translations of your other-language haiku?

    Allowing for word-changes that make a haiku in one language work in another language, were your translations obviously translations? There was a case I became aware of a while back, where a poet fluent in Japanese, and fairly fluent in English, wrote a haiku in Japanese, and then wrote an English-language ‘version’. However, it turned out that the English-language ‘version’ was less a version, and instead more a separate, different haiku inspired by the same subject matter that had inspired the Japanese haiku. But the initial impression the author had left was that the English-language version was a ‘translation’ of the Japanese.

    If the publisher was aware that your English-language haiku were translations of your other-language haiku, it seems odd that the publisher would spend time and effort getting someone else to re-do the work that you had already done.

  2. The problem is that multiculturalism is not an official policy in haiku (completely contrary to the practice in other forms of poetry which is cosmopolitan): the multiculturalism is marginalized as a strategy and practice and very often mistreated. Not only multicultural translations are problem but also “foreign” cultural forms are demonized (such as 5-7-5). Jungle law rules.
    This all is a reason more for all multicultural poets to resist violence and respect own multiculturalism by persistent practice.

  3. Thank you for that. I have no answers, but I write only to add that though bilingual and a translator by trade, my poetry blog in two languages never carries any translation, as started in the opening page. I find the poetics and so much more travel completely independently. For now, haiku are limited to English, since I cannot identify an accepted form for Italian, and this is important to me.

  4. Sometimes I see in my WordPress stats that my poems were translated into another language. I have no way of being able to evaluate the translations, but am honored to be read.

    If I did know two languages, I would include both in my blog posts.

    I’ve seen many editors and journals publish apologies and corrections over the years. That takes grace, and in my view, strengthens the journals.

    I’m learning one poem at a time. On a related topic, sometimes I’ve agreed to revisions, but wonder if I made a mistake in retrospect. But I can have both versions of a poem on my blogs, and readers may well vary in their opinions.

    All the best, Ellen

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