Skip to main content
PBS logo

The Eclectic Pen - Haiku Minus Sixteen: The Controversy

By: Scott W. (Rev)   + 36 more  
Date Submitted: 2/17/2007
Genre: Humor & Entertainment » Humor
Words: 1,484

  One night, not too long ago, I found myself alone at a keyboard and in a rather silly mood, a combination that can only be regarded as unadvisable. I had just read a poem by a gentleman titled “Haiku Minus Five”, which was basically a Haiku without the first five syllables. While he did not appear to intend it to by humorous, I was quite tickled by the novelty of the idea. In a fit of exceptional silliness, and in a sort of perverse homage to Tenacious D’s “One Note Song”, I quickly penned and posted the following on a creative writer’s public forum:

Haiku Minus Sixteen


That was it. It was pure genius, there was no denying that. My first Haiku ever, and it was undeniably a classic. Monuments would be erected in my name, statues in my graven image but decidedly taller would by built, all to memorialize the creative brilliance that only I and a select historical few have been capable of.

Right. It was a silly bit of fun. I checked back from time to time to see if there were any comments, and there were a few people that felt compelled to wonder what exactly I was thinking at the time. All in good natured fun, all understand the absurdity of it all.

But all it takes is one bad apple with no sense of mirth to ruin a barrel full of monkeys, and after a couple of days I received a rather jarring comment:

“I can critique this in one word too. ‘Stupid’"

Needless to say, I was shocked. I knew it was silly; that was the point. But to have someone refer to it, or quite possibly even me, as stupid? That seemed a bit much. Knowing full well that it is bad form to argue with your critics, I launched off a quick message to my irate reviewer:

“I can critique this in one word too. ‘Stupid’?

"I think I can respond to your review with a single word as well. ‘Jerk’.

"Constructive criticism, positive or negative, is always welcome and expected. But if you ever feel the need to be downright rude or abusive again, you might want to remember that wise old saying regarding politeness and manners: if you can't say anything nice, shut up.”

It was not the most eloquent rebuttal, and I felt a bit dirty for resorting to the same name calling that had been bestowed upon me. But I had been wronged, and he had drawn first blood, so considered it a worthy response.

I had said my peace, but still, on some level, I felt empty. I had spoken, but my art could not defend itself. The artistic word needed its own cathartic release. So, shortly after my first foray into Haiku Prose, I dove in again in search of the perfect seventeen syllable response:

Silence is golden
When your thoughts are not polite
Keep it to yourself

There. Both my Muse and I had spoken our mind. But then a response to my reply was quick to come, and I received the following:

“Are you so immature that you expected praise? No doubt you are the type who would look at a painting of the Virgin Mary done in elephant dung and call it art. Come back when you grow up.”

So now I was not only stupid, but immature and childish as well. And apparently the dozen or so words exchanged between us had convinced my loyal fan that I was part of a group of art apologists with which he no doubt had some moralistic quarrel with.

*For those not familiar with it, his jibe about art was a reference to Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin Mary, a painting of the Virgin Mary incorporating elephant dung in its materials that former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani tried to have removed from a New York museum way back in 2000. People like Giuliani and my new volunteer editor felt it was up to them to dictate what should be considered art. The rest of the rational world, fortunately, disagreed.*

It is hard to choose a course of action when receiving an insulting and condescending communication like this. Do you simply take the high road and ignore it, deleting it and disregarding the inflammatory ravings of this volatile individual, thus leaving him behind while you get on with more important matters? Or do you sacrifice additional precious time by sitting down and laboriously composing a detailed and in depth response in a vain attempt to return a sharp and insightful argument in your defense to someone who considers calling someone a baby a witty remark?

Being wise beyond my years, I did not hesitate in choosing the latter:

“I am almost certain that when the owners of this forum created it, they did so subscribers could share their artistic endeavors with others and garner constructive criticism. Since this forum was started, I have posted several pieces in different genres. Some were good, some were bad, and most have received both positive and negative responses. But all of those responses were always polite and constructive. Yours was the first criticism that was just plain rude and insulting. I don't even consider it anything but plain old name calling.

”I am not going to argue against your accusation of immaturity. In fact, I will confess that must first reflex was to respond to your single word with a rude word of my own. I considered several, and while many of them where no doubt appropriate, none of them were even remotely mature.

”Instead, I will answer your question. Am I so immature that I expected praise? No. In fact, it was such a silly thing that I expected mixed responses to begin with. Of course, I didn't expect someone as rude and belligerent as you to come along and be downright abusive.

”And now, in keeping with the tone that you have injected into this, let me ask a question of my own. Are you so ignorant that you expected me to thank you for calling me stupid? Did you think you were actually doing me a favor, granting me a taste of your aged wisdom to help me see the error of your ways? Are you so obtuse that you don't see how out of line such a comment is in a creative forum? No doubt you are the type who would look at a painting of the Virgin Mary done in elephant dung and decide that you alone should be the sole arbitrary of what should or should not be acceptable as art. Come back when you learn how to play well with others.”

There. That was it for me. I was finished wasting my time on this foolishness. Name calling is bad enough when there is a reason for it, but all of this had stemmed from a single word meant only to cause amusement. Time to move on.

But then a startling revelation made me return to the scene of the crime. While looking over a couple of pedestrian attempts at poetry that I had posted before the infamous Haiku, I found that a few of the comments they had received were from the same person! Not only were they not rude or insulting, they were actually encouraging and insightful. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted. I spent the next several minutes doing some serious soul searching, then quickly penned this follow up letter to what I now considered to be a seriously misunderstood man:

“I was just going back through my other posted stories and poems, and was shocked to find that some of the constructive criticism I received in the past was actually from you.

”Why this sudden shift from helpful to rude? Did the severity of "Haiku Minus Sixteen" shock you into a state of passionate overzealousness? Did the stark departure of nearly all necessary syllables warp the walls of reality so much as to actually induce some bizarre mania? Or was it the subject matter? Perhaps the isolation of the word noodle recalled for you the rejection of religion and the unavoidable abandonment of the soul by today's society, or maybe it invoked a subconscious reaction by triggering a traumatic childhood memory that remains dormant to this day. I shudder at the implications of what I may have unwittingly released in your psyche.

”In short, considering your wise and level headed responses to my previous attempts at poetic license, I must assume that my choice of words alone most bear sole responsibility for your rude and boorish behavior.

”My deepest apologies to you, your loved ones, and anyone else close to you that I might have needlessly hurt with such an irresponsible linguistic creation.

”May God forgive me.”

Let it not be said that my creative genius is not tempered with equal parts humility and self-awareness. I have seen the error of my ways, and have since vowed never again to attempt another Haiku Minus Sixteen, lest my creative acumen scar another human soul.

The Eclectic Pen » All Stories by Scott W. (Rev)

Member Comments

Leave a comment about this story...

Comments 1 to 13 of 13
Scott W. (Rev) - 2/17/2007 7:27 PM ET
The events in this story are completely fictitious. Any similarity to actual poems or events is completely coincidental and proof of government tampering with the interdimensional laws of time and space.
IONE L. (zaneygraylady) - 2/17/2007 8:07 PM ET
The three stooges are stupid, funny and art. It's all in the eye of the beholder. I do not claim to be a qualified critic. I like stupid sometimes. I agree with both of you. I thought noodle was stupid and funny.
Jim H. (Pecos45) - 2/17/2007 10:09 PM ET
I take art and creative writing seriously. Unfortunatley we live in a society that frequently puts up trash and expects us to call it art...things like the Virgin Mary painted in elephant dung. Everyday I read the heartfelt writings of the members here. I felt your one word submission was an immature joke...and perhaps you thought all of us here were too dumb to "get it." Your sarcastic "apology" here only deepens my convictions about your immaturity. I for one am not afraid to stand up and say the king has no clothes or criticise those who mock the arts by submitting trash. There's never been a great one word poem and I don't think such a trend will start with you. I only gave your "Haiku" the critique it richly deserved. Try to learn from it rather than posting childish rants.
Scott W. (Rev) - 2/17/2007 11:04 PM ET
I've been all over Eclectic Pen, Jim, and I can't finding anything posted by you. Please tell me, where can I find them? Someone who knows the difference between art and trash as well as you must have some flawless examples of it to demonstrate the right and wrong way to be creative, and I am quite eager to read them.
Jim H. (Pecos45) - 2/18/2007 3:38 PM ET
Scott, it's WAY past time for you to stop your little temper tantrum. You've cried and stamped your feet long enough. You post somthing utterly stupid that you now tell us was just a "joke" and then you fly into a fury when someone dares to call it EXACTLY what it was.......stupid. I've told you don't bother to send me anymore childish email. Nor do I want you silly cell phone number so we can argue about this on the phone. I didn't mean to crush your delicate little ego. You post a flippant "poem" and I post a flippant critique. Now you seek to create your own carefully edited justification for the original stupidity. Spare me! Rant and rave all you wish about this but you will do it without me. I've had more than enough of your childish behavior. I delete without reading all your frantic PM's and I will not read ANYTHING you write again. So you are completely safe from any form of honest criticism by me. Rave away.
IONE L. (zaneygraylady) - 2/18/2007 7:35 PM ET
noo.dle - according to webster it could mean 1. a simpleton; fool or a flat narow strip of dry dough, usually containing egg and served in soup. haiku - webster again, a Japanese verse form consisting of three lines totaling 17 syllables How many syllables are in noodle? Art - too much to add here, but my opinion if art sparks controversy all the better. I may like it I may hate it but if it gets noticed and gets people talking great. Rosie and Donald take note and make nice.
Scott W. (Rev) - 2/19/2007 9:22 AM ET
Gee, Jim. You're going to make all sorts of accusations and comments about me, then refuse to listen to my response? Wow, I guess that means you win the argument. Well played, old man.
Paul H. (nessus19) - , - 2/19/2007 12:15 PM ET
Dear writers (and other literary denizens): As the author of the haiku ("Haiku Minus Five")that started linking this chain or varied responses, I feel compelled to weigh in with an observation or three. 1) In an online venue such as this, it does not pay to take oneself too seriously. If you are a fair and honest judge of your own talents and motivations, you already know the essential worth (and goal) of what you have submitted. As the scholar Hillel once remarked, ...the rest is merely commentary." 2) Don't take critiques (positive or negative) -- especially those without some kind of thoughtful comments added -- too seriously. Conversely, a well reasoned argument that runs counter to your way of thinking may just teach you something if you're not careful. 3) Very little written here is likely to garner a major literary award...especially some of the stuff I submit. The object is to: have fun, exercise some creative muscle, gently pull the carpet out from under other's expectations. and think outside the trope. [Choose one, all or none of the above.] 4) You can disagree (vehemently, passionately, vociferously) and still do so civilly. Certainly there must be more interesting emotional battles to wage than on the field this site provides. I could be wrong about all of this. This happens to me from time to time. Be well, keep writing, and avoid too little garlic. Paul in Nebraska
Scott W. (Rev) - 2/19/2007 2:11 PM ET
Well said, Paul. Speaking as someone whose only complaint was being called stupid in the absence of actual criticism, I welcome and thank you for your insightful input and opinions. Oh, and sorry about stealing your idea and taking it its illogical extreme. I couldn't resist.
Paul H. (nessus19) - , - 2/19/2007 4:35 PM ET
Scott: I have no problem with you "stealing" from my initial haiku. Indeed, it seems more like you used it as a stepping stone to something you thought would be interesting or fun. Perhaps, with my haiku, I have done same and am just not aware of it. Of course, if Hollywood comes knocking on your door and wishes to option your poem as the kernal of an idea for a motion pictire that eventually grosses $200 million...well, then I expect a pizza out of the deal. Sorry, I am intractable in this regard. Best Paul
IONE L. (zaneygraylady) - 2/19/2007 9:10 PM ET
enough of this silly haiku/snafu/now I must bid you adeau
Marta J. (booksnob) - 2/23/2007 12:09 PM ET
I may have a few typos in this note because I can't stop laughing!!!! Steve, you're by far the best author I've encountered on this site and I will happily and gratefully read anything you choose to submit, be it monosyllabic or otherwise. I'd go so far as to say that if there was an Eclectic Pen Idol, you'd go the distance. Bring it on!!!
Scott W. (Rev) - 2/23/2007 6:23 PM ET
For such glowing praise, I would gladly change my name to Steve. Thank you.
Comments 1 to 13 of 13