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February 14, 2006

plagiarized haiku: george swede’s tale

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 12:01 am

Most lawyers, as well as the general public and haiku poets, probably think of the world of haiku as a peaceable kingdom — inhabited by gentle souls of goodwill. While looking for a few of my favorite poems by George Swede yesterday, and hoping to supplement them with new ones, I discovered a darker side of haiku: a tale of plagiarism and haijin posses, and swift justice. Here’s what I learned:

pirateSSearching through the latest edition of Frogpond (the journal of the Haiku Society of America), Vol. XXVIII:3, 2005, to see whether it contained new poems by George Swede, I found an essay entitled “The Mind of a Plagiarist,” written by George. Like most of the essays in frogpond and other haiku journals, I had passed it by when the edition originally came my way, intent on enjoying the poetry. When I saw the title of the essay, I figured George was putting on his professor and psychologist hats (he teaches Psychology of Art and Creativity, at Ryerson University, in Toronto, and wrote Creativity: A New Psychology). So, I flipped to the end, which had the following senryu

Found: my sunrise haiku
with someone else’s name–
this dawn dark

I realized that George was referring to one of the very poems that I had wanted to spotlight again for Valentine’s Day:

I forget my side
of the argument

That made return to the beginning of the essay, which read:

As a victim of someone who stole over sixty of my haiku and senryu, I have tried to understand what occurs in the mind of a plagiaris

Finally, my highly-tuned lawyer-advocate-investigator mind was engaged and I found myself devouring the Autumn 2005 column Tracks in the Sand, a regular feature by George, in Simply Haikujournal. That column was entitled “Plagiarism: The Haiku Community Delivers Swift Justice (Vol 3:3). The column starts:

Disbelief flooded through me as I read the first paragraph of Carol Raisfeld?s email on the morning of June 3, 2005:

“Browsing on a poetry site I came across some poems I know are yours. . . What I saw was word or word George Swede poems.I looked for your name, but no credit was given. Can this be? I looked at other sites where this ‘poet’s’ work is published . . . I’m afraid he has stolen your poems.”

boy writing neg


In detail, George then tells how Irish “artist, cartoonist, illustrator and
poet” Adrian Saich, under the penname Giles, posted 60 Swede poems and a dozen by other haijin, labelling them as his own and even claiming copyright protection for himself. Most of the poems were on The Starlite Cafe Poets Corner. Others appeared at The Poet’s Castle, George understandably emotes:

Particularly galling was the blatant appropriation of each haiku poet’s poems. All were identified in the following way

By Giles
– 2004 Giles (All rights reserved)

George, along with his wife Anita Krumins, and Robert Wilson of Simply Haiku, quickly alerted the haiku community to this problem, and so many haijin quickly directed email and letters at the manager of Starlite Cafe, Albert Victor, that:

“Victor told me that he had received threatening e-letters from what he described as my ‘posse’ and was worried about his safety and that of his family. At one point, he said that he had called the police who told him there was nothing they could do. To assuage his worries, I explained to him that he had no reason to be afraid. The poets who had written to him were gentle souls, just like he was. They were merely venting their anger at what had happened and would never put their words into violent actions.

erasingS By June 8, 2005, the plagiarized poems — which had been posted for years – were taken down from all the offending sites, including Mr. Saich’s. It’s a great story of collective action and “swift justice,” and I hope you’ll read the entire column.

In his Frogpond essay (which is not available online, but is available as a

back copy), George ends by saying:

“To insure that plagiarists are detected more quickly, we must become more vigilant and extensive readers of haiku and develop more finely – tuned memories of them.”

Although he’s absolutely right about that, I’m afraid that few of us avid readers of haiku (many of us over 50) can achieve the scope of reading and acuity of memory shown by Carol Raisfeld. I suggest that each poet take the time to do internet searches — through Google or Yahoo! or other search engines — for each of their poems that might be available for poaching by plagiarists. Using quote marks around all or part of the text of each poem (should tell you quickly if it has been posted anywhere on the internet. If any tech-savvy readers know of an efficient way to accomplish this task for a collection of poems, and to repeat it frequently, please let me know.


erasingSF update (Feb. 14, 11 AM): Through his email address, I discovered that the Commentor “Jonathan” has a weblog entitled Plagiarism Today. It has a lot of information about this subject — he is a webmaster, not a lawyer. There is a series that looks particularly helpful:

Stopping Internet Plagiarism

How to Find Plagiarism” is a must for content creators. Jonathan says “Google is your best friend,” and reminds us that “even though the Internet is vast, it’s so well indexed that separating the needles

from the hay is a very easy challenge.” Thank you, Jonathan!

update (Feb. 16, 2006): Just in case you got the impression that Swede’s Haijin Posse turned ugly and threatening, I wrote to Prof. Swede for more information relating to Albert Victor’s fear of bodily harm. George replied that words like “outrageous” and “unbelievable,” and forms of address such as “Hey Buster,” were the worse that he saw in the email from haijin to Victor. He did note: “Perhaps email to which I was not privy contained worse.” George concludes: “Anyway, Victor subsequently apologized for his ‘outburst’ i.e., his letter to me about fearing for his family and his call to the police.”

 If you’ve read this far, you deserve to enjoy a few poems by  George Swede, that — as I said last year at this time — display quiet moments of romance that are more my style than typical Valentine’s Day rituals.

at the height
of the argument the old couple
pour each other tea

almost unseen
among the tangled driftwood
naked lovers

on the face
that last night called me names
morning sunbeam

I forget my side
of the argument

. . . . George Swede from Almost Unseen

In closing, here’s a new poem by George, that also seems appropriate on Valentine’s Day:

Peering into
the deep well, two boys
talk about girls

george swede The Heron’s Nest (Dec. 2005)

jailbird neg p.s. If any copyright experts are visiting, I’m still hoping for confirmation of my conclusions in haiku and the fair use doctrine.


  1. First off, thank you very much for posting this interesting entry. I’m going to have to write something about it on my blog. I think you cover some very good points that I need to touch on elsewhere.

    However, I have to say that I’m somewhat saddened that this matter reached a point where someone felt as if they were in fear of their life, especially someone who was just running a Web site and wasn’t actually engaging in plagiarism. As a poet myself and someone who has handled over 300 incidents of plagiarism of my own work, I know the frustrations well. However, there really is no reason for a simple plagiarism incident to go that far. There are just so many ways to handle these matters.

    Anyway, thank you again for this wonderful article, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    Comment by Jonathan — February 14, 2006 @ 10:43 am

  2. I had five tanka stolen from me as well as several sequences modified by someone I once counted as a friend. I was able to easily prove that the work was mine (thanks to one editor’s immaculate record keeping) and all sites removed the offending work swiftly. However, what disturbs me the most is that some continue to publish this man’s work even though they know he is a thief.

    Comment by Aurora — February 14, 2006 @ 11:10 am

  3. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a note, Jonathan. I have not seen the email messages that Mr. Victor thought were threatening, but I would be very surprised if they were actual threats, given my experience with the haiku community. If they did threaten anything other than boycotting his website and publicizing the plagiarizing there, they did go way too far.

    Thanks to your email address, I just found your weblog Plagiarism Today. It looks so useful, that I have added an update about it to this post. We all thank you.

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 14, 2006 @ 11:26 am

  4. Hi, Aurora, Thank you for sharing your experience. It must leave you feeling sad (despite knowing that someone admired your work a lot!)

    I’m not sure how to treat the offender’s genuine work. Mentioning the incident on a weblog can at least cause what I call e-shaming, and it will come up when others Google his or her name. I suppose that I would at least want sworn affidavits from the plagiarist about the authenticity of other work — maybe including a sworn statement from a third neutral “expert” party, at the plagiarist’s expense, that the offender’s purported work has been cleared by a thorough search engine search. Perhaps the same should hold true for a few more years of probation. Swede’s Frogpond essay suggests that a typical plagiarist will be a repeat offender, but I’m sure the situation varies.

    Any thoughts from our visitors — as lawyers, poets, readers?

    Comment by David Giacalone — February 14, 2006 @ 12:01 pm

  5. I am sure that this person is going to slip up again. He can’t write quickly nor well enough for all the publishing credits he wishes to attain, so it’s just a matter of time before he pilfers someone else’s work. He once stole an Edna St Vincent Millay sonnet and put it under his own name at a poetry forum, although he quickly removed it when caught, and he had an excuse for that one too. In other words – he ain’t too bright, and it won’t be too long before his stupidity and greed catch up with him.

    Comment by Aurora — February 14, 2006 @ 12:50 pm

  6. The haiku’s are aesthetically nice and read well in English but they aren’t traditional haiku. No mention of season either literally or symbolically. Which is a dead giveaway.

    Comment by Doug Bromley — September 16, 2008 @ 5:51 am

  7. Hello, Doug, Thanks for commenting. Many of George’s poems in the above post are senryu (he’s a master of the genre, which focuses on human nature). Others meet the modern concept of haiku, because they mention aspects of the natural world, although they do not refer to a specific season.

    [Note: I placed your name and not that of your weblog in the Name slot for your Comment. I prefer to have human commentors. Using the name of the your site makes it look too much like comment spam — especially since your comment does not relate to the topic of this posting, which is plagiarism.]

    Comment by David Giacalone — September 16, 2008 @ 7:24 am

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