Friday, July 07, 2006

Plagairism or Inspiration?

I recently blogged about an apparent incident of plagairism in which material only slightly changed from two of my poems was presented by another author as her poem. She was confronted via email by the administrator of the poetry workshop it was posted on and her response was less an apology than a justification--she believes she was unconsiously influenced by reading my work.

Given the excessive degree of similarity, I have a hard time believing the use was accidental, but I also know I cannot peer into the inner workings of her heart and brain to know what she intended.

As I believe this is a matter best dealt with privately, I will not post her poem and mine in a side-by-side. However, I thought I could illustrate the degree to which her poem mirrored mine through an example.

This Is Just to Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

"I have to admit"
by LJ Cohen (with apologies to WCW)

I have finished
the orange juice
that was in
the refrigerator

and which
you were probably
hoping to have
with breakfast

Forgive me
it was satisfying
so sweet
and so cold

So what? Just about every modern poet would probably recognize the structure of this poem. If I posted it on a poetry board, I might get some cute comments or other poets' parodies of the WCW piece. But I would post this with a nod to WCW anyway--even if every poet in the world would know. And I would likely NOT workshop the piece.

The poet in question wrote a 26 line poem in which 16 lines are either used directly with 1 or 2 minor word changes or specific images that are directly from my work.

I'm not famous like WCW. It's easy to use my work and no one would be the wiser. But she posted this poem on a public workshop I am a prominent member of.

I just can't figure it out.


  1. Kaavya Viswanathan publicly used that argument when she was accused of plagiarism in her best-selling novel; she "internalized" other writers to the extent that almost exact duplicates of sentences reappeared throughout her book. It's a strange argument, but even stranger to me is why someone whose words are so similar to another author would have the cojones to publish it - either in mass-market book form or, like you said, on a public forum where the original writer posts. Makes me wonder if these people REALLY didn't get that they were plagiarizing...I'm a teacher myself, and have often seen the look of geniune shock on a student's face when they are told that simply changing two adjectives in a long quote by another author does not protect them from the plagiarism accusation. Someone somewhere down the line gave a lot of kids the impression that that's all you have to do and you're in the clear. Perhaps people like Viswanathan or Ann Coulter getting a good public drubbing from trying to pass off this type of shoddy "editing" as their own original ideas will help wake people up.

    My sympathies. I once posted at a board that had a poetry workshop, and was offended enough when someone pasted my entire poem into a new post and completely re-worked it, then tried to call it a "critique."

    Although, these are the risks we take when we post our work anywhere online. Still sucks, though.

  2. You've been wronged. Of course you can't look into the plagiarist's heart to understand what they are thinking, that's why he or she is using this excuse of internalization or unconcious replication or whatever to defend herself.

    There's more to this story, too. The other "poet" has probably done this before and will probably do it again, until someone posts his/her name, and the victims and his or her fans (using Google) are able to connect the dots.

  3. Unconsiously influenced or not - she still should have given you credit. How sad!

    I've had many discussions with a friend of mine about this very thing - me not publishing my work on my blog for fear of it being "lifted". It's not that I think my work is so great or that I may suffer monetary loss, but the feeling of betrayal and violation that occurs!

  4. I have chunks of poetry floating loose in my head. As a matter of policy, I do try to fill in the blanks. I've read much Yosano, for example... and exactly no WCW. None. Count 'em.

    I hang with people who recite as a cojone-competition. You lose track, after a while, of whether you're playing 'most apt quote' or 'most ept quote' or 'my best quote' or...

    That's the thing about the oral tradition...

    Not that this justifies anything.

    And, even if it did...

    'I am justified in my choice' exactly equals 'I'm about to do this hideous, horrid thing, which will have no good consequences, and many bad.... but you should SEE THE SIZE OF MY EXCUSE'...

    Eternity with the justified... heck, no.