Several months ago, when I was beginning to test the waters by sending my haiku out to journals and contests, I noticed that I often would see a poem that bore a resemblance to another poem I’d read (or written) in content, phrasing and/or wording. It bothered me, not just because I felt vulnerable about my own work being perceived as original but also because I suffered from the illusion that my work was undoubtedly the sole creation of my oh-so-very-unique and original mind.
When I contacted a friend who had been writing and studying haiku longer than I had, her thoughts on the matter were thoughtful and wise. She helped me understand that–whether intentional or not–similarities are bound to happen when you’re writing three-line (or one-line) poems of 17 syllables or fewer, especially when those poems are written to a particular “prompt,” contain a traditional season word, and are constructed with a “fragment” followed by a “phrase.”
Add to that understanding the realization that all creative people are influenced, both consciously and subconsciously, by what they have read and studied as well as by a sort of general zeitgeist that permeates the world around us (trending news stories, global warming, issues of love, death, aging) and you have all the makings for a creative dilemma that, it seems to me, has no real resolution . . . except to recognize that there is no such thing as being an “original.”
Once I came to realize this, I began to accept my own and others’ limitations in the creativity department. I no longer felt angst-ridden when I read a word or line some other poet had written (how dare they?!) that I too had written or thought–before they did, surely . . . Instead, I began to appreciate the unique inter-connectivity three little lines can offer: a community of people who share similar dreams, fears, viewpoints, and, yes, often, similar vocabulary. In short, I began to feel less “me-centered” and more a part of something universal.
I’m saddened, then, that one of my own recent poems has been misinterpreted. I wrote my haiku “origami rose . . . ” after witnessing a particular incident: a young man (a student of mine) who participated in a group presentation on Japan was speaking about origami. In the course of his talk, he produced an origami rose that he had spent two days creating as a gift for his soon-to-be bride. When he told her he was going to take the rose for his “show and tell,” she objected, fearing that, as it passed from hand-to-hand around the class, it might be damaged, and that all the myriad folds he had created for her would come “undone.” There was something so powerful and personal and poignant about his confession to us that my class and I were spellbound as he walked from person to person and table to table, holding the folded paper rose gingerly in his outstretched hands.
When the “roses” prompt came up for May’s Shiki kukai competition, I knew I would write about my student’s origami rose. For me, it symbolized both the frailty of love and the explosive energy of youthful passion. I also was, I admit, mesmerized by the delicacy of my student’s fingers as he passed the rose in front of me and his classmates, and more than a little nostalgic. And that’s what I tried to convey.
Regardless of whether my poem succeeded or failed, I wrote it independently–based on my own personal experience. That it struck some (myself included) as familiar after the fact I take as validation that all human experience is, to a great extent, a shared experience. And I’m grateful for that.