The Controversy of CMEpalooza Haiku

DISCLAIMER: It’s not always easy in this era of “right vs. left” animosity to laugh about anything. This is my attempt at satire. Hopefully it works.  

For every great event, there is a history. Sometimes, this history is written down for the record. Sometimes it is told in story, passed down from generation to generation. Sometimes, this history is buried deep and eventually wiped away, never to be discovered by the general public.

So yes, there is history to CMEpalooza, some of which Derek and I have hidden to both protect ourselves and to cover up some of our shameful past.

In light of recent political events, though, there is one moment that we feel we need to speak up about, and we’ll do that here, today, so that you can judge for yourselves.

It occurred early in the days of CMEpalooza, just as Derek was preparing to unleash his first batch of CMEpalooza Haikus on his adoring fans. You may now know CMEpalooza Haiku as one of our most revered (or pathetic, depending on your perspective) traditions, but like many traditions, CMEpalooza Haiku had a bumpy launch.

As he prepared the first batch of 5-7-5 verses, there were accusations levied against Derek from deep in his past, accusations that both surprised and flummoxed him. These accusations were serious, serious enough to bring into question his ability to share his poetic “skills” to the world of CMEpalooza. He was asked to testify before a group of CME/CE leaders to address these accusations.

Here is the transcript of his testimony, with no judgement or snarky asides added:

Ms. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for allowing me to make my statement. I wrote it myself yesterday afternoon and evening. No one has seen a draft of it, except for my dentist, who won a poetry contest in 10th grade. This is my statement.

Less than two weeks ago, Mr. Richardson publicly accused me of writing a haiku with the improper number of syllables in the second line during our 10th grade English class. I denied the allegation immediately, categorically and unequivocally. All 14 of the other students in the class, including two of the accuser’s close friends, have said they recall no such haiku. One of these longtime friends said under penalty of perjury that he does not remember even reading one of my haikus.

The day after this allegation appeared, I told this committee that I wanted a hearing as soon as possible to clear my name. I demanded a hearing the very next day. Unfortunately, it took this committee 10 days to schedule this hearing. In those 10 days, as I predicted, my family and my reputation as a haiku savant have been totally and permanently destroyed by additional vicious and false allegations.

One accuser claimed that I argued as a college junior that “occasionally” was a 4-syllable word.

Another stepped forward to accuse me of reusing the same haiku to win a poetry contest in elementary school.

Finally, and perhaps most disappointingly, my wife’s 2nd cousin claimed that he overheard me on the phone begging someone to dictate a haiku for me that would smooth over one of the disagreements that occurred early in my marriage.

When these allegations first arose, I welcomed any kind of investigation by any member of the CME community. This committee now has conducted a thorough investigations, and I’ve cooperated fully. Listen to the people I know. Listen to the people who’ve known me my whole life. Listen to the people I’ve grown up with, and worked with, and played with, and coached with, and gone to 76ers games with, and had Shirley Temples with. And listen to the witnesses who were in my English class 29 years ago.

Since I first announced plans for a CMEpalooza Haiku blog post in July, there’s been a frenzy among poet laurates around the United States to come up with something, anything, to prevent CMEpalooza Haiku. Shortly after I announced plans for CMEpalooza Haiku, one individual said he would, “use every limerick, sonnet, and elegy she could write” to destroy CMEpalooza Haiku. Another individual claimed that CMEpalooza Haiku was “childish.” Childish. Think about that word. It means “like a child.” To insinuate that CMEpalooza Haiku could be written by a 7-year-old is well, OK, maybe it’s true, but it still hurts.

I understand the passions of the moment, but I would say to this committee, your words – whether they rhyme or not – have meaning. Tens of CME professionals listen carefully to you.

The behavior of the poetry and CME community has been an embarrassment. This first allegation was held in secret for weeks by a venerable poet until it was clear that CMEpalooza Haiku had overcome previous hurdles and would soon be a reality.

And then – as no doubt was expected, if not planned – came a long series of false allegations designed to put my ability to create three simple 5-7-5 lines of poetry on my own in question.

Crazy stuff. Alleged midnight library raids when I have been accused of destroying Shakespeare plays. Fights on boats in Rhode Island over the merits of Robert Frost. All nonsense, reported breathlessly by my sworn enemies.

This is a circus whose consequences will extend long past the life of CMEpalooza Haiku. The consequences will be with us for decades. This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good poets of all genders, colors, and creeds from writing witty haikus.

I’m here today to tell the truth. I’ve never written an illegitimate haiku in my life. Not in high school, not in college, not ever. One of my closest friends to this day writes limericks for his church group every week – he confided me in the 2000s when we were in our 30s that he had been accused as the originator of the “There once was a man from Nantucket” limerick. He sought my advice. I was one of the only people he consulted.

Allegations of poetic impropriety must always be taken seriously, always. Those who makes allegations always deserve to be heard. At the same time, the person who was the subject of the allegations also deserves to be heard.

As you know, I am a child of two of the least accomplished poets of their time. My mother spent hours every Sunday trying to find a word that rhymed with “leprechaun.” My father overcame numerous taunts as the only poet in southern Delaware who focused exclusively on the obscure sestina.

My parents’ trademark line was, “Use your poetic sense. What sounds right to you? What sounds wrong?”

This onslaught of last-minute allegations does not ring true. I am not questioning that Mr. Richardson may have read an ill-constructed haiku written by some person in some place at some time. But I have never written such a haiku. That’s not who I am. It is not who I was. I am innocent of this charge.

Mr. Richardson’s accusation stems from an English class assignment that he alleges was given to us during the spring of 1989, 29 years ago. I have submitted to this committee a list of every homework assignment I was given during that year. Why did I keep such a list? My dad started listing every task he completed during every day of his life in 1978. He did so, well, I don’t why he did so, but he did.

In ninth grade, I started keeping lists of my own. I’ve kept such lists for the last 29 years. When I was a kid, the lists are about what you’d expect – some goofy parts, some embarrassing parts.

But I did have the spring of 1989 documented pretty well. The assignment described by Mrs. Richardson presumably was given in April because I believe we were working exclusively on a term paper about the symbolism of The Scarlet Letter during the rest of the semester.

If it was in April of 1989, my lists show that I had no time to write a haiku on top of the burden of homework that I was required to complete. Let me emphasize this point – if the assignment described by Mr. Richardson happened in April of 1989, my list shows all but definitely that I did not complete it.

One feature of my life that has remained true to the present day is that I have always had a lot of close friends who were poets. This started in high school. Maybe because I have always been socially awkward and prefer to converse in rhyme.

But anyway, I remember writing haikus nearly every night and sharing them with Barry, Jessica, Tom, Mike, Lauren, or Natalie. The list goes on – friends for a lifetime, built on a foundation of 5-7-5. Several of these colleagues left their houses for the first time in many years to be here sitting behind me today.

These friends have rallied around me to help refute these ugly allegations. If these allegations prove to be enough to destroy the life’s work of an aspiring poet, we will have abandoned the basic principles of fairness and due process that define our community.

I will leave you with this thought as you judge these circumstances:

Let the haikus live

For CMEpalooza

Withers without them

CMEpalooza Haiku – coming Wednesday. Judge for yourself everyone.

7 thoughts on “The Controversy of CMEpalooza Haiku

  1. “I’m considering moving to another forum rather than read Derek’s next haiku.” (In the spirit of openly continuing to support your witty efforts regardless of other opinions. . . )

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