Saturday, December 01, 2018

begged , borrowed, and stolen

There is a thread on Twitter  today about some rampant and egregious plaigiarism/stealing of entire segements of poems.  (On the plus side, it  got me a little more familiar with the originating poet's work, which is awesome.)  Occasionally I used to see stories about poetry plaigiarism and sort of seemed so ridiculous, especially in a world where the stakes are so very low and unlike the corporate and manufacturing world, violations of copyright/trademarks/patents wouldn't lend much to your bottom line. Weirdy, it seemed UK poets were having a particularly rotten problem with it, and I wondered if the American Lit community was more somehow immune to such nonsense..the drive to be original, to make it new, seemed to guide poets perhaps more than writers in other genres.Ego and pioneering spirit aside--a poets JOB is to be original--to make the reader see anew. Apparently, as today's Twitter activity details, I was wrong.

My own fear has always being that I might inadvertently lift something from something that I'd read.  I tend to make notes in my notebook when I read, and sometimes these are good parts of someone elses work, which I note, and sometimes they are scribbles of my own thoughts inspired by what I've just read. I've worried often that I will somehow misnote or mix up.  Or worse that if I haven't written it down,  I will have somehow absorbed it and spit it back out unknowingly later on. A few times I've had something really good and googled to make sure it wasn't something that was lingering like a ghost--one time amidst googling, I realized something new seemed familar becuase I'd already used it it in my own damn poem.  (one that never made it into a book but had been in an online journal but that I'd otherwise forgotten existed) .  I also occasionally do this with titles for poems or projects--or lines or images that seem too good and somehow familiar.

I think it was Eliot who said that thing about artists borrowing and stealing, and I'm willing to admit there is very little new under the sun, but paraphrasing existing work, words, images, and all, in other words and presenting it as your own seems particularly gross.  Years ago I stumbled on someone who had done some shadiness, though it appears to be gone now. All of it particualy shady if it  goes beyond images and metaphors or formal echos. A poetry student of a friend  was published a cento of my work in a journal, and despite other people getting all weird when they discovered it, I knew it was happening & actually thought it was cool. (It was plainly noted as a cento of my work in the subtitle.)  As someone who wrote a whole project of Plath centos, I am obviously a fan of collage and reworkings and certain types of appropriation.  I also have, from my day job, a decent knowledge of fair use and copyright law. But note that shit, the poem itself or in the acknowledgements.

What makes the current example so gross is that the offender not only apparently paraphrased the exact images and words, but also claimed the trauma that bred the poem (or at the very least, acted as if it were her own trauma, which may be legit,  bred these words when they did not.)  All of which somehow seems worse and just as problematic as other types of appropriation. Not only did you plaigiarize, but you stole the experience that spawned it, which is far worse than stealing mere words or ceoncepts.

I always wonder what the win is.  That it will go undetected?  That people will praise the stolen work and you will gain adoration and attentiin?  I've always (and I include myself in this description) found poets especially ego-centric and narcisssistic (but in a good way), the high of hearing one's work priased wouldn't work if you knew it was someone else's words. Also that you are always striving to be new and orginal and if you're just spitting out something that exists, doesn't that go against the whole reason you're a poet in the first place?

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