Selected Examples of Déjà-ku

Thanks to Francine Porad, Christopher Herold, Lee Gurga, Charles Trumbull, and others for their assistance in suggesting a few of the following déjà-ku poems to me. Not previously published. Please also read An Introduction to Déjà-ku and Some Thoughts on Déjà-ku. See also my Déjà-ku Diary blog.

one has to write a little about everything or everything

about a little

—Anselm Hollo, “Ghost Dance” (in Near Miss Haiku, Yellow Press, 1990)

In the third edition of The Haiku Anthology (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), Cor van den Heuvel offers the following comment: “The writing of variations on certain subjects in haiku, sometimes using the same or similar phrases (or even changing a few words of a previous haiku), is one of the most interesting challenges the genre offers a poet and can result in refreshingly different ways of ‘seeing anew’ for the reader. This is an aspect of traditional Japanese haiku which is hard for many Westerners, with their ideas of uniqueness and Romantic individualism, to accept.” The following are some examples of similar haiku (and senryu), all published except possibly for two, which I have dubbed déjà-ku. I have collected many more examples, by the hundreds, so these selections are just a sampling, but I hope they give a thorough taste of the issues of déjà-ku.

Some of these poems may be “remembered” haiku (known as “cryptomnesia”), and some are parodies or allusions, or perhaps merely strong similarities, to varying degrees of excess. Most, however, seem to be independently written (I suspect that only one or two of them are deliberate plagiarisms, although several seem to be cases of cryptomnesia and thus may accidentally plagiarize). Which poems would you consider to be which sort of déjà-ku? Try assigning them to the categories of Remembered, Parodies, Allusions, or Similarities. I’ve deliberately left off publication information and have randomized the order of the earliest version of similar poems so as not to bias you in favour of any particular poems.

More important to me than “who copied whom,” if that’s anyone’s fear, is the overall emotional and psychological impact of these occurrences. How should we, as haiku poets, react when we have written a poem that we think someone else has already written? And how should we react when it feels like someone else has written a poem remarkably similar to one of our own? These are not easy questions to answer, but because déjà-ku is an occupational hazard for every haiku writer, they are questions that must, at some point, be confronted by the conscientious poet.

Note: If you know of examples of déjà-ku (please include all relevant publication details), or if you have any other comments on these sample poems, please contact Michael Dylan Welch.

a bike in the grass abandoned bike—

one wheel slowly turning— one upturned wheel

spring afternoon revolving slowly

Lee Gurga Eric L. Houck Jr.

In shallow water Half of the minnows

half of the minnows within the sunlit shadow

are only shadows are not really there

David Priebe James W. Hackett

frigid morning: A bitter morning—

geese squat together sparrows sitting together

without any heads without any necks

Wally Swist James W. Hackett

painting painting more blue

only sky into the delphinium

the widow the widow

Francine Porad Elizabeth St Jacques

In the sand

my sandals One sandal print:

worn and summer

almost done and summer’s


Marianne Bluger Tomi Nishimura

pausing bridge

on the bridge—both ways at both ends

in mist mist

Alexey Andreyev George Swede

summer breeze

the bridge goes


Jim Kacian

over the border Passport check:

their shadows my shadow waits

await them across the border

(one of five unspecified renku writers) George Swede

monastery overcast day

the all-white room my opal hoards

hoards the sunlight the sunlight

Francine Porad Mary C. Taylor

thorn bush thicket— Barely visible

remains of a split rail fence beneath the morning glories—

hidden within the chain-link fence

Michael Ketchek Tom Tico

cold morning— a bitter morning—

the man at the bus stop sparrows squatting together

swallowing his neck without necks

Giovanni Malito Helen C. Veale

Year after year Scene after scene

on the monkey’s face on Groucho’s face

a monkey’s face. a Groucho face

Bashō (translated by Robert Hass) Rich Krivcher

Late night in Chinatown whirling lazily

the ceiling fan’s blades in my spoon—

in my tea cup the ceiling fan

Lynn Atkins susan delaney mech

damp morning toll booth lit for Christmas—

cash for a journey from my hand to hers

warm from a machine warm change

Dee Evetts Michael Dylan Welch

The bridge toll-booth—

from the dark a hand collects

rain on the coins

David E. LeCount

express line express checkout—

the customer behind me the fat woman counts

counting my items the thin man’s items

Jeanne Cassler Michael Dylan Welch

hot summer night— distant thunder—

the click of the dog’s toenails the dog’s toenails click

on the kitchen floor against the linoleum

Michael Cecilione Gary Hotham

snowed in

the dog clicks

from room to room

Roberta Beary

all alone in the burning house

the telephone rings the telephone

once rings once

R. A. Stefanac Michael Dylan Welch

entering the house the telephone

I hear deep in its quiet rings only once

ringing telephone autumn rain

Dion O’Donnel Nick Avis

gone thirty years— found in the attic:

I rewind the pocket watch granddad’s pocket watch

just to hear it tick ticks once in my hand

Jeanne Emrich Michael Dylan Welch

broken clock— after his funeral

from the Goodwill bag my father’s watch still ticking

the sound of ticking in a dresser drawer

Helen K. Davie Adele Kenny

cool of the cave— sweeping snow

I raise my hand from ancient petroglyphs

to the hand of the ancient one a hand to fit my own

Jeanne Emrich Ruth Yarrow

as night falls night

so too falling

does the snow snow

John Preston III Michael Dylan Welch

the updraft from a granite cliff

blowing his ashes letting wind take his ashes . . .

back to us some blow back to me

Don McLeod Margaret Molarsky

his ashes scattered ashes scattered—

what to do what’s to be done

with the box with the box?

Paul Watsky Merrill Ann Gonzales

cold moon a cricket

inside the scarecrow lending the scarecrow

crickets singing a voice

Michael Cecilione John Stevenson

a cricket chirps Cricket

in a sleeve chirping

of the scarecrow in a scarecrow’s belly.

Chigetsi-ni (translated by Hiroaki Sato) Issa (translated by Robert Hass)

fresh-mown hayfield a farmer’s mown field—

meadowlark nest circles of grass remaining

unscathed where meadowlarks brood

David Gross Robert Spiess

(both published in Modern Haiku under the heading “Two Haiku Written Independently”)

two lines in the water not speaking

not a word between my son and I

father and son on the sandstone bluff

Randy M. Brooks Lee Gurga

graduation day—

my son & I side by side

knotting out ties

Lee Gurga

old wok— old pond

onions falling into a frog jumps

sound of oil water sound

Kenneth C. Leibman Bashō

Titan i


e titaniceberg

Ernest J. Berry R. A. Stefanac

washing windows Clear about

seeing myself everything

more clearly the window washer

Dorothy McLaughlin vincent tripi

tide pool two crabs claw

a crab disappears to claw in the tidepool

under the moon the flashlight dims

Christopher Herold Michael Dylan Welch

a white swan makes a path The water-fowl swims

through fallen cherry blossoms Parting with her breast

floating in the moat The cherry petals.

Kenneth Tanemura Roka (translated by R. H. Blyth)

nearly dusk . . . dusk approaches . . .

the shadow of her tombstone her tombstone shadow

reaches his reaches towards his

Charles Trumbull Giovanni Malito

beneath the ice waterfall

the waterfall so many ways

still falling for the water to fall

Jeanne Emrich John Thompson

forgetting: forgetting—

she sets the table I set your place

for two at the table

Valerie Broadhurst Woerdehoff Joann Klontz

coming home

flower that dot on her wing

by I follow the butterfly

flower flower by flower

Jane Reichhold Selma Stefanile

hot night Hot summer night—

turning the pillow turning my pillow over

to the cool side to the cool side

Cor van den Heuvel Sydney Bougy

Abandoned grain elevator; Holding the water

holding the snow held by it—

held by it the dark mud

vincent tripi William J. Higginson

July morning summer’s end

the slow muffled beat the quickening of hammers

of a carpenter towards dusk

Paul MacNeil Dee Evetts

Winter solitude— winter solitude

in a world of one color in a world of one color

the sound of wind. the taste of peaches

Bashō (translated by Robert Hass) Wendy Smith

Old frog ground fog—

up to his ears up to my ankles

in moonlight in moonlight

Robert Mainone Jim Kacian

In his book Haiku in English (Tuttle, 1967), Harold G. Henderson presented two remarkably similar poems. The first, by D. Martin, was the third-place finisher in the 1964 Japan Air Lines haiku contest:

Sandpipers chased by the sea

Turned and chased

The sea back again.

This, of course, is remarkably similar to the following poem by James W. Hackett, which was first published in 1963:

the fleeing sandpipers

turn about suddenly

and chase back the sea

Henderson calls this “a curious coincidence” and says that the two poems were written “quite independently.” To some readers, this might be considered a case of plagiarism, and it may well be, despite Henderson’s generous comments, but as we consider poems that are remarkably similar, let us likewise celebrate our commonality of experience, and be similarly generous in avoiding any rushes to judgment.