Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Poetry as Fraud

  Tom Chivers has a fascinating post up at This Is Yogic regarding a competition-winning poem by a writer called Christian Ward which was found to be almost identical to an existing poem by Helen Mort. Ward then attempted to justify himself by saying that he'd been using the Mort text "as a model".
    Flabbergasting as it may seem for any writer with the tiniest iota of integrity to believe that merely by altering a few words he could reclaim an original poem as his own, what's worse are his other attempts at self-exculpation by implying that he can't even remember how often he's turned this fraudulent trick before:
   "Furthermore, I have begun to examine my published poems to make sure there are no similar mistakes. I want to be as honest as I can with the poetry community and I know it will take some time to regain their trust. Already I have discovered a 2009 poem called The Neighbour is very similar to Tim Dooley’s After Neruda and admit that a mistake has been made. I am still digging and want a fresh start."
    Tom discusses the issues surrounding such plagiarism so well that I won't rehearse them again here. I can only agree that Ward's apparent belief that "closely modelling" his own work on that of other poets can be a legitimate compositional method takes the contemporary tendency for the churning-out of pre-set, derivative writing-exercises in Creative Writing classes to a new level. One of the abiding strengths of poetry is that, in the vertigo of fake, contentless vacuity consumerism forces upon us, it safeguards one of the few areas where any notion of authenticity or truth in language can still preside.
     Furthermore, Christian Ward has probably breached publishing copyright law by substantially reproducing Helen Mort's work under his own name. Any poet submitting her or his work to publishers and competitions should have some security that this kind of forgery cannot take place, or if it does the perpetrator will suffer legal consequences.
    And how could the poetry community ever trust him again?

1 comment:

  1. I have no idea if this is relevant to Christian Ward's case, but unconscious plagiarism is, as Oliver Sacks argues in this fascinating artcile (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/feb/21/speak-memory/?page=1) something to which creative people may be especially prone. I don't claim to be any exception - indeed I know I am not. I have several times had the disquieting experience of reading one of my own essays and suddenly "recognizing" one of my sentences or apercus as clearly borrowed from a passage in some favourite writer; though at the time of writing it I sincerely believed it to be my own idea. I've no doubt that my poems and stories, things I at the time supposed were personal inspirations in which only the Muses and myself had any part, are likewise a patchwork of cryptomnesis.