If you ever publish your writing, sooner or later it will have a typo. Sometimes typos are inconsequential or subtle (really, that period was supposed to be italicized?), but sometimes they can be a little more significant. Here are a few of my typo stories.
1. Cups and Carps
In the Fall–Winter 1993 issue of Frogpond (page 25), I had the following poem appear:
when the leaf falls
a golden cup
disappears into darkness
I remember Alexis Rotella writing to me shortly afterwards to say what an unusual poem it was for me, and how mysterious it seemed to her. And she said she liked it. I like it, too, more or less. But it was a typo. Here’s how the poem was submitted:
when the leaf falls
a golden carp
disappears into darkness
I like my original poem, even though it’s more predictable and perhaps more pedestrian, and may suffer from a cause-and-effect structure, but I also somewhat like the accidental version, and that’s why I never wrote to the editor to point out the error. Which version do you like better? Ultimately, the “cup” version is a mistake, and is really too odd and mysterious to be wholly satisfying, but I’m still intrigued by the new meanings that this typo created.
At any rate, I guess I survived this misprint. However, for most haiku, the slightest typo can radically change a poem, usually detrimentally. Because haiku are so short, they are affected by typos much more strongly than any other kind of poetry. I once remember doing a renku with a prominent haiku poet who objected when I explained that there was in a typo in my previous verse (I had meant “tilted gravestone,” not “titled gravestone”), and would she consider redoing her response verse? She came unglued and said how dare I “revise” my verse after she had already responded to it. Never mind that “titled gravestone” doesn’t even make much sense, and that her response would come off as a non sequitur after I corrected my verse. But that was that, and she couldn’t be persuaded. We never finished that renku. Careful proofreading couldn’t be more important than it is for haiku poetry, even if your readers aren’t unexpectedly sensitive.
—1 November 2009, 4 December 2021
2. The Startled Moose
The following poem, from a renku titled “Crows Return,” was published in Haiku Canada Review 4:1, February 2010, pages 35–38:
the startled mouse
But what I had written was “moose,” not “mouse.” Either option works and “mouse” does not look like an error. In fact, it’s more intimate and perhaps more empathetic. But I had intended “moose,” with the idea that the verse might be perceived as amusing, certainly to fellow Canadians while we were writing this linked verse at the 2008 Haiku Canada weekend in Ottawa, Ontario.
—4 December 2021
3. Naked Lovers
One of my favourite typos stories is this one, from a kasen renku (36-verse collaborative verse) titled “Carved on a Beech.” It was written in May of 2001 in a St. Lawrence College residence hall in Kingston, Ontario during that year’s annual Haiku Canada weekend. This was how the verse was supposed to appear:
startling naked lovers the moon
But, hilariously to me, this is how it was printed:
startling naked lovers the moo
That may indeed be a better verse, because to be startled by a cow is, shall we say, distinctive, and is rather more alarming—and funny. The moon, though, suggests that the lovers were at it for a while, and then the moon came up, shining in their window (if they’re not outside). In hindsight, I think I prefer the moo.
—21 December 2021
4. Coming Untied
In 2015 I had the following poem appear in Kō (29:10, Spring–Summer 2015, page 11), a Japanese haiku magazine:
my shoelace united—
tiny junco pecks a seed
spilled from the feeder
Of course, the first line should have said “untied,” which readers would surely understand (if they didn't miss the typo in the first place), but it’s interesting to let the poem take you where it will if my shoelace is somehow united.
—14 May 2015
5. Late for the Party
In the 2017 Haiku Society of America members’ anthology, On Down the Road, edited by LeRoy Gorman, a poem of mine appeared as follows:
ate for the bus—
in a hearse’s wake
Kind of cryptic, eh? The first line, of course, should be “late for the bus.” I received a note of apology from the book’s producer, Mike Montreuil, and an errata statement appeared in the HSA email newsletter, for which I’m grateful.
—7 October 2017
6. The Yogi Bear Typo
In 2002, I received two Tanka Splendor Awards in the last Tanka Splendor contest run by Jane Reichhold. Here’s one of the two poems, which was first published online with all contest winners:
lifts a corner
of our picnic blanket—
I place a grape
on your outstretched tongue
Sometime after I created my Graceguts website in October of 2009, I typed up this and other poems to add to the website. For some reason I typed “basket” instead of “blanket,” resulting in a poem where the wind lifts a corner of a picnic basket, which doesn’t make sense. Yet the version with “basket” stayed on my website (on my “Luggage Poems” page) until February of 2018. I first posted that page on 2 September 2011, so the error had persisted for more than six years.
I discovered this typo when Maxianne Berger asked for publication credits for this poem in seeking to publish a set of my tanka with French translations in Cirrus magazine. I keep track of published haiku and tanka on index cards (a system I started before I even had a computer). When I looked up the publication credits for this poem, and reviewed her translation, I noticed that she had translated the poem to say “panier pique-nique” (picnic basket) rather than “couverture pique-nique” (picnic blanket). My index card said “blanket,” which correctly matched what appeared on the Tanka Splendor Awards page, so where did the error come from? That’s when I realized that I had created the error myself on my “Luggage Poems” page. I then found various copies of the poem on my own computer with the same error. I’ve now fixed all of these instances.
There’s a bit more to the story, though. In commenting on my poem on the Tanka Splendor Awards page for 2002, Jane Wilson wrote, “This tanka is playfully erotic. Just as the speaker in the poem is enjoying the sensuality of placing a grape on a lover’s outstretched tongue, the picnic basket appears to be enjoying the sensual play of the summer wind.” Basket? Yes, that’s what she wrote. It seems that she typed the wrong thing too. The phrase “picnic basket” seems to be welded into our brains (thank you, Yogi Bear), and it’s easy to type that even if we might be thinking blanket. And yet this wasn’t the case for Maxianne Berger. In originally translating the poem, as she told me via email on 7 February 2018, she misread my incorrect version as saying blanket. She said, “When I originally worked on this poem I misread ‘basket’ as ‘blanket,’ [and] translated it as ‘couverture,’ and later caught my error.” But it actually wasn’t an error, and subconsciously she must have realized that “basket” did not make sense and that her translation should have been “couverture” (blanket) all along. At any rate, I’m glad to have this typo corrected at last.
—7 February 2018
7. A $30,000 Typo
The biggest typo horror that happened to me, though I wasn’t the author, cost $30,000. Not kidding. A single misspelled letter cost $30,000. I was the project editor for the book, Dan Ehrmann’s Paradox Queries: The Basics, published by M&T Books in the spring of 1993. It was the author’s first book, a 600-page guide to Paradox database software, one of a pair of books to be published in quick succession, the second one covering more advanced topics. We were in a hurry to get the first book printed in time for a conference at which the author was a keynote speaker. I remember the publisher, vice president, the designer, a marketing person, and me standing in front of a large monitor in the vice president’s office reviewing a final draft of the layout on-screen (front and back cover plus the spine in one layout). We had all proofread printouts of the front and back text and layouts repeatedly and were just giving a final sign-off on the full layout, which now included the spine. Our on-screen review was unusual but necessitated because of our need to get the books printed quickly for the database developer conference (back in those days I recall that getting full-size high-resolution colour printouts was not quick or cheap). We all signed off on the final layout and the book immediately went to production. Boxes were promptly drop-shipped directly from the printer to the conference where the author saw them before we did. He was horrified, and especially disappointed because this was his first book. It is not hard to spot the mistake in the following image:
The error was a misspelling: “Parodox.” The author had called from his hotel in a panic and couldn’t sell the books. The conference opportunity was lost. We went over options, such as putting stickers on the spine, but this was much more costly than you’d think, and very labour-intensive—and would not have looked good. We investigated the possibility of tearing off the covers and rebinding all the books with new covers, but this was even more expensive, and would have also wasted a percentage of the copies that couldn’t be rebound. Both options would have also taken more time than simply reprinting. So the publisher decided to scrap the entire print run to reprint the book, which cost $30,000. Glad I didn’t have to pay for that! At least the old copies were sold for pulp paper, but that generated mere pennies on the dollar, and even that process required the labourious removal of a disk insert in a plastic sleeve at the back of each book. The book was also one of two companion books, as mentioned, with the second one already planned to follow two months later, Paradox Queries: A Developer’s Reference, so they were both printed and marketed together, and both came out in June of 1993.
What happened, as you might have guessed, is that all of us were dutifully reviewing the text, but none of us happened to turn our heads sideways to check the spine carefully, and we all missed the error. After the decision was made to reprint, and with the conference deadline no longer hanging over our heads, we were able to refine the cover in other ways. The author also ended up proposing a few minor revisions for the interior, and the book finally appeared with a correct spine two months later, with its companion book. Luckily for the designer, all of us had signed off on the error, so the error was not just on his head, but it was a hard pill for the publisher to swallow. Check your spines, folks!
One other work-related typo I recall was even more embarrassing because of the context, but never fixed. It happened around 1990 or 1991 at the Seybold Desktop Publishing conference at Moscone Center in San Francisco (where I staffed a conference booth and also met Bill Gates). Fortunately, this typo wasn’t my fault, and was no doubt not noticed in time to reprint, or a reprint was deemed too costly. Thousands of conference attendees were given a glossy folder with the conference logo in the middle, with “San Francisco, California” printed in large letters in a circle around the logo. However, the city was misspelled as “San Fransico.” For such an error to happen at a desktop publishing conference, of all places, was particularly ironic. I wish I had saved my copy of that folder.
—29 March 2020