Some Thoughts on Déjà-ku

The following text is from a handout I’ve shared at occasional workshops on the topic of déjà-ku, which are haiku (and senryu) that bring to mind other poems in various ways, whether negatively, as in plagiarism, cryptomnesia, or excess similarity, or positively, as in allusion, parody, homage, and sharing the same topic or season word. Not previously published. Please also read An Introduction to Déjà-ku and Selected Examples of Déjà-ku. See also my Déjà-ku Diary blog.

Cid Corman, in The Next One Thousand Years: The Selected Poems of Cid Corman (Guilford, Vermont: Longhouse, 2008, page 90), offers the following six-line poem:

You quote my own words to me

and I think they must be yours—

they are beautiful. Of course

they are yours—as they return

through your affection. I wish

all our words could be shared

William J. Higginson, in his book, Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac (Kodansha, 1996), includes the following two remarkably similar haiku as examples of the season word of “pheasant” (pp. 70, 71):

startled in tall grass pheasant drumming

the pheasant’s wings beat in time with the blood

faster than my heart pounding in my ears

These poems, written by Jackie Hardy in England (first) and Janice M. Bostok in Australia (second), present essentially the same image. A startled pheasant has startled the person whose physical response (a sharply increased heart rate) is identical in both cases. One would think Higginson might include just one or the other poem to avoid repetition in his saijiki, but he no doubt included both because he found delight in their similarity despite their independent creation. How amazing that two poets who live at opposite ends of the earth could have such a similar experience, and write such amazingly similar poems. Higginson did not suppress one poem over the other, but chose to recognize and enjoy their unintentional similarity. It seems to me that this is the way to respond to such independently created similarity in haiku—to celebrate it!

I know of yet another similar poem—this, by Connie Donleycott, from Frogpond XXIII:3 (Fall 2000), p. 29:

autumn morning—

the startled quail

startles me

This poem differs from the two in Higginson’s book, yet has a great deal of similarity to them as well. Rather than dismiss such poems merely for their similarity, if they have sufficient artistic merit, as I believe they do, and are known to be unplagiarized, we can celebrate them.

In She Was Just Seventeen, a collection of haiku by Billy Collins (Lincoln, Illinois: Modern Haiku Press, 2006, page 9), the poet includes the following poem:

If I write spring moon

or mountain, is that

haiku plagiarism?

And finally, here are four lines of a poem by Dobby Gibson, from a book titled Polar (Alice James Books, 2005):

It may be true that everything

has already been said,

but it’s just as true that not everyone

has had a chance to say it.

How we respond to déjà-ku, in all its forms, is something I believe haiku poets must grow into. The negative types of déjà-ku (plagiarism, crymptomnesia, and excess similarity) are an occupational hazard of the haiku poet, but whether we are a potential “offender,” or the “offended,” I believe it’s possible to find the right balance between being blasé and freaking out. And for positive types of déjà-ku, we can celebrate shared experience. No doubt, an assessment will always depend on each individual poem, and will be a subjective reaction based on each person’s own comfort level with the type of déjà-ku at hand—plagiarism, cryptomnesia, excess similarity, parody, homage, allusion, or simply having the same subject or season word. +

Note: I would be grateful to receive the details of any examples of déjà-ku you care to share with me (please include publication details if possible). Please contact Michael Dylan Welch.

Poems for Discussion

Does our discussion of the following poems change if the poets themselves are among us?

watching the cat

watching the sparrow

watching the butterfly

Marco Fraticelli. [need original source, circa 1990s?, and his 2007 chapbook, Watching the Butterfly]

watching my daughter

watch her daughter

miss the basket

Nina Wicker. Wild Again: Selected Haiku. Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2005. p. 24.

I watch my neighbor

Watch her cat that is watching

A fallen fledgling

Lorraine Ward. Third-place poem in the 2008 Tokutomi Haiku Contest. Geppo XXXIII:4, July-August 2008, p. 10.

Now consider these:

falling snow—

white envelopes drop

through the mail slot

Winona Baker. Even a Stone Breathes. Lantzville, B.C.: Oolichan Books, 2000. p. 62. Published prior to this book appearance.

scattered petals . . .

the thud of my books

in the book drop

Michael Dylan Welch. Frogpond 22:2 (1999), p. 8.

The second poem below is clearly (and intentionally) a parody of the first, but what about the third poem? Parody, allusion, independent creation, or rip-off?

one fly everywhere the heat

Marlene Mountain [need source; circa 1970s]

one fly everywhere the meat

Martin Lucas. Presence 12, Aug 2000, p. 45. Martin published a series of what he called “Typo Haiku” in Presence.

one bee


the flowers

Steve Cottingham. Geppo XXXIII:3, May-June 2008, p. 1.

When similar poems appear like this, should we assume influence, or just similar experiences and thoughts?



the tethered goat

Christopher Herold. [need source info; circa 1991; also appeared in Fig Newtons: Senryu to Go, Press Here, 1993]

dragging ropes in snow

the tethered gypsy horses

make perfect circles

Graham High. Mariposa #11, Autumn/Winter 2004, p. 10.

Notice that the following pairs of poems were published in the same issue of Frogpond.

she’s late . . .


becoming snow

Giovanni Malito. Frogpond XXV:1, [Winter-Spring], 2002, p. 22.

she’s late

my coffee


Ayaz Daryl Nielsen. Frogpond XXV:1, [Winter-Spring], 2002, p. 28.

late fall—

my echo calling

the dog

Rebecca Lilly. Frogpond XXVII:2, [Summer], 2004, p. 20.

winter evening

angry dog tries to scare off

his own echo

Gary Cozine. Frogpond XXVII:2, [Summer], 2004, p. 25.

Is the following simply a shared experience, or excess similarity? What is the responsibility of each poet (and of editors) to know the literature? Should the later poem be avoided or not? Why or why not?

beach parking lot—

where the car door opened

a small pile of sand

Michael Dylan Welch. Frogpond 21:2, 1998, p. 8, and The Haiku Anthology, Cor van den Heuvel, ed. (New York: Norton, 1999)

day’s end

emptying the beach

from my shoe

Pamela Miller Ness. Haiku Poetry Ancient & Modern, Jackie Hardy, ed. (London: MQP Publications, 2002). p. 124.

The following is one of my most famous poems, so I like to think that a lot of people have read it. Should I feel proprietary about it? Some of the following poems, such as Vanessa Proctor’s, feel excessively similar (the editors of The Heron’s Nest either didn’t think so, or didn’t remember my poem), whereas most of the other poems feel sufficiently different.

meteor shower . . .

a gentle wave

wets our sandals

Michael Dylan Welch. Frogpond 24:1, 2001, p. 81. [first place winner in the 2000 HSA Henderson Haiku Contest]

meteor shower—

digging my toes deeper

into the sand

Vanessa Proctor. The Heron’s Nest, VI:7, August 2004, p. 8.

falling stars

a gentle tug

on my leg

w. f. owen. Mariposa 7, Autumn/Winter 2002, p. 8.

stargazing . . .

the caress of waves

on bare feet

William Scott Galasso. Haiku Headlines #208, 18:4, July 2005, p. 3, and Laughing Out Clouds. Kirkland, WA: Galwin Press, 2007. p. 86.

starry moss

soft between my toes . . .

gazing at galaxies

Melissa Dixon. Slow Spring Water. Victoria, B.C.: SlowSpringPress, 2006. p. 50.

beached starfish

a meteor shower


Kay Grimnes. Geppo XXII:3, May-June 2007, p. 3.

winter tideline

the old man bends

under a shooting star

Ron Moss. “Touch of Light.” Haiga Online 8-1, Spring-Summer 2007.

Is Jim Kacian’s poem below excessively similar? Several poets have since parodied Jim’s poem, perhaps without realizing that Jim’s “borrows” from Mainone’s poem. Or is Jim’s poem a deliberate parody or allusion? Or independently written?

Old frog

up to his ears

in moonlight

Robert Mainone. This was the first-place winner in 1977 Henderson Award sponsored by the Haiku Society of America (available online and probably also published in Frogpond).

ground fog—

up to my ankles

in moonlight

Jim Kacian. Six Directions. Albuqueque, NM: La Alameda Press, 1997, but what’s the earliest source?

Here’s a case of similar syntactical structure as well similarity in some of the words.

which is the way?

fallen pine needles point

in all directions

John Thompson [need source info; early 1990s, in Woodnotes?]

which way home?

yellow ferns pointing

in all directions

Gerald Bravi. Frogpond XXVII:2, [Summer], 2004, p. 41.

Now consider these:




Michael Dylan Welch. Raw Nervz 1:4, Winter 1994-95, p. 31. Also the cover of a Christmas card (about 150 copies, sent mostly to haiku poets), printed in November of 1990.

No longer




now that

night’s fallen

Cid Corman. The Next One Thousand Years: The Selected Poems of Cid Corman. Guilford, Vermont: Longhouse, 2008. p. 196. This was originally published many years earlier.

Snow falls

snow falls

snow falls.

The day ends.

Snow falls.


Abbas Kiarostami. Walking with the Wind. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak and Michael Beard, trans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Film Archive Publication, 2001. p. 18.

A deliberate pairing of poems (not intended as haiku, incidentally) on opposite pages of the same book:

The moon’s disk

shines its light unconditionally

on the glowworm.

The glowworm

shines its light unconditionally

on the moonless night.

Abbas Kiarostami. Walking with the Wind. Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak and Michael Beard, trans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Film Archive Publication, 2001. pp. 218 and 219.

Note the slightly different versions of Fay’s poem that were published in Heron’s Nest and then in Frogpond (the later publication was in an article by Fay). Look also at the timing of her translation of the Sumio Mori poem (which she probably worked on prior to her own “fail to become a swan” poem). In the issue of Frogpond where Fay presents her poem as well as the Mori translation, she says “this is an allusion to a haiku written by Sumio Mori.” Yu Chang’s poem is a deliberate parody of Fay’s.

joya no tsuma hakuchô no goto yuami ori

my wife on New Year’s Eve

taking a bath

as though she is a swan

Sumio Mori (Fay Aoyagi, trans.). Frogpond XXVIII:2, Spring-Summer 2005, p. 16.

New Year’s Eve bath—

I fail to become

a swan

Fay Aoyagi. The Heron’s Nest V:4, April 2003 [online], and Chrysanthemum Love [need publication data].

New Year’s Eve bath—

I failed to become

a swan

Fay Aoyagi. Frogpond XXVIII:2, Spring-Summer 2005, p. 16.

lavender scent

I fail to become

a bee

Yu Chang. Acorn #20, Spring 2008, p. 11.

When I first published chris gordon’s poem in Tundra, I didn’t realize it had any connection to Paul Reps, even though I’m a big fan. What does the poem gain when I learn that it’s a variation of the Reps poem (or really, an intentional response to it)?

drinking a bowl of green tea I stop the war

Paul Reps (see Reps website for source).

drinking tea i didn’t stop the war i just forgot about it

chris gordon. Tundra #2, 2001, p. 111.

I wrote my poem below in 2006, and first read Gibson’s poem a few months after writing mine. Should I publish my poem or not?

scattered showers

a worm makes it halfway

across the sidewalk

Robert Gibson. Children of the Sparrow (Seattle, WA: Holly House Publications, 1999), p. 21.

the snail track

just halfway

across the path

Michael Dylan Welch (written in 2006; not yet published)

Notice that the following poems both appeared in the same anthology:


the snail deeper

into the lily

Alexis Rotella. Modern Haiku XV:2 1984, [need page number], and Bruce Ross’s Haiku Moment, p. 209.


a bee burrows deeper

into the marigold

Emily Romano. Modern Haiku XIX:1 1988, [need page number], and Bruce Ross’s Haiku Moment, p. 194.