milky way

Forum Workshopping — a Glance at Ethics

Is it true?

It’s an apparent tradition that, when workshopping a haiku, no matter how much the haiku has been edited by others, it remains a 100% owned by the original poet — it’s their poem — their credit. Should it be?

The notion has been that, regardless of how many words have been changed, possibly even if every word has been changed by workshop contributors, the poem remains the original poet’s work — receiving complete credit. Haiku poets have been sold that the “idea” of the poem is the real poem while the actual words are mere tools; but, what if edits make material changes to the original idea? Is it a new and different haiku? And, wouldn’t it, therefore, be a collaboration of which screams for credits be given to everyone involved? Today, I ponder, even question the unwritten code. It seems to me that a heavily edited/workshopped haiku may easily become more of a collaborative effort than an individual’s personal work negating the single credit culture in lieu of acknowledging all poets/editors involved in developing the final version.

Is it Ethical?

What or where is the threshold? When does a heavily edited haiku change ownership, if ever — or should it? When a lone poet submits a haiku for publication, is it important to readers to know whose work it honestly is? The question is, if the haiku has been severely revised in a forum, hasn’t it become a collaborative effort — or at least in danger of doing so? Has it lost the true touch of the original poet? Does it reflect the poet’s true ability and authentic voice? Yes, it is widely customary for folks to submit haiku that have been “washed clean” in a forum of amateur to professional editors. The question remains, never-the-less, “How many words can be changed before the poem is no longer the genuine work of the original poet?”

Haiku are created with an extremely limited number of words. They often have 9 words (in English) or even less. If you change only two words, nearly a quarter of the haiku has been revised. When the originator isn’t the one making the changes through their own poetic skills, isn’t the poem, in all honesty, no longer completely theirs? I’ve witnessed haiku become completely re-written while the originator continues to assume complete credit; yes, it is customary, but is it authentic? Do we accept the practice because it is tradition; or do we, step back, take a moment, and rethink it? Should it be?

How about Beginners?

I concede that workshopping is the most effective way for a beginner to learn “how-to-haiku.“ How else would one learn? However, for the more advanced, shouldn’t they claim their work; shouldn’t they receive the yes and no from the editors at large on their own skill and merit?

Possibly, their work will continue to mature as they continue to write; possibly, their work will improve as they receive and reconcile criticisms? Mozart wrote music; every note was his. Picasso didn’t have others paint for him while he claimed the painting. On and on, artists have stood on their own merit. Yes, I imagine we can list exceptions but, as we know and might concede, exceptions shouldn’t be the rule. But, beginners?

Collaborate is defined as:
verb (no object)
“Work jointly on an activity, especially to produce or create something."

 Custom? Or Truth?

We have to compare custom with truth. Is it true that a haiku, when heavily edited, is the work of one person? We have to answer this question carefully and yet, without inhibition; the answer must be ethical and authentic.

Another significant question arises, “How do haiku poets feel when they read their poem in a journal while knowing that the haiku has been heavily edited and not fully theirs? Is there a poetic conscience? Or does poetic license (tradition, in this case) subsidize a poet’s confidence enough to look at readers and declare, “I wrote it, it’s mine.” Custom? Truth? Untrue?

As a final pondering, it’s likely that none of this matters. Readers often detach from the behind-the-scenes of a haiku to simply enjoy the moment, without regard to such details. A terrific reader is hungry and craves to be affected by the poem, not necessarily by the name of the poet or by what process the haiku arrived. The reader may simply succumb to the “dream-room” of the haiku — possibly, nothing else matters. I likely fall into this group — I simply desire to be moved by a well-groomed haiku (for my pleasure); I want to be taken away to different worlds: I thrive on the opportunity to resonate with a haiku regardless of how it came to be. And yet?