Monday, July 03, 2006



n 1: a piece of writing that has been copied from someone else and is presented as being your own work 2: the act of plagiarizing; taking someone's words or ideas as if they were your own [syn: plagiarization, plagiarisation, piracy]

Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

In my time on the 'net', I've experienced two instances of my poetry being plagiarized. The first was a few years ago when an AP High School English teacher emailed me about a sestina her student had handed in as her own work. It was mine, lifted from my poetry website and turned in as is, substituting the student's name as the author.

I remember being angry and hurt. The student penned a brief email apology that felt forced and completely insincere. It seemed to me as if she were more sorry for being discovered than for the act of theft.

And make no mistake--this was an act of theft. While I experienced no financial loss, I still felt an acute sense of betrayal.

Last night, I discovered a far more insidious brand of plagiarism. I was reading poetry on a critique board when I came across a poem whose structure, language, and imagery felt as familiar to me as my own face in a mirror.

My words, ever so slightly changed, twisted out of two of my poems and presented as someone else's work.

My work.

My poetry.


Yes, they are only words, but they are also my soul, expressed in the language of poetry. It is as if a piece of myself has been taken from me. I am particularly upset about one of the poems: "Lilacs for One Hundred Springs" was written for my grandmother the year before she died. (and published in Stirring) The images I had worked so hard to perfect were chopped up and inserted into another poem with just enough changes that googling key phrases wouldn't pick it up.

Underneath my anger is also sadness. Does this poet think so little of herself and her ability that she must steal and publicly proclaim the stolen words as her own?

Will she claim that my poems were simply sources of inspiration?

Certainly we 'riff' off one another's work. (as in a jazz riff, not rip off!) Many of my fellow poets have inspired me to write my own poems in homage to their work. The difference is I reference the author and the poem. If I use a phrase or a line, I reference the line, I present it as a quote.

And what do I do? She has this poem on her blog. She has a net presence and has had her work published on net based poetry journals.

Is it my responsibility to 'out' her? Do I demand an apology? I am not by nature a confrontative person. I do not stay angry and I do not hold grudges. But to let this go also feels wrong.

I'm sure I will post more on this in the coming days and weeks.


  1. I would suggest you ask someone else to see if they see a similarity and only take any other action once a similarity is confirmed.

    I had someone on Gazebo once tell me that a poem I had written was almost identical to a poem they had found in an anthology. I didn't know the poem, so I couldn't have stolen it even inadvertently, but the accusation hurt. What made it frustrating was that no one else I asked saw any resemblance between the poems.

    I've had some plagiarists and it sucks. Sorry it happened to you.

  2. Hi Lisa,

    Julie's right about getting another opinion.

    My experience with plagiarism had to do with me doing it inadvertantly. Few, if any, would accuse me of plagiarism by reading and comparing other than, quite possibly, the other poet. Personally I thought I had come up with an idea within a poem on my own, not realizing I had been impressed, but not fully consciously by the other poet.

    A few years after writing the poem, I came across the one I lifted the idea from, and put 2+2 together. Oddly enough, I had read that poem after writing my own, without dawn breaking. And I had definitely read that other poem before writing mine. I checked the dates in original disbelief.

    Needless to say, I revised my poem, in an embarrassed panic.


  3. Julie and Rus,

    Thank you for commenting. In this case, the matter is quite blatant.

    Approximately 14 lines are slightly altered, (the poet used synonyms for a few verbs, for example, but kept all my images intact)

    An additional 4 lines are very similar, but not identical.

    The remaining 8 or so lines are not recognizable as my work.

    I have had several other poets review the poem in question compared with the 2 poems of mine involved.

    None of the reviewers have any doubt as to the issue of theft.

    Honestly, I am saddened more than anything. Since there is no money in poetry, all we really have is our integrity.


  4. That's terrible, Lisa. I'm so sorry.

    Well, I would be courteous but upfront. If it's at a workshop, I would post to the workshop that there are eerie similarities and that you'd like an explanation. Unfortunately, really, if she comes back with "It's an homage!" there's nothing much you can say other than, "Cool. Mention the name of the original next time, 'kay?" with maybe a pointed comment about not lifting your entire damned poem.

  5. I guess we all have our plagerist stories. I had a creative writing prof. steal a short story I wrote for the class and then published it! A fellow student pointed it out to me or I would never have known. I just figured that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" and learned my lesson about copyrighting my work before making it public.

  6. Lisa,
    Confront her. Privately or publicly, whichever you prefer, but confront her. I was involved in an instance a few years ago in which I was accused of plagiarism. The poem was not published, only posted on a board, but the poet let me know that she felt I'd crossed the line, that I'd copied her words. I hadn't, only riffed off hers, but she felt my poem's structure and narrative was too close to hers and man, did she let me know it. I didn't intend to copy her work and told her so but she was hurt and angry and felt I was trying to claim her work as mine. I took the poem off the board and apologized but my relationship with her out here in online poetryland has never been the same.

    Confront this poet, Lisa. She may not know she copied your work, or may not have intended to. Maybe she just really admired your poem and used it as a source of inspiration. Or, maybe she DID intend to plagiarize. I recall seeing a piece on one of those nighttime magazine news shows in which they discussed the current trend of blatant plagiarism in colleges and universites. Students are shamelessly using work that is not their own and passing it in for grades. Which is why most professors now use some form of software which checks all essays and papers for phrases in already published works in an attempt to nab the plagiarists.

    Whether she was merely inspired by your work or intentionally copied it, you should not remain silent. It's your poem, your words and you should tell her that. Give her a chance to explain herself. If it is a case of her riffing off your work, perhaps she could at least include a dedication of some sort or nod to you and your poem in the title to let readers know that her work is not entirely original.

  7. Lisa, sad when that occurs. At times, we might write in the style of another but we should always acknowledge the source, and if we use another's poem as the base for ours, should honor them with something like: with apologies to

    Hope it is no one I know.



  8. Dear poetry friends--I appreciate your support. Thank you very much.