The plague of plagiarism has again struck the United Kingdom poetry communities with the revelations of British poet David Morgan plagiarizing a variety of poems by mostly American poets.
In both instances, the plagiarists copied verbatim – with a few minor changes – poems previously published. I want distinguish mashing up from plagiarism. A culture mashup, like sampling, takes pieces from an extant work and reworks it with new material in the hopes of creating something new.
Plagiarism is attempting to get something for nothing.
A plagiarist suffers from creative wasting. They have buried their talents in the ground and instead prefer to steal the flowers from other artists’ gardens. Plagiarism is both an intellectual and spiritual disease. The plagiarist believes himself exempt from the hard, sometimes boring, work of maintaining her gifts.
Plagiarism is thievery, and a cynical kind of thievery to boot. The plagiarist distrusts their own abilities. In plagiarizing, they rupture the bond of trust between artist and her communities. A plagiarist ruptures that trust into the future and exempts himself of the need to be socially accountable to their chosen communities.
When I was editing Self-Organizing Men, I received a submission that initially seemed quite strong. The ending paragraphs, however, gave me pause. The tone, diction, and indeed, the voice, differed from the all the preceding paragraphs, of which their were many. I suspected plagiarism.
Inputting key phrases into Google, I attempted to find the original source, without avail. With each failed search, I returned to the questionable paragraphs. While I could not find independent verification for my suspicions, I decided not to accept the piece. As a publisher, the responsibility for certifying originality lies with the author. But were we to ever publish a plagiarist’s thievery, I would be sure to hound them into the ground.
Writing is not simply about publishing and winning awards. It is also about the hard work of putting words on paper. I understand it is easy to fall prey to the bright, shining lights of the awards, magazines and interviews and to become dispirited when seemingly less skilled writers and poets receive attention.
But we have no right to steal from our own spirits and rob others’ futures because we are simply too lazy to the terrifying work of ass in chair, words on page. In this life, we don’t get away with anything.