The Honkadori Revisited: Have I Read this Before? Déjà vu in Haiku

by Hans Jongman

First published in Haiku Canada Review 5:2, October 2011, pages 21–32. Reprinted in Carving Darkness: The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku, Jim Kacian et al, editors. Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2012, pages 128–143. Reprinted here by permission of the author. The alignment of some poems presented here may not represent the original or preferred indentations, as some poems incorrectly seem to be centered or otherwise indented. I’ve also made a few mostly cosmetic revisions and standardizations to this essay. Note my postscript at the end that reprints a letter I emailed to Hans in 2011. See also my collection of “Déjà-ku Essays” and my Déjà-ku Diary blog.

The following was first presented at the Haiku Canada Weekend, May 2011, Memorial University, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

In 2001 I submitted my haiku “song of a cardinal” to Frogpond. Jim Kacian, the editor at that time, was courteous in replying to my inquiry as to why my haiku was not selected. Mr. Kacian stated that the haiku was “too close” to the just-announced winner of the 2000 Gerald Brady Senryu Contest, Yvonne Hardenbrook’s:

the clerk’s lip ring

I forget what

I wanted

I was not aware of the Hardenbrook senryu. Here is my haiku:

song of a cardinal

I forget the purpose

of my errand

Both of the senryu and haiku were written independently of each other. Confident as to its merit, I submitted “song of a cardinal” to the 56th Bashō Festival in 2002 where it was accepted. The closeness of the senryu and haiku is certainly in evidence, but because they were written independently, there is no “echo” which is a requirement of the honkadori [an allusion in a Japanese poem to an older poem].

If I ask my wife: “What would embarrass you the most at a party?” she would answer without hesitation: “Another woman wearing the same dress as mine!” For the poet, reading someone else’s poem with identical subject matter and imagery, would be equally deflating for most. It does not have to be that way. Curious as to why my haiku was rejected by Frogpond, led me to re-read my haiku books and magazines. It confirmed that many haiku have similar topics and allusions, and that this has a long history in Japanese verse.

As if on cue, I spotted the following in Raw Nervz 4:2, Summer 1997. These two haiku were published without editorial comment, but the juxtaposition leaves no doubt that this is no accident.


on the bridge-both ways

in mist

Alexey Andreyev [1]


at both ends


George Swede [2]

Prior to this realization, and never having heard of “honkadori” until I read the word in an article by Doreen King that was published in Frogpond (30:3, 2007), I had only read the comments by William Higginson in his The Haiku Handbook published in 1985 in which Higginson wrote: “Sometimes a poet will paraphrase the haiku of another, changing just enough to shift the images and their relationship without making it hard to see the resemblance between the new poem and the earlier one on which it rings changes.” Higginson compares the following two haiku, and comments briefly on their resemblance.

an empty elevator



Jack Cain [3]

the elevator

opens . . .

vacant masks

. . . closes

Frank K. Robinson [4]

R. H. Blyth, in The Genius of Haiku: Readings from R. H. Blyth, compares a Kikaku haiku with one by Bashō. In that example, the honkadori has reached its culmination.

A firefly,

I partake of the smart-weed,

In my hermitage.

Takarai Kikaku (1661–1707)

I am one

Who eats his breakfast,

Gazing at the morning-glories.

Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694)

Cor van den Heuvel in his The Haiku Anthology (third Edition, 1999) writes: “the variations on certain subjects in 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.” Bruce Ross in his How to Haiku: A Writer’s Guide to Haiku and Related Forms, published in 2002, states: “sometimes a haiku will move us so much that we might want to respond to it with one of our own.” Ross comments on the following haiku.

a stick goes over the falls at sunset

Cor van den Heuvel


at the moment,

flowing over the falls

John Stevenson

The honkadori is not parody, as seen in the following haiku from an article by Alan Pizzarelli in Haiku Canada Newsletter (5:4. 1990).

deep in the woods

the pond’s ice

so thick

Masaoka Shiki (1867–1902)

Deep in our argument

my boyfriend’s head

so thick

Adele Kenny

Haiku Canada Review in its most recent issues, published David Burleigh’s paper titled: “In and Out of Japan: The Contours of Haiku,” which Burleigh read at the Haiku North America Conference in Ottawa in 2009. He writes: “The honkadori is the practice of echo and allusion that is common to haiku tradition in Japan.”

Since the Beat Generation, and especially the Haiku by Jack Kerouac, haiku has attained worldwide recognition, but for all the wrong reasons. Bashō, even in his time, saw the writing on the wall. Okay, that may be too over the top, but Bashō did write to a friend in the spring of 1692: “Everywhere in this city, I see people writing poetry to win prizes or notoriety. You can imagine what they write.”

Imitators, plagiarists lurk everywhere. Pity the poor editor! How many times have we read “first day of spring” as the first line to a haiku, just to satisfy the traditional season word. The first line almost becomes the title to a two-line poem! The honkadori, the recognition of the familiar, is not readily understood in the English-speaking world. To “echo” another haiku takes skill. To enhance the earlier haiku is a gift, an homage. We recognize many similarities but usually these are written by happenstance.

Christopher Herald writes about this in his article, “Bull Kelp,” in Frogpond (33:3, 2010), about his and Connie Donleycott’s similar haiku.

sickle moon

a boy whips the sea

with bull kelp

Christopher Herold

wind in my hair

a boy tames the sea

with bull kelp

Connie Donleycott

In The Master Haiku Poet Matsuo Bashō, Makoto Ueda writes a chapter on the Bashō-led renku “A Winter Shower.” The hokku was written by Tsuboi Tokoku (1656?–1690) and it is with stanza four that we find Bashō’s verse:

The northern gate is open

And the beginning of springtime

This stanza is echoed in the following three contemporary haiku.


an old graveyard

the gate left open

Jean Jorgensen [5]

early spring

the cemetery side gate

open a little

Bruce Ross [6]

a gate

left open

Indian summer

Alice Frampton [7]

It is interesting that two of the haiku refer to a cemetery, while in Bashō’s verse, “The northern gate” is the service entrance of a palace. The first line in the Frampton haiku is charming, I can’t help but read “agate” as in the gemstone.

John Wills, in his Reed Shadows, comes full circle:

winter drizzle

the gate to the meadow

locked [8]

It must be extremely hard for an editor to select quality work from thousands of haiku submissions. George Swede, current editor of Frogpond, writes in issue 34:1, 2011: “[we] select work from over 16,000 submitted items per year.”

In the 1985 Canadian Haiku Anthology (Howard/Duhaime, editors), a haiku by one of the pioneers of haiku in Canada, Claire Pratt (1921–1995) appears.

The fog has settled

around us. A faint redness

where the maple was.

Let’s juxtapose the haiku with one by Sandra Fuhringer:


drawing the tree

it was [9]

and by a haiku by Bill Kenney:

fog lifting

the tree

where it is [10]

Could these two haiku be considered echoes of the Claire Pratt haiku? Karen Sohne in the next haiku, gives this image another spin:

dogs still piss

where the tree used to be [11]

In October 2005, during one of the Haiku Deer Park workshops, I wrote the following haiku on the whiteboard:


bending with the wind

and the bee [12]

Across the prairie,

the grass is so beautiful

bending in the wind. [13]

I did not identify the authors until the end of the discussion. It was clear to the workshop participants that the second haiku by the late prolific poet Catherine Buckaway (1919–1995) is a padded 5-7-5 haiku. The “so beautiful” in line two is jarring. It was no surprise that it was unanimous that the first haiku, by Nick Avis, was the most effective. The addition of the bee also enriches the haiku.

Here is another example of poets using similar subject matter. The first haiku is by the late Ruby Spriggs (1929–2001); the second is by Peter Yovu:

park bench someone’s warmth [14]

the doctor’s waiting room

my queasiness sitting in

someone else’s warmth [15]

In the Spriggs’ haiku, the warmth of another person is welcome. In Yovu’s haiku, the “yuck” factor overwhelms. Both haiku are right on.

Commuters have all at times been bothered by the unsightly mess in bus shelters. In a haiku by Winona Baker, an empty pop becomes the focus.

on the shelter bench

waiting for the next bus

an empty pop can [16]

In the second haiku, by Hans Jongman, a pop can has come to the attention of bees.

churchyard bees in and out of a pop can [17]

The following two haiku made me pick-up my trusted Oxford. “Optician” and “optometrist,” aren’t they one and the same, I thought? They both detect eye diseases!


to read the sign


Alan Pizzarelli [18]

the print

on the optometrist’s business card

suspiciously small

Michael Board [19]

The following haiku share the image of light, and “angling” as subject, since the worms in the second haiku are bait:

In this heat, a stickmatch

lights up

a fisherman’s face

Arizona Zipper [20]

clenched in his armpit

the wormpicker’s flashlight

lights up his face

Hans Jongman [21]

My haiku was written as an “echo” to the first. I first met Zipper during the legendary 1990 Haiku Canada Weekend conference at Le Monastère, Aylmer, Quebec. It is not surprising that the Zipper haiku appealed to me. Light has always been central to my work. I grew up in Holland, one street away from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, famous for its unsurpassed collection of paintings of light. Vermeer’s “Girl with the Blue Turban” is there, better known today as “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.”

Using the image of light, the following haiku convey a darker side.

the bells are silent

at this church now

only the wrecking ball swings

Rae Crossman [22]

floodlit sky

the wrecking ball swings

in and out of darkness

Barry George [23]

Sad to “see” in the first haiku, the destruction of another, probably historic building. Even though the word “now” in line two is unnecessary, the haiku gives the reader ample reflection. Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Bells” comes to mind. That echo already makes this haiku a honkadori. In the second, the poet successfully turned an otherwise depressing scene, into a redeeming one.

The similarity in the following haiku is striking:

The newly-widowed woman

Watering her lawn

In the rain

Marco Fraticelli [24]

richest woman in town

watering her garden

in the rain

Bonnie Stepenoff [25]

Fraticelli’s haiku, first published in 1979 in his book Instants and revised in the 1985 Canadian Haiku Anthology, is certainly one of Fraticelli’s signature pieces. It is a hard act to follow. My first reaction reading the second haiku was that I felt it to be a “rip-off,” a very harsh assessment indeed, until I realized that the second haiku brought something else to the table. Both haiku successfully convey the loneliness so common in the Japanese traditional haiku. But unlike in the first haiku where the sense of futility is all pervasive, the woman in the second haiku, even as the richest woman in town, comes across as a person who even questions the amount of rain and deems it insufficient. For that persona, it is never enough. We can feel pity for the woman in the first haiku, but only contempt for the woman in the second.

Also part of the honkadori tradition is the mention or alluding to specific books. David Burleigh pointed this out in his HNA presentation. (See Haiku Canada Review 5:1, February 2011) but unless one has access to the books referred to, it would be difficult to follow the discourse. The article prompted me to check my bookshelf to find those books mentioned. It so happened that by synchronicity Frogpond published one of my haiku that makes reference to a book:

return to the garden

my Clausewitz copy

covered in blossoms [26]

Karl von Clausewitz (1780–1831) was a military theorist who is known because of his book On War. Clausewitz advocated the concept of “total war.” It spurred me on (no pun intended) to dig out my old copies of Frogpond. I browsed through a knee-high stack dating back to the four issues of volume six, 1983, looking out specifically for haiku that refer to book titles. There aren’t that many. Although haiku that mention the generic book are plentiful. Besides my own, I found only a few.

The then Frogpond editor Kenneth C. Leibman selected the following haiku by Charlotte Digregorio:

on my bookshelf

seeking “Think and Grow Rich” . . .

finding “Walden” [27]

Way before I checked my own bookshelf, Digregorio also checked hers looking for a specific book but found another title instead. What Digregorio was looking for was most likely the book by the popular motivational public speaker Napoleon Hill. What distracted Digregorio was the series of 18 essays by Henry David Thoreau (1817–62) that was published as Life in the Woods in 1854.

The persona in the following haiku by Lee Gurga has most likely found another Muse:

artist’s studio

“Let’s Talk About Divorce” book

among the sketches [28]

Most artists are absorbed in their work. All that attention has, in Gurga’s haiku, seemingly wrecked a marriage. Gurga allows the reader to laugh at the serious implication. I googled Let’s Talk About Divorce and 215 results came up for this title. All by a fellow named Fred Rogers . . . Mr. Rogers?

The Kama-sutra, the classic textbook on erotics and human pleasure, is the subject of the following:

long rainy season—

reading “the Kama Sutra”

alone in bed

Pamela A. Babusci [29]

Mark Twain also makes favoured under-the-covers reading.

under the afghan—

reading Huck Finn

by penlight

Michael Dylan Welch [30]

Another “reading in bed” haiku refers to the famous Jack London novel.

long night

“the call of the wild”

in my pajamas

Dan Schwerin [31]

To conclude, and having exhausted the Frogponds, I found, almost by happenstance, the following haiku by the late Giovanni Malito:

east end hotel—

Gideon holding up

the window [32]

The book of course, is the Gideon Bible, distributed free to hotels since 1908. The protagonist found another, more practical use for the good book.


[1] Second Prize (Russia), Mainichi 1996 International Haiku Contest

[2] Modern Haiku, XXV:1, 1994

[3] Haiku (Toronto), 1969

[4] Bonsai, 1976

[5] Blue Spilling Over (Haiku Canada Members’ Anthology), 1995–1996, LeRoy Gorman, editor

[6] Frogpond, 24:2, 2001 Jim Kacian, editor

[7] A Gate Left Open, Winchester, Virginia: Red Moon Press, 2009

[8] Reed Shadows, Windsor, Ontario: Black Moss /Sherbrooke, Quebec: Burnt Lake, 1987

[9] The Tree It Was, Pointe Claire, Quebec: King’s Road Press, 2002

[10] Frogpond, 31:3, Fall 2008, George Swede, editor

[11] Raw Nervz Haiku, 2:3, Fall 1995

[12] Bending with the Wind, St.John’s, Newfoundland: Breakwater,1993

[13] The Silver Cuckoo, Borealis Press, 1975

[14] Sun Shadow Moon Shadow, Oxford Mills, Ontario: Heron’s Cove Press, 1986

[15] Frogpond, 30:3, Fall 2007, John Stevenson, editor

[16] Clouds Empty Themselves, Nanaimo, British Columbia: Red Cedar Press, 1987

[17] The Melancholy Accordionist, Pointe Claire, Quebec: King’s Road Press, 2011

[18] The Haiku Anthology, third edition, New York: W. W. Norton, 1999

[19] Frogpond, 31:2, 2008, George Swede, editor

[20] Raw Nervz Haiku, 2:4, Winter 1995/96

[21] The Melancholy Accordionist, Pointe Claire, Quebec: King’s Road Press, 2011

[22] Canadian Haiku Anthology, 1985, Howard/Duhaime, editors

[23] Wrecking Ball and Other Urban Haiku, Lexington, Kentucky: Accents Publishing, 2010

[24] Canadian Haiku Anthology, 1985, Howard/Duhaime, editors

[25] Frogpond, 30:3, 2007, John Stevenson, editor

[26] Frogpond, 34:1, 2011, George Swede, editor

[27] Frogpond, 19:1, 1996, Kenneth C. Leibman, editor

[28] Frogpond, 21:3, 1998, Jim Kacian, editor

[29] Frogpond, 24:2, 2001, Jim Kacian, editor

[30] Frogpond, 30:2, 2007, John Stevenson, editor

[31] Frogpond, 33:3, 2010, George Swede, editor

[32] These Silent Rooms (Haiku Canada Members’ Anthology), 2002–2003, LeRoy Gorman, editor


The following is an email message I wrote to Hans Jongman on 6 November 2011 in response to his essay, which I had presumed was written without any knowledge of my extensive writing on what I’ve dubbed “déjà-ku.” Immediately following is a brief response by Hans. See also my collection of Déjà-ku Essays and my Déjà-ku Diary blog.

From: Michael Dylan Welch

To: Hans Jongman

Sent: Sun, Nov 6, 2011 10:07 pm

Subject: Honkadori / Deja-ku

Hans, a not-so-quick note to let you know that I enjoyed reading your essay on honkadori in the most recent Haiku Canada Review. You cite several examples of haiku similarity (which may or may not be allusion, of course), that I don’t have a record of in my database of such things. When you presented your paper at the Newfoundland Haiku Canada meeting, I’m curious to know if no one mentioned my work in this area, which has been extensive. Or if they did, whether you were familiar with it or not. From reading your essay, it feels like you’re unfamiliar with how much I’ve talked and written about this topic, starting with coining the term “déjà-ku” nearly twenty years ago. I confess to feeling a bit disappointed to not having any of my work cited in your essay, when it’s so relevant, so I can only conclude that you mustn’t have known about it.

I first began thinking deeply about this topic more than twenty years ago, and started what is now an extensive database of “similar” poems (which your essay will help me expand a little—I’m grateful for several examples that are new to me). I gave an extensive paper on déjà-ku at the 2001 HNA conference in Boston, and have spoken about the topic at numerous other haiku events, including, I think, for at least one or two Haiku Canada weekends (although at least one of them was in Lethbridge or Vancouver, when I think you didn’t attend, but perhaps also at Kingston and Ottawa). I also have an essay on the subject published at Simply Haiku, and two other pieces on my website (although my extensive 2001 paper from HNA remains unpublished). If you google “deja-ku,” you’ll readily find what I’m referring to. Please take a look at this material, as I’d welcome your thoughts on it.

I can only presume you were unaware of my work in this area, and unaware that I’m frequently called upon by haiku poets all over the place for opinions on copyright issues and whether poems are excessively similar, etc. I won’t presume that everyone should know about my work in this area, so I hope my mentioning it to you will be pleasant news, since we’ve both given a lot of careful thought to this issue. Your essay focuses mostly on just honkadori, and is a useful addition to a few essays on this subject. It emphasizes, as did Christopher Herold’s brief essay that you cited, how important this issue is. It can be a bit of downer to beginners, but I think it’s helpful for more experienced haiku poets to give these issues careful thought.

My own exploration of what I call déjà-ku (any haiku that “brings to mind” any other haiku, whether positively or negatively) includes at least six or seven broad categories, each of which I’ve explored in depth. The bad kinds (three of them) are intentional plagiarism, accidental plagiarism (due to the phenomenon known as cryptomnesia—or remembering something but thinking you’re creating it without realizing that you’re merely remembering someone else’s work), and excess similarity (that isn’t intended as allusion). This last category is very subjective, and the source of the most controversy in this matter—and not everyone likes the term déjà-ku as a result. But the fact is that déjà-ku [the bad kind] is an occupational hazard for haiku poets, and there are complex emotions relating to various incidents of finding someone else writing a poem excessively similar to yours, or if you find that what you’ve written has already been done, so to speak. The looming suggestion of plagiarism (in some cases) is understandably very uncomfortable for many people (even if undeserved), so this is a serious and complex issue.

The good kinds of déjà-ku include allusion, parody, homage, and sharing a similar topic (including but not limited to kigo). Honkadori falls into the “allusion” category, obviously, so it’s a subset of déjà-ku—and allusion is something that haiku could do much more of in English! I would say, by the way, that some of your examples are not really allusions at all, but merely the same subjects. I think a successful allusion requires a) that the original poem be well-enough known, and b) that the allusion be intentional (usually). Just because one poem brings to mind another does not mean that one poem really “alludes” to the other. The difference here is between authorial intent vs. reader interpretation.

Above I mentioned that my most extensive essay on déjà-ku (from the HNA conference in 2001) remains unpublished. The main reason for that is one of permissions, especially when it’s tricky to share pairs of poems and suggest that one is excessively similar to another, even if created independently—and even harder if I’m suggesting cryptomnesia, which is difficult to prove (outright plagiarism is less tricky to talk about because the issue tends to be more cut-and-dried). This matter of permissions for an essay like this has caused me to study copyright and “fair use” laws extensively [called “fair dealing” in Canada]. I would like to say that the quoting of full haiku in your essay (or mine) constitutes fair use, for academic study, but not everyone agrees, including lawyers (fair-use law never anticipated work as short as haiku). I’m gathering that you didn’t have permission from each of the poets you quoted, is that the case? (I wasn’t asked permission by you or LeRoy for the use of my haiku in the essay—although I have no complaints about that.) I’d be very interested to know if anyone contacts you to complain, as it could have an impact on my wanting to publish my unpublished essay. If no one contacts you, that would help embolden me to publish my essay without seeking permissions, which I think is the only way I can honestly deal with issues of excess, including plagiarism, cryptomnesia, and excess similarity that isn’t allusion—even though it may mean pointing the finger in some cases. The problem is that some haiku journals still want permissions, so that’s a hurdle to jump. [Since writing this, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that no permission needs to be sought to quote poems for discussion in essays such as these, although some publishers may feel differently.]]

Anyway, I’d be curious to know your thoughts on all of the above, as your time allows. Thanks again for your essay. I hope you get other positive feedback.



From: Hans Jongman

To: Michael Dylan Welch

Sent: Mon, Nov 7, 2011 7:45 pm

Subject: Re: Honkadori / Deja-ku

Hi Michael, thank you for your thoughts on my essay on the honkadori. The idea for this essay happened spontaneously and was not meant to be scholarly but rather for points of discussion at the Haiku Canada meet in St John’s, NL. You asked if anyone present during this presentation mentioned your work on this subject. There were some questions and someone did mention that you had presented a paper on deja ku at the HNA meet on Ottawa. But I missed the HNA meet and the Haiku Canada conferences in Alberta and B.C. As you mentioned, your twenty-year research on the subject deserves to be recognized and I acknowledge that it should have been mentioned in my essay and I apologize for it. I appreciate your invitation to read your work online and will do just that in near time. I do value your insightful comments on all forms of haikai. As my essay was merely a study, I was careful to give each haiku due credit, and went as far to mention those editors who saw first merit in these haiku, including your fine haiku. Have a great week. (In this part of Ontario, we should have had some snow . . . but the weather has been phenomenal, today 17C.)