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‘“Of borrow’d plumes I take the sin”’: plagiarism and poetry

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On Friday 13 September 2013, Stephen Romei revealed in The Australian newspaper a serious sequence of plagiarisms that had been perpetrated upon the Australian poetry community. The perp was a young guy named Andrew Slattery, an up-and-coming poet based in Newcastle Australia, and winner of a number of prestigious local poetry awards, including the 2010 Rosemary Dobson Prize and the Josephine Ulrick Prize for 2013. Sadly for Slattery, it turns out that this last award proved his undoing. As Susan Wyndham wrote in the SMH, in a piece rather inaccurately titled ‘Plagiarism the word that can’t be uttered’ (given it’s the word everybody’s using): ‘With one of the Ulrick judges, Margie Cronin, [poet Anthony] Lawrence began to Google passages from Ransom [Slattery’s winning poem]. They found about 80 per cent of the long poem was made up of 50-odd poets’ work, some of them famous, such as Americans Charles Simic and Robert Bly, and one Australian, Chris Andrews.’ If part of the literary excitement now involves the hunter’s thrill of tracking down Slattery’s slightest peccadillos, it also involves extending the hunt to others: Wyndham goes on to name the popular Queensland poet, publisher and blogger Graham Nunn as another serial offender.

If good times are here for the blessed, there’s a rocky road ahead for the sinners, as well as all the judges and editors and aesthetes who have been left with poetic egg on their faces. The Red Room Poetry website, which catalogues contemporary Australian poets and their accomplishments, includes among Slattery’s publication conquests a slew of Australian media, including Meanjin, Quadrant, The Weekend Australian, Black Ink’s Best Australian Poems, among many others (to which we should of course add here the dreaded Overland rag). The victims have come from all colours of the political and aesthetic spectrums. It seems Slattery has taken in almost everybody, from internationally famous poets such as Peter Porter, all the way through academic specialists and journal editors and media hacks, not to mention a more general and diffuse readership.

So it should be no surprise that the OzPo community has gone beserk at these revelations — I don’t think I’ve ever been so called, tweeted, spammed, messaged, mailed so many opinions about anything else in such a short time. Clearly, the poets care. Even more strikingly, the scandal has taken on an internationalist cast, with the fearsome UK-based plagiary-hunter Ira Lightman now on the case. Charles Dickens couldn’t make up such a name: Lightman has, in the past few days, been identifying an enormous number of clear and clearly unacknowledged cut-and-pastings on Nunn’s part, which can be found on his twitter-feed @iralightman.

Given the constitutive mutability of the virtual world, Lightman typically screen-captures offending material as evidence before it can be deleted by the perp. As a result, if you now head to Nunn’s blog ‘Another Lost Shark,’ you’ll no longer find the poems that Lightman has targeted – but you will find Nunn’s explicit attempt to respond. Nunn says: ‘Have I credited the original work the way academia would have? No. Does poetry and music have a long history of sampling, of re-purposing, of homage? Yes. Will I continue to seek inspiration and motivation and keys to my memories and experience from outside of my own head? Yes. It’s impossible to do otherwise. But let me be clear, my motivation has always been to charm the moment that has found me into a poem and only that, not to steal and never to cause harm.’

Jeezus. Why is it academia that somehow comes in for a beating for its supposedly preposterously high levels of evidentiary support? Is Lightman being overly academic when he enumerates: ‘Nunn’s ‘Spring Notes’ has 11 words in exactly the same order as Roo Borson’s ‘Summer Grass’. Then 9 words the same in order. Then 3. Then 13….’ Now that’s evidence that would stand up in a court of law (so to speak).

Given the pain and suffering that plagiarism can cause, it’s perhaps not only amusing that so many of those accused of poetry plagiarism continue to plead the Cento Defence. The cento is a form composed of borrowings from others’ poems: the term allegedly originates in a martial context, where Roman soldiers would patch up their garments from the cloaks of their enemies. Why is this so funny as a defence? Because (as is often pointed out), none of those charged with plagiarism admitted they were writing centos until they were exposed; moreover, in reaching for such a defence based on tradition, it seems that the plagiarists don’t know anything about the tradition upon which they’re supposedly relying! Like arguments from authority, self-serving appeals to tradition have a particularly unappealing flavour in the current conjuncture.

But there’s still something mysterious about the psychology of plagiarism: after all, it’s more than likely you’ll be found out given the power of the internet today. I think here of Sigmund Freud’s concept of those ‘who commit crimes out of a sense of guilt’: that is, the plagiarist who plagiarises just to get caught, so that their unpleasant internal life can be given an external legitimation, so that they can find some relief for their inner torment. Of course, plagiarism is typically very upsetting for those poets whose words have been kidnapped – not least because poets tend to have the strongest possible identifications with words, and because there’s so little else as reward in the poetry world other than a little bit of recognition. But surely that’s another motivation again: to hurt those whose words you steal. Even if you’re caught – like Iago in Othello – the payoff is that your victims have been seriously psychologically hurt, not that you’re getting away with it. Of course, that suggests another possibility: the plagiarist who thinks he or she is smarter than everybody else, who’ll just keep going until he or she is apprehended (if ever). Then yet again, there’s the plagiarist who’s been genuinely captured by the words they are themselves capturing … to the point they cannot consciously remember ever inscribing that other guy’s poem in their notebook. In other words, there’s not a single or simple reason for plagiarism: it’s a genuine complex, as they used to say of Oedipus.

The fact that Slattery and Nunn themselves obviously feel bad or at least concerned enough to give excuses about their actions only contributes to confirming the suspiciousness of their actions. But otherwise, what assiduous readers! What excellent tastes! What talents for assemblage! Indeed, the fact that Slattery got away with it for so long and so successfully implies that he knew his readership only-too-well, knew that the prize committees are so often composed of personages with a mediocre or restricted palate of tastes (and possibly of a restricted knowledge about poetry). The prize-giving panels are therefore partially responsible for this unfortunate sequence of unpleasant events, not so much because they didn’t know or didn’t check the details of the submissions, but because their tastes in poetry are essentially for middling, middle-brow palliatives. In other words, Slattery is an excellent confectioner of prize-winning poems.

So the self-elected bloodhounds now baying all over the place don’t themselves occupy an indefensible position. Katy Evans-Bush recently posted ‘Now I’m a Real Boy!’ a very long piece about the poetry plagiarism scandals,’ in which she notes that plagiarism is not only about a few despicable desperados, but ‘also about a culture that appears to valorise certain kinds of achievement much more than it values authenticity or knowledge, or indeed art or the act of creation. A culture (and I mean everything, here, not just poetry) that’s more concerned with publication, recognition, fame, than with learning how to do it and then devoting oneself to doing it better.’ As is evident from the slightest acquaintance with the internet, global popular culture is today almost entirely plagiaristic in its ever-accelerating quest for a little bit of attention in an attention-deficit-disorder world. The devices, tools and techniques required to participate in contemporary online culture entail that all materials are essentially appropriated, and can only circulate through ongoing processes of sampling and retransmission.

Hence such voices as those of the US poet Kenneth Goldsmith, founding editor of UbuWeb and notorious for his support of what the well-known poetry critic Marjorie Perloff has denominated ‘unoriginal genius’. Goldsmith has himself written books with such worthy if yawn-inducing titles as Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in a Digital Age. Here’s Goldsmith, twittering at Lightman: ‘Plagiarism is not a problem. The problem is not openly admitting that you’re a plagiarist.’ While this is perhaps partially true – for reasons I’ll shortly go into – it’s mainly not. Why? First, because plagiarism IS a problem: not simply an administrative problem for which we can find a solution, but a deep conceptual problem which cannot simply be wished away. Second, what’s the word ‘openly’ doing here? Is Goldsmith really as crassly Cartesian as this makes him sound? After all, one key issue of plagiarism is that it redistributes and complicates the very relationship between ‘closed’ and ‘open’, or ‘secret’ and ‘open’, etc. There’s no simple way to be ‘open’ about plagiarism without misunderstanding what it is. Finally, and most seriously, why is it somehow OK to admit to stealing? Does it not make it stealing if you say you’re doing it? This is surely Yankee free-market imperialism at its most self-deluded and self-righteous. After all, isn’t it so George Washington to do a bad thing and then get some kind of moral kudos by confessing to it? Goldsmith’s is not then the radical détournement of the Situationists’ subversive unoriginality (btw I’ve nicked this phrase from a number of authors) which seeks to undermine the constitutional inequities of the international IP system, but that which epitomises the prime injustice perpetrated by the plagiarist: like a corporation patenting a gene, a plagiarist takes a named, known environmental function – and acts as if it’s his, laughing all the way to the tenured academic bank.

But this brings us to the heart of the matter: that the term ‘plagiarism’ is so over-determined and confused that nobody really has a clue what it means. If you don’t mind me cutting-and-pasting from an article I wrote on plagiarism and originally published in Space, No. 2 (2005), I’d like to specify the following four major positions upon plagiarism still current if usually confused or confounded with each other: 1) the legal, 2) the pedagogical, 3) the ontological, and 4) the managerial. They cash out as follows.

1) The legal position: active since at least the middle of the eighteenth century, an author has a legal stake in their organisations of letters, and not just in the material those organisations are deployed upon. This is the historically very-recent category of ‘copyright’ which, as Mark Rose notes, ‘not only makes possible the profitable publishing of books but also, by endowing it with legal reality, produces and affirms the very identity of the author as author.’

2) The pedagogical position: plagiarism is simultaneously a theft, false work, laziness, insurrectionary, stupid and effacement; it must be vigorously combated if people are to be taught what’s what.

3) The ontological position: every utterance is always-already a plagiarism, composed of borrowed words, spoken on the condition of non-knowledge. As H.M. Paull put it in 1928: ‘The history of plagiarism is indeed the history of literature.’

4) The managerial position: the administrator works with forms for which they are not creators, emitters, but the circulators and pasters of words for which words are themselves mere vehicles for efficiency-markers; as K.K. Ruthven once remarked to me: ‘I write letters I don’t sign and sign letters I don’t write.’

These positions are at once imbricated and incommensurable; they are institutional yet interstitial; they are contemporaneous but cannot be held together without contradiction. Yet, without anybody providing decent distinctions regarding their co-contribution to the concept of plagiarism, the same intense and divisive bellowings are going to occur again and again. In fact, the again and again is something that the injunction against plagiarism was intended to exclude definitively: ‘in modernity, novelty is a necessary condition for information to be accepted as knowledge. Anxieties about plagiarism and the temporalisation of knowledge are coterminous facts’ (I cite myself here, if I am indeed the same person I was when I wrote those words, which I seriously doubt, so I will at least mark that I am doing so so as not to be accused of self-plagiarism, etc.). Plagiarism becomes a thought-crime when we need to find a way to linearise information; it is a practice of time. Today, when everything happens everywhere online, all at once, it is no wonder that plagiarism becomes at once omnipresent and unactionable.

Yet isn’t it the case that all this says something that nobody wants to admit? These current scandals in poetry confirm that people worldwide still desperately care about poetry despite its absolutely essential irrelevance to any economic indicator you might mention, and that – despite the crazy uproar surrounding the instances of plagiarism – this shows that poetry will continue to enjoy a glorious future yet.

 

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Comments

  1. Just to clarify, Kenny Goldsmith (a poet I like a great deal, and a friend) didn’t tweet that at me. I noted it on his own Twitter feed, and retweeted it. I prefer his position now to his earlier tweet of 13th Jan “Here we go again. Award-winning poet apologizes for plagiarism. How pathetic: http://is.gd/sO9lBR “. It showed evolution in his sloganinking.

  2. This is brilliant.
    Sadly, I am being harassed and ridiculed by Nunn’s supporters and by Slattery for so openly calling these men to account. I’ve got a thick skin, and I’m dealing with less-than minor poets who are sniping from the margins.

    • Thank you Anthony and others for calling these people on this. On this issue it’s irrelevant to me that I like Graham Nunn as a person. It’s immaterial to me whether I’m seen as less-than-minor, or no-account as a poet, and whether my being in the poetry festival some years and not others marks me in some eyes as an in- or out-grouper. It’s immaterial to me whether I understand their motives. If I found out that someone had taken the sweat of my soul and passed it off as theirs it would take a couple of strong men to prise my fingers from their thieving throats.

      • Well spoken Ynes. And everyone who meets Graham does like him, he is a charming and interesting person full of energy. Large ego, but not so uncommon.
        I’ve read some of his online poems prior to this issue coming to light and the response comments praising them, (and him then thanking those who praised his poems, for their praise) – and I’m now asking why he didn’t acknowledge then, that, “hey by the way, charmed a few lines from some other poets words…but no matter, that’s my process”.
        Sour taste it is, this business.
        No defending it by hiding under a blanket of closed comments and a rather inappropriate post to justify deplorable actions from a person with power in the poetry scene in Queensland. He is a poet who should know better.

    • While I believe Graham should have given credit to the authors and musicians whose work he used, I am appalled by the personal attacks surrounding this issue, including yours on Graham, Anthony, and if you are being harassed, that others would attack you.
      It has not been these cases that sadden me so much, as the unnecessary personal meanness.
      It seems many in the poetry world have forgotten what it is to be gentle, humble and to treat others with kindness. Assertiveness and firmness has been forgotten, for the pursuits of aggression and mud-slinging.
      So saddened by so much of this.

  3. Dear Justin , Thanks for this piece. It was wise to end on a high note pointing out people desperately care and that poetry has a brilliant future.

    Look forward to catching up again before long, remember to give us a ring if you ever have a spare day or night in Sydney.

    Onward.
    Bob

  4. I agree with Anthony, a brilliant analysis of the issue. Amazed that his telling of the unvarnished truth invites ‘harrassment’, it seems Mr Nunn has created a cult of ‘followers’ who know little about academic and/or creative honesty or rigour. And, I suspect, little about poetry. Those of us who have been marginalised for many years by this seriously deluded narcissist look forward to being offered a reading again at the state-funded festival he took over in order to further his own ‘career’, while sidelining all perceived ‘competitors’. But whether i myself would bother diving into such a snake pit again is the important question. Poetry itself loses when those who’ve been devoted to the craft for decades end up deciding to walk away rather than tolerate these lying sociopaths.

    • Liz, your comments here lead me to realize why there is such a strong correlation between good character and good art. Because as we gain in wisdom and perspective we pretty much realize we’re all in this life together. The kind of base competitiveness that leads people to steal credit for others’ original work springs from a narrow, obscured viewpoint: the idea that life is a competition; that putting other people down can raise me up; that other people are less lovable, less human, require less respect than oneself. I’m pretty sure the Dalai Lama doesn’t see life this way and neither did Jane Austen.

      • Yep. Which is why the Slam movement has been so destructive, pitting poets against each other in a competitive way to amuse the audience. Same with ‘The Voice’, ‘X-Factor’, etc. But being a good person doesn’t necessarily make good art, and plenty of good art has been produced by unpleasant people too. But what we have here is simply STEALING of others’ work. That this guy thought he could get away with it reeks of a serious case of NPD.

        • The slam movement has been _so_ destructive it hasn’t had anything to do with these scandals! These are cases of literary awards being scammed – how has it become an excuse to make slam sound like a mass spectacle of violence conducted when a sadistic Emperor claps his hands? ‘Send in the … lions!’

          • Too right, Emilie. WTF? How did it get all ‘This is slam poetry’s fault?’ What a bizarre attempt to rail-road the issue.

          • EZB, I don’t agree. I was around doingreadings and was one of the first practitioners to embrace the Slam movement. I won the first St Kilda Slam in 1992, and the Texas Grand Slam in 1993 (or 94, I can’t quite recall). But the rise of virulent competitiveness, props, gimmicks, and shouting performance styles that had nothing to do with the quality of writing put me off it after a few years. This development aided and abbetted the kind of self-entitled behaviour we’re now witnessing here. That people like me went from being dismissed as ‘just a performance poet’ in the 80s to, within 10 years, being derided as ‘establishment’ and ‘academic’ (and therefore no longer deserving of paid gigs amongst the ‘cool and groovy’ Gen X and Y’ers) as the Slam movement grew is a prime example of how the movement froze people out as the narcissists flooded what used to be a vibrant poetry scene where the focus was on … POETRY, not vague notions of ‘fame’ and ‘recognition’.

          • Liz Hall-Downs. I’m only a little familiar with your work, but on a face value translation of your below comment, you seem to be saying that the slam poetry scene was fabulous back when you were at your peak in it. But then the movement evolved and younger (and many more) poets became interested. But you started to be unable to get paid gigs not because the field got more competitive and innovative due to a whole army of keen young talented poets having a crack, but because of the gimmicks and ‘narcissism’ of these other poets?

          • Emile, I think Liz was clearly pointing to competitiveness as a driver for plagiarism, and that the prize has become more important than the craft. She has a right to an opinion that Slam poetry can be likened to The Voice and X-Factor. I agree with her and do see her point, but I don’t get what you mean about violence

      • I honestly believe that is an inadequate response.

        Why do so many poets feel so hard done by? We sure spend a lot of time complaining about not winning prizes or being widely acclaimed or frequently published. (Why do spoken word poets want to be published again?) We feel simultaneously rejected by academia and publishing and the mainstream, and blame politics or marginalisation or conspiracy or, now, plagiarism. Obviously nepotism exists, but it’s perceivable among all poetry cliques and forms – spoken word hates academia, lyricists hate experimentalists, so on and on and on. Perhaps we should be asking why poets dislike other poetic forms and practitioners with such vehemence?

        I honestly believe there is a competitive basis to spoken word, which fosters competition rather than community, and it’s that same quality that’s found in prize culture. It’s about writing for performance, publication and money, and receiving the adoration that we imagine goes with that – the recognition that finally we are Poets, and thus we shall be Heard speaking Truth about Form and Meaning.

        • I agree, except what I don’t agree with is how spoken word or slams has anything to do with this discussion. It has absolutely nothing to do with it. There is competition is all forms of writing – short story comps, poetry comps, novel comps.

        • Mate, it’s hard to take you seriously when you refuse to give your name.

          Also I’ve done it all – music, fiction, poetry, performance, singing – and I don’t ‘hate’ anyone. The discussion here is about ethics.
          And not shitting in the pathetically tiny pond of support we all would like to drink from (which will now shrink even further, due to this silly controversy.)

      • No, slam poetry per se doesn’t. But what I am arguing is that competition and continually comparing oneself with others is the opposite of real creativity. I believe that ‘art’ comes from within the person – informed by their experience, reading, influences, etc – but that great art is formed from an individual’s INDIVIDUAL (and hopefully unique) take on life.

        @ Maxine: fair enough, maybe I AM just an untalented hack who’s been superseded by superior (and younger, more photogenic, sexy, whatever) artists, that’s not really for me to judge.

        I never meant to imply that I thought the slam poetry scene was fabulous in its early days and has now deteriorated, rather, i am saying that i felt the whole model undermined the community of poets in its commercialism.

        I know I might sound like an old fogey (and I’m not THAT old!!) but ‘ion my day’ (LOL) there were many senior poets who mentored and encouraged and many younger poets who greatly respected them. I do not see that respect now. It can seem as if its all about marketing and image. I know I personally like my writers wise and worth listening to – which often means old and craggy and full of life experience, as well as craft – but too often now it seems it’s about who looks prettiest in the brochure.

        I have performed in many other genres, and consider myself a performer. But I’m also a writer, and these art forms are not the same. Crap performers can produce fabulous poetry, and vise versa. My argument is, ‘Lets not lose sight of the art form’, and ‘Let us not be manipulated as artists by fads, but instead pursue our own truths’. Then we might produce poetry (art generally) that matters to someone besides each other.

        Also, I’ve seen a lot of people who are really performance artists or comedians hijacking the debate in order to gain a forum. Let’s call things for what they are.

        • I get you, Liz. On all counts. The competitive nonsense and the creepy obsession with The Scene is something I’ve rejected in my practice from the beginning. I think I’ve entered one poetry competition ever (out of solidarity), and the lack of differentiation between spoken-word and poetry irks me no end.

          This is my personal stance, power to those people who fancy themselves poets and engage in all of the above and don’t stoop to plagiarism to play the part — as long as they’re aware of the shady culture they’re nurturing.

          • Oh dear. Much of this is patronising, insulting and wrong. You characterise slam poetry as ‘competitive nonsense’. Well, power to those people who fancy themselves custodians of the purity of poetry. But you’ve still not established a correlation between the existence of slam poetry and the spate of plagiarism in page poetry – it’s an absurdly long bow, revealing you’ve chosen the wrong forum for your strong anti-slam views.

            And how is slam poetry ‘shady’, exactly? It’s transparently a competition, participants are well-versed in the rules of its judging, its judges are randomly and publicly selected rather than backroom appointed, and entries are publicly scored and the winner empirical. By comparison, a literary award is conducted on the dark side of the moon.

        • Also Liz Your characterisation of slam poetry being less about the poem and more about ‘who looks prettiest in the brochure’ and being ‘younger, more photogenic, sexy’ is dismissive and patronising, and I’m sure would greatly amuse Sarah Taylor, who won the 2009 National Poetry Slam at the age of 60. What’s sexy is a smart person expressing themselves on their feet in front of a rapt crowd.

          • My only reference to Slams was the regular confusion between spoken word and poetry. My issue is with competitive creativity, references to poetry as an ‘industry’ type mentalities, the strange in crowds thereof, and the imagined value placed on those things by many.

            The aforementioned (and you can decide for yourself if it relates in any part to Slams) is shady because the emphasis is on personae rather than on the craft, and that makes people do weird things in an effort to appear to be getting somewhere or to be admired or to meet whatever ego-needs they happen to have. For instance, I keep hearing the phrase that certain poets have ‘done a lot for poetry’ and so they should be loved up regardless of the fact that their poetry is in fact the poetry other people. What does that even mean? How does a person ‘do a lot’ for an art that predates literacy? Do they mean this person spent a lot of time publicizing themselves and their associations? Are we supposed to care about that more than actual poetry? You know what I’m saying?

            I can understand why you’re so defensive of the Slam; the Slam surely means no harm. Of course, if you’d only stop putting ‘poetry’ in front of the word Slam you could expeditiously cut all further attempted connections between this supposed scandal and your prized event. Just sayin’.

          • Thankyou Tara, your response is pretty much what I would have said.

            EZB, I know you’re a respected slam poet, and good luck to you. I congratulate you on your success! But in its early days the Slam was very underground and definitely never publicly funded! I was glad to see it gain traction and that these kinds of performers began to be more widely known. But if the words themselves are just lifted, what we are seeing is recitation.

            I’m not completely dissing the slam – and you are right that maybe this isn’t the right place for this discussion. My comments about ‘who look prettiest in the brochure’ is not directed specifically at slam, but at the whole industry of writers’ festivals, etc. Some of the writers I admire the most are reclusive, excruciatingly shy, old or frail, – or just plain dead! – and would never submit to the treadmill that is the festival circuit. They pay, of course, in books sales, in a celebrity driven culture like ours. But sometimes distance is what’s required to create real art out of one’s own head.

            We need to look at the methods we use to disseminate our work and ask ourselves, who benefits? Is this about writing great poetry, or is it about attention, being on stage, being liked, ‘celebrity’, or access to ‘rewards’ such as government grants? Let’s all be honest about our motivations.

            And ask yourself, who controls funding, festival programmes, who decides who gets the handouts, directorships, arts admin jobs?And on what criteria?

            Things like the current scandal can only happen when the rot is already in the core, and this is what i’m trying to allude to.

          • Well said EZB. I would also correct Liz, that EZB is a ‘respected poet’, rather than a ‘respected ‘slam poet’. I get so pissed when people are dismissive because other brilliant poets happen to be more charismatic than they are and are brilliant at performing their poetry AS WELL AS writing it. Know your limitations and beat back the green eyed monster, people. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you can write amazing poetry but are lacking on the reading front, rather than claiming to have shunned the ‘scene’ which relies on ‘persona’. There are some things I don’t do as a writer because I know I suck at them. I don’t make excuses, I’m just not good enough in those areas to warrant me going there.

          • Thanks, Maxine, for so impeccably demonstrating my point about the imagined value placed on persona.

            Thanks also for your solipsistic aspersions on my character and my talents. You’ve alerted me to the realization that this imagined value is also imposed upon practitioners totally detached from these in crowds — by the in crowds. So much for subverting gatekeeper culture, eh?

          • Hi Tara, sorry you feel like that comment was directed specifically at you. I understand you might have felt that, given I spoke about persona, and shunning the scene, which you raised in your comment. Probably should have been more careful about wording. Really was intended to be a general observation rather than a personal attack. That said, I don’t shy from the general observation.

          • Geez, I didn’t know ‘slam poet’ was an insult! I think the word ‘respected’ was the important one. But you just can’t compliment some people :P
            FYI, I am an expereinced performer in other genres, I just tried Slam and didn’t like the model. That’s all.

          • I entered a slam poetry event at uni as a challenge to myself and fell on my face. I’m pretty sure it was the total embarrassment I felt that turned me against the slam poetry model. I did try a couple of times to have another go, but truth be told, I was only doing it recover a bit of my ego. What does that have to do with plagiarism you ask? The second time I tried it I plagiarised myself.

          • Thankyou Carly-Jay! I appreciate your support. Apparently I am now just some old fogey has-been, which makes me question why I bothered devoting 25 years of my life to poetry only to reach this point. The responses here just prove my original point, that in Slam and performance, it’s less about the work and more about appearing ‘cool’ and ‘groovy’ – which is, of course, harder once one passes 40! I too was cool and groovy once, Maxine and EZB! Really, I was! But we all age, and you will too, so think about that. :)

  5. Heartbreaking in so many ways, but especially disheartening for poets who continue to create new, innovative and original work, to have it almost always overlooked by lit journals and competitions alike in favour of same-same-but-different, middle-of-the-road yawn-worthy ‘australian’ verse which is either plagiarised or so predictable and overdone it may as well be.

  6. Nice piece. Game of the day.

    As for plagiarism, not the first or last. So this is just to say, get over it. Anyway, who owns language (langue: the lexico-grammar of the system)? Robin Hood or the Sheriff of Nottingham? As happens, I prefer plums to plumes, they’re do delicious, so sweet and so cold, like dead language forms. My advice to such sinners before they get burnt at the barbecue would be to do a Rousseau or Saint Augustine, write an autobiography and the plagiarism will become its own cause celebre, and all shall be forgiven.

  7. I would like to add my thanks for this article, Justin, and my respect to Ira Lightman for his part.

    Re: “the judges and editors and aesthetes who have been left with poetic egg on their faces”, perhaps the upshot will be a more sophisticated view of what counts for ‘previously unpublished’ submissions… and some lasting tips on how to police them.

    I’d also like to add that while I am deeply saddened to see Graham Nunn caught in this mess (by his own fault), I don’t expect that should stop me from counting Graham as a friend.

    • Yes, I too would like to thank you Justin for this exposition of aspects of this sad affair. I think it is an important contribution to an important discussion, carried on by all who have replied to it. And perhaps we wouldn’t be having it with such fervour if it weren’t for Ira Lightman’s sleuthing.

      I agree with Brad. I have met Graham and liked him and don’t feel disposed to stop liking him though his conduct is indefensible and I won’t for a moment defend it.

      I would be kinder to the ‘judges and editors’ too. They are usually immersed in poring over submissions and managing multiple tasks with limited resources and time. That is their core work. Can they really be expected to divert themselves from those activities to scrutinise each submission for plagiarism? To my mind, the responsibility falls squarely with the author who has asserted the originality of the submission.

  8. This discussion has been trailing me for weeks now and I’ve yet to cease being amazed, especially as comments by Lightman make their way into my inbox, so thanks for taking it off the internet hearsay and putting in onto something that legitimizes rumour (cue waiting for backlash by the punters). As for the comment on the judges – would one expect judges (or publishers or editors) to recognise lines of poetry from the millions published every year? To say our ‘tastes in poetry are essentially for middling, middle-brow palliatives’ would imply that because we appreciate poetry we should memorise it, line by line, in fact word for word, and internationally at that, in order to count ourselves as worthy of judging (or publishing or editing) appropriately. That’s just ridiculous and I take enormous offense at being put in a lesser category than those who are plagiarising. The judges of past were duped and by no fault of their own. No one goes into poetry, whether judging, publishing, editing OR reading, with the idea that a poet is not projecting something true and original. If we did, we’d be doing the process of reading poetry a disservice.

  9. It seems to me ironic that contemporary economies are founded more and more on saleable ideas, ie original content; even popular culture complains about how ‘the new Batman’ is a pale version of ‘the original Batman'; and yet we have this strange shyness about declaring someone unoriginal, dishonest, and thieving because they ‘mash-up’ unacknowledged threads from other peoples’ work. It reminds me of Arts Ministeries (back when there were such things), festivals, etc, falling over themselves to please the youth vote out of fear, it sometimes appears, of themselves being labelled old and irrelevant. Can there be anything more irrelevant than a person calling themselves an artist who doesn’t have enough fresh ideas of their own to create new, ringing works?

  10. With ‘Plagiarism the word that can’t be uttered’, Susan Wyndham was referring to the poets who have been exposed, and how they’ve refused to admit to plagiarism. ‘Patchwork,’ ‘collage,’ ‘cento’ ‘borrow’ ‘sample’ are some of the euphemisms they’ve been trading in.

  11. I am brought to mind of a certain passage by yeats; it should be familiar enough that I need not quote it. My personal practice has been to develop my skills as a poet, then seek publication, and I am very grateful for those places that support me again and again. Quite often, in such instances, I become both a contributor for, and friend of the editor: graham Nunn is one of these, and I appreciate his featuring of my work in only my second attempt (and first successful attempt) at a poetry reading.

    I have become a supporter, but I do not condemn Mr Lawrence for his work in exposing Graham as a plagiarist. I like Anthony, and know he is committed to what the euphemism of “best practices” flounders towards. So I am going on record, here and elsewhere, that I hope to support both Anthony and Graham, while being committed to opposing plagiarism.

    My own personal practice finds me often paralysed at the prospect of being called a plagiarist, so I instinctively cite my sources, in notes if not title.

    Thank you for your time and patience in listening to me,

    Phillip

  12. If I have a disagreement with Justin’s excellent article, it’s with the suggestion that the scandal illustrates the passion for poetry. I wonder if it illustrates precisely the opposite. What does it say if the awarding of the Josephine Ulrick Prize barely rates as a story at all — and the subsequent exposure of the winner as a plagiarist generates articles throughout the country? Aren’t we seeing a perfect illustration of a willingness to talk about poetry in detail — but only so long as it’s not talked about as poetry but as something else?
    That is, it’s not difficult to understand the media’s interest in this case, since it’s all thoroughly compatible with culture war tropes now so familiar that they barely need to be articulated. Academics are frauds. Arts funding is a racket. Arts administrators are fools. My six year old daughter could paint that. Rinse and repeat.
    If this rhetoric can return so easily again and again and again, it’s partly because, though the argument comes mostly from the Right, its tenets are accepted by many on the Left (even though the Australian Left’s now more enmeshed with higher education than ever before) and a considerable fraction of the literary world (ditto).
    I mention this not to exculpate these particular individuals — as I said, I agree with everyone Justin writes on that.
    But I do think we need to be careful as to how we respond, since I imagine this incident will be used as part of the ‘Abolish the Australia Council’ cry that we’re gonna hear more and more over the next few years.

    • I agree Jeff, in light of the current political situation I’m very worried how this might be used against Aust literature. We all need to be on our toes. Thanks to Justin (and Overland) for such a terrific article. It’s such a constructive contribution.

    • As for ‘Aren’t we seeing a perfect illustration of a willingness to talk about poetry in detail — but only so long as it’s not talked about as poetry but as something else?’ … well, not at all, Jeff. There are numerous global publications critically engaging with poetry daily, weekly and monthly, including Overland. These recent events do have a ripe, blood-in-the-ocean fug that attracts newspapers, yes, as you’ve alluded to. A clear spike in poetics chatter, now, on this plagiarism issue, is an accelerant to a discussion of poetry, not a genesis. When a unique flagrancy is afoot, such as now, the Loch Ness media head cranes up and out of the sump for another go at 15 minutes of passing content … which, sadly, undermines an already sturdy foundation of conversation. Plagiarism does not get people talking of poetry, it gets more people talking of poetry. And your contextual invocation of this ‘willingness’ leads a reader to assume that it’s mass media Fairfax/Murdoch juggernaut that is your target reference point. That the Josephine Ulrick Prize winner doesn’t get top billing in major rags is not a “concern” when advances in genome mapping, major re-forestation projects or clandestine carpet-bombing raids don’t always snatch the headlines either (the way royal offspring or final Breaking Bad episodes might elicit). Yet this snippet of your comment curiously subverts (well, niggles at unnecessarily) this Clemens piece (one I feel has a welcome levity) given the generous extent this publication features/engages/criticizes poetry within its botanical (editorial) habit.

      Perhaps all a minor quibble.

      I could not agree more on the caution required from here on out re: Australian Council and potential oncoming crusades against its relevance.

  13. TURNER: ‘Sizwe Bantu occupies the novel form like a hermit crab inhabits a shell,’ you say. ‘He borrows not only the form, but the words themselves. In this postmodern world, he samples, intertextualises, palimpsests …’
    MAKAYA: ‘You’re talking about his plagiarism? You
    mean derivative?’
    TURNER: ‘If you, sir, had read your Bantu carefully, you would realise that there is no such thing as an original thought or an original word—they are all second-hand. All that writers can do is juggle them around a bit. Bantu uses plagiarism as a device. What Bantu is doing, sir, is merely postmodernising, sampling, to use a musical image, not plagiarising, but referring, connecting. Bantu samples, or extrapolates, or textualises, or …’
    MAKAYA: ‘Bullshit.’

  14. Maxine is right about poetry so predictable it may as well be plagiarised. I’m with Justin and Katy Evans-Bush on the wider implications — at some point the repeating history of Australian literary scandals has to suggest a problem in the type of writing that is valued, prized and rewarded beyond individual acts of plagiarism. What kind of aesthetics, what sense of “artistic merit”, what literary culture breeds plagiarism?

  15. I liked Justin’s piece too….but would ask whether there is something about the way that much contemporary poetry uses language which makes this kind of appropriation easier?…is plagarizing a romantic lyric different from plagarizing lines from a postmodern text?…. describing exactly how all that works might be quite difficult I think….and as Justin will know the category “plagiarism” is actually a vexed one, which is not to excuse all cases of it…including these ones…[university teachers sometimes come across cases where students copy stuff into their essays without having the foggiest notion they are doing something wrong...]

  16. Thanks Justin for a brilliant contribution to this ongoing discussion.
    In all the gloom it’s nice to note some positive
    news from the world of poetry. Submissions are being sought for a new anthology entitled “Brisbane New Voices V”.
    The editor is someone called Graham Nunn. I have his address details if anyone’s interested ; )

  17. Thanks Justin, interesting read.
    Taking a moment to mention the ‘judges’ business…
    Having judged for a number of years in a very small regional ‘open poetry award’ I never did manage to give Andrew Slattery the main prize, but his work was always in the final pile.
    The poems did impress. I don’t think it would have been possible for me during those judging years to have searched out his ‘sampled’ text.
    Re Graham Nunn’s exposure, surely he might have selected his samplings from better sources and made his poetry more appealing at least.
    Sorry Graham, but your work would not have made my final pile.
    What Liz has said, brave and probably true, the poetry playing field at QPF was different and less ego centered before Graham. It was larger and more generous and more about poetry I think. But his dynamic web based outreach does appear to work for those who want their poetry to be in a community of like minds. QPF could bring back the notion of creativity based around what poetry and poets offer.
    Re the idea of sampling itself, fair and acceptable for those that let it be known up front and only use the borrowed words as reference and title, and don’t fill the whole content with same.
    Poetry is important, but too many poets are writing (and not writing well).Poetry is not a vocation for every poet, but it probably should be. I wish it could be. I wish it could be about the words and the creative act and not about the online presence and the followers and the publications…sigh…sigh.

    • I agree, Louise, an interesting read.

      Just wanted to completely disagree with your comment about QPF being an ungenerous space lacking in creativity. That’s not my experience at all, and I say this as someone whose application was knocked back this year. I listened to some fantastic poetry this year, as in previous years, and the atmosphere has always been a very welcoming one.

      I also disagree that Brisbane poetry is a community of like minds. Several interstate poets have remarked to me that the Brisbane poetry scene seems friendlier and more diverse than their own. This month there are multiple poetry events with no affiliation with Graham. The fantastic Queensland Poet in Residence program, run by QPF, has definitely played a big part in bringing in new ideas and creating new connections between different forms.

      The idea that less people should be writing poetry is just odd. Surely a larger community of poets can only improve the quality of the poetry we make?

  18. I feel that Andrew Slattery and Graham Nunn have already paid a price. I don’t want to see them run out of their hometowns. I don’t want to see them hated. I’d like to see more generosity in the poetry scene. Poets are reputedly open-minded and open-hearted. What is needed here is forgiveness and maturity. Workers at a car accident tell the gawkers to go back to their houses. Go back to being poets at your writing desk writing the best poem you can – poems out of your life experience, your curiosity in the world, your need to explain yourself to yourself.
    Charles Bukowski said “A writer should be writing”.
    Be poets not gawkers.

    • Generosity of spirit has, unfortunately, been notable by its absence around this issue. I understand the horror around plagiarism, and I welcome the debate. This article has been interesting and thought-provoking.

      But there’s far too much playing the man, not the ball, both here and elsewhere. Comment all you like about plagiarism, what Graham has done, what Andrew Slattery has done; but don’t get down in the gutter while you’re doing it. The unpleasant personal attacks say a great deal more about the people making the attacks than they do about Graham, Andrew Slattery, or plagiarism itself. Can we not bring some civility back into the discussion?

      I should state that Graham is a good mate, and I am deeply saddened by the events of this past week.

  19. Mark Strand and Helen Dunmore and Laurence Lieberman and Robert Kelly seem to me to be excellent sources; and poets from whom one could learn by reading, and not passing their lines off as one’s own. It’s true that the dishonesty of Nunn has led to a corruption scandal which has made all poets vulnerable to the next round of cuts: and that’s his responsibility. Yes, this should all calm down – when Nunn explains why he deleted all those blog entries this week, and why so many other lines from another poem make up the body of some of his. Honesty will move things forward, and also a general commitment to poetry (which means all the poets whose lines are currently attributed to Nunn, in print, in magazines who accepted poems from Nunn). Shani Mootoo has tweeted today that she is “hurt” by 5 of her lines appearing in a 10 line Nunn poem. Can we be compassionate about all poets (NB this may mean not lapsing back into the status quo)?

    • Apologies Ira.
      Yes those are no doubt good sources.
      Perhaps Nunn’s arrangements did them no service.
      I think it must require a good deal of skill to steal or sample and segue well.
      Of interest, wondering if you find only men guilty of poetry plagiarism? Are there women poets doing likewise?
      Regarding the fall out re funding bodies, poetry awards, journals and the like, surely truth will be valued.
      Poetry should be subject to scrutiny like all else.
      A serious poetry public would wish that surely.

      • Oh yes, there are women poets doing the same. How I’d love to describe a case in point, but I’d possibly be beaten to a pulp …

  20. Being a very passionate poet, this issue has greatly affected me as I am also know Graham. At first I wrote a very angry article and sent it around to be published, probably the most controversial piece of writing I have ever written. I was adamant that if nobody picked it up I would put it on my blog. Now I have decided to hold back. I am always up for critiquing the industry but I feel here we have really shot ourselves in the foot and I surprisingly agree with Jeff Sparrow here. With Liberal in power this is not what we need. If our literary culture rewards plagiarists what is it saying about our culture? The question is not ‘how could they’ but ‘why did they’ and the more haunting question is…how many more are there? And how do these events affect the role of the poetry judge or editor or Australian Poetry Ltd? Unless you go back and check the entire history of a poet’s writing, how will you know if they are a plagiarist?

  21. A sorry exposure. How prescient – one of Graham’s poetry titles is Ruined Man. This scandal will impact on the Brisbane poetry scene. It has indeed been run in a cliquish way – many fine and genuine poets have been sidelined by Graham’s vision which is now exposed as false to the core. All too often here fine writers are sidelined by arts admin people not really doing their jobs with the integrity required. eg Is it standard practice elsewhere in Australia that a writer wd receive a major award (The Johnno) when his wife is a prominent employee of the awarding organisation (Qld Writers Centre), no matter how apparently deserving?

    This whole thing is a tragedy: Desire for Celebrity versus Intellectual Honesty. Graham’s pleasant and supportive personality which so many Brisbane-based writers appreciate (self included) will make it difficult for some locals to grasp the deeper importance of intellectual honesty. Ok QWC – over to you – how about an open discussion about how the writing community can move forward?

    • Lesley, I don’t think people are struggling to grasp the importance of intellectual honestly. I think they’re struggling because it’s horrible to see a friend in strife.

      QWC have distanced themselves from Graham. Perhaps they see that as necessary for the writing community to move on.

  22. Maybe I didn’t word that properly. This could possibly be the FINAL STRAW. I am honestly afraid for the industry, not just poetry. Everyone in the industry should actually think about what someone OUTSIDE the industry thinks of ALL OF US right now. They are thinking we should all have our funding cut. The post that Graham put up on his website basically justifying his actions makes it WORSE for all of us because he is basically saying he was ‘entitled’ to write poetry like that. This is such an awful mess and I am deeply hurt by it, and all the events, over the years, in the industry, that have led to this very poignant point. People in the industry that have power, maybe time to pull up your socks before it’s too late.

  23. Plagiarism simply indicates that an artist basically knows they have an inferior talent & thus can’t mix it with the Big Kids, without some outside help.

    With the probable exception of Francis Webb none of us are as good as we thought we were/ think we are…and most Australian poets that matter are aware of this, if at times however dimly. It is just that plagiarists won’t accept the fact.

    • Agreed, Alan, except perhaps for your assertion that most Australian poets are aware of their potential inferiority.

      I would suggest that the preoccupation with trying desperately to mix it with the Big Kids or the Cool Groups — which for many ‘poets’ overshadows any commitment to working hard, taking criticism and refining the craft — lies at the heart of this issue.

      And I sympathize with those who have been condemned for bringing this problem to light. The Cool Groups and their Groupies aren’t inherently rational or necessarily very nice.

  24. What we need, Koraly, is far less of the culture of ‘award-winning poetry’. This scurge of our art has brought forward some real ripper hustlers in the past few years, & I reckon a few ‘major’ award-winning names might spring readily to mind. If Slattery & Nunn felt they had to pass off work of another’s as their own, & in some cases did it relentlessly (& on occasions to win prizes no less!) then they must have big, big depths of inferiority. & if they didn’t feel inferior then they sure must feel inferior now!

    Oh Forbes, John Forbes, you who crafted work with wit & passion, with spirit & action in ways few of your generation or the generations that have followed could ever aspire to…to think that 15 years after your death it has come to this!

  25. And Koraly…poetry is an art, a craft, a passion, an obsession, a hobby, a game, a vocation, a life…but anyone who refers to it as an industry (my god an INDUSTRY!!!) needs to think twice about using such a hideous term or just quit.

  26. This whole situation has shaken me.

    And while I’d like to echo Peter B’s comment (and should thus shut up myself), try as I might I couldn’t stop myself writing this post. Andrew & Graham have acted in a way that I personally feel is unjust.

    I don’t think the full sum of a person is in their mistakes, but I truly don’t like what I’ve read either.

    How does the poetry community move forward now?

    • Mere blip in the word pool. And to quote from a fairly recent post by Giovanni Tiso on Overland, “Are we running out of poems?”, which dealt also with a recent plagiarism scandal in the UK:

      “If there really is such a thing as a ‘community of poets’, it should worry less about running out of words, or about its capacity to catch the odd thief, whose presence should in fact reassure us that the culture hasn’t reached a dead end; that our canons aren’t yet so small that they can be recited by heart.”

    • Hi Ash. I think Phillip A. Ellis sums up the complexities that many of us are facing up to now with a comment that he posted in the baroqueinhackney thread that Justin’s article links to. It’s the sort of open-minded and open-hearted comment that I reckon Peter B was aiming with his comment to encourage more of, as opposed to mere silence. That would be how “generosity in the poetry scene” spreads. It’s encouraging to see there have been a few similarly generous comments in this thread but I will admit that I am feeling conflicted enough to give the less generous comments their due.

      Notably, if Andrew Slattery had been facing these charges alone I would have dismissed myself from having anything to say. He would have been just one more passing fool in the cycle of news I subscribe to. As it stands what is bothering me most is the wondering what it feels and sounds like inside Graham and Julie’s home at the moment when they are alone together. I understand as Ira Lightman fairly points out that we’re supposed to be feeling some empathy for the poets who’ve been stolen from, but let’s not forget that the direction the poetry community moves from here will depend at least a little bit on how T.H.E Nunn looks back on all of this and judges us.

      • Well said, that’s worth considering, Brad.
        It’s just bad for everyone. More horrible for some than others, and it shakes my faith in the art of communication.

  27. “It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside”

    sampling. “These are a few of my favourite things”
    of the rouandabout we round to get to the swings’
    Others words used in this way, are not stolen but borrowed,
    That’s not about plagiarism always but using popular culture references
    to create from a deep seated intimacy with fine words, some mood. Evoque [a kind of car] passions.
    There’s a definte “IN” and “OUT” of Brisbane poetry. Take my own work, “OUT” with QPF / QWC in my town, Brisbane the soap box is kicked right out from under…
    Strong controversial poetry about “the elephant in the room” CENSORSHIP.
    Media and political writing intense. the jus of theory put philosophically into practice,
    challenging the establishment, it’s too easy to lose traction, as courageous work goes unrewarded.
    Tricks, fluff, poems about “Underpants on the outside” , “Revenge poetry by bitter women” about their first love, gone wrong or lesbians “Eating their lover from the inside”. That’s OK, porn, taboos like inscest, go hard open season at any open mike, it’ll get features.

    I do believe Censorship of political poets/authors/ artists “DISSIDENTS” in Australia
    is a more topical issue, than plagiarism, but sadly unfashionable as

    A/ no-one believes it happens
    B/ no-one can be bothered to listen to proof that it does
    C/ to complain about censorship is to sound like a whinger
    D/ poets who are suffering from “Perception theft” [ie. work is downgraded so they cannot gaing prominence] having their credibility stolen.
    Take myself, subjected to fraudulent accusations, {unsubstantiaded of “Stalking” at UQP, never proved one email too many makes me a criminal?} with works under consideration “Good luck with publishing Eureka Moments “GG Quentin Bryce”.

    Revolutionary poets used to be well respected even “great minds” , to dilute that does society no favours so poetries resurgence from being “Unfashionable” to prominence will be undermined an experiment in free speech where the illusion is that it’s free, but it’s a censorship regime. Poetry plagiuarism on page 3?
    Perhaps a symptom of the tall poppy syndrome. That poets are alpha communicators who can create their own “PLATFORM”, independently,not subject to media approved “The celebrity we appointed earlier” . We are controlled, in many ways, but fundamentally still by what we “AS SOCIETY” get to hear and see, and who we listen to, who is perceived as worthy.

    Poets are dangerous, the most dangerous people in the world.
    Grahame Nunn is most likely being victimized, his contributions to Speed poets are epic,
    perhaps he’s getting “To strong” maybe he even supports me, what does he say about my DVD 60 minutes “THAT ROAD”. We email and my email is not secure, there’s plenty of proof of that, if you want a real scandal it is that poets are tapped/ hacked/ blagged like Millie Dowler and Leveson proved it happens.

    http://www.qwertyvotea.com

  28. “How does the poetry community move forward now?” asks someone.

    By reading as much poetry as possible in our language since at least Chaucer & as much poetry as possible translated from other languages since at least Homer.

    By reading The Dunciad of course & Don Juan & Hugh Selwyn Mauberley…that ought to put a bit of perspective on things.

    & whilst your about it, go out, buy and read the recently published ‘It Comes from all Directions’ by Rae Desmond Jones,’Indigo Morning’ by Rachael Munro & ‘Boom’ by Brisbane’s finest poet Liam Ferney a man far too talented & savey to even consider plagiarism!

  29. Yes, there was a female plagiarizer, Joanne Benford, exposed in the UK last year; and I’m investigating a few more. About 10% are female.

    • Thanks Ira.
      Would you have any stats on the gender percentage of those poet/victims of the plagiarists?
      And if I’m not pushing – Is your information sourced on web based poetry only or do you search print?

    • Thank you, Ira. My work has been plagiarised by a poet of the female variety, but I’ve been too concerned about the backlash should I ever mention her name. Keep fighting the good fight.

  30. Hi Alan, I didn’t realise you were ‘the ALAN WEARNE’ Maxine’s lecturer! She has told me so much about you! I feel honoured to be in a discussion with you. I don’t want writing to be an industry. Art is art. My teacher was Ania Walwitcz and she taught me much about the creation of art, that if we all wrote by the same rules we would all sound the same and how boring would that be! But if you want to make a career out of your writing you do have to engage with the “industry” on some level. I was actively submitting to awards but I don’t really do that anymore for one reason: I know I will never win!

  31. This whole situation is very depressing and not just the plagiarism (which is so disappointing and inexcusable – but with the potential for forgiveness if we care more about the person than the facade and if there is honesty). However, it is not the end of the world. We’re not getting bombed by fellow citizens and poetry will survive no matter what this so called ‘community’ (and I am yet to see much evidence of real community at this point) says. Sport survives despite the drug scandals. Some sports stars even get away with murdering their wives and come back into the celebrity fold. Poetry is not popular with the general population (but it was in the past and still is in some countries) and no wonder – we need to open up poetry to as many people as possible, not shut it down with elitist poetry and elitist statements about too many people writing poetry or saying that anyone who is interested in poetry needs to study the works of every poet and poem that has been published in the history of the world. I have read The Odyssey and The Epic of Gilgamesh, but they are not essential to a love of poetry (though I love them both). People need to get excited about poetry and not turned off by the thick green broccoli soup (that is good for you) type poetry. There are many different levels and styles of poetry and not everyone likes every style (just like music). You don’t have to like classical music to be a music lover. They have their pros and cons and people have all sorts of tastes. Lets have an all you can eat type menu for as many people who want to eat at that table. I do agree that poetry can be incredibly complex and we are all at different stages in our poetic apprenticeships, but we don’t all want or need to be poetry professors. Please can we open up the all you can eat bar, sooner rather than later. ps. I may have mixed some metaphors here (but I don’t give a flying …).

  32. The whole situation isn’t depressing at all. it’s fucking boring, and all this hand-wringing is such a load of wank. we’re talking about two poets who aren’t/weren’t of much interest to begin with and turning them – and this shitty little moment of plagiarism – into some great story.

    As Wearne said, read more, get a grip on things, and poetry will keep chugging along regardless of this pathetic little moment of blah blah fucking blah…

  33. The only thing missing from this conversation is a poem.

    A Plagiarist Reading

    I get through half
    of one
    before I want to go again –

    half a goldfinch, half
    an abbey,
    half motorbike, half zen.

    I commit to lovemaking
    before I choose
    which memory to offend –

    or which unspoken oath
    to break
    before the stroke of ten.

    I get through half
    of one
    before I want to go again –

    the better writers, Rhodes
    scholars,
    the women who I thought were men,

    for no other reason but
    I stopped
    well short of reading them.

    I get through half
    of one
    before I want to go again –

    the lines that strike,
    or stop me dead,
    that squirt into the abdomen,

    like someone else’s seed
    mis-shot –
    as if poetry were pollen.

  34. ‘Poets are reputedly open-minded and open-hearted.’

    That made me spill my 18 year old Lagavulin. Fuck you very much.

    • @ AL Known to be more savage and hostile when under threat.
      Don’t play well with the go betters.
      Get a little loving with the underlings.
      Respect and admire their equals and often rather grudgingly laud their true betters.
      All subjective, like judging.
      Do you have any comments on the “What if you hadn’t recognised the plagiarised lines in Slattery’s poem”?
      You and Margie did give him the prize and having read some of his earlier entries to another smaller award, I remember how his work did impress, but seemed to be overly conservative in my opinion, but it read as strong poetry nevertheless.

    • Anthony, the first half of my comment meant to be an ironic response to the ‘open-minded and open-hearted’ – not directed at you, just a clarification in case, you know, irony and humour don’t read well in comment streams.

  35. @ G. Parkinson

    When my students begin they write poetry that is largely riddled with cliche and sentimental language. They have no idea how to work a line-break. They don’t understand associative thinking & dreaming, let alone the complexities of style and form. But they start to read widely. They come to me and borrow books from my library. And then they borrow some more. They talk about the lectures and tutorials. They exchange ideas. Their poems start to shed the skins of prescriptive language. They reveal an understanding of how important it is to harness subject-matter into the service of language. They make slow, steady progress., At the end of the course, most are writing poems that wouldn’t make it into a mag or journal, but there’s clear evidence of serious intent and engagement. And a few announce themselves as poets who have what it takes to make it through. I’d like to think their work will stand out, in years to come.

    Some of the poets who’ve attacked me over my stance on Slattery (and especially) Nunn, are writing and publishing poetry that is flat, emotionally and musically barren and subject-driven. Fuck ‘em.

  36. I personally think this is just ridiculous and speaks little of anything except the over-politicization of poetics in Australia. Slattery makes a perfectly reasonable argument; perhaps the problem is not that he “plagiarised” but that he managed to make really obvious references that went over peoples heads. Seems more a failure of the reader. If I write a sonnet and call it “X” should I have to write anywhere that it’s a sonnet? No; that’s your job as a reader. If you’re too stupid to understand what I’ve done, that’s your fault as a reader, not mine as a poet. I don’t recall William Burroughs being accused of plagiarism for sampling anything he sampled. And surely in Australia, a country we conquered quite brutally, it should be pretty easy to accept that property is theft and plagiarism in contexts outside of the academy (which poetry is, as all arts are) is perfectly valid. Really I find this “scandal” to show nothing but how stupid our critics are.

  37. Slattery didn’t make really obvious references. He got the £1000 second prize in the Bridport poetry prize and included 4 lines near the end from Denise Duhamel and a line from Ledo Ivo. Had you heard of those? Could you quote me some of their lines from memory? It’s a ridiculous statement based on not looking into it in any detail.

  38. To ‘Texas': I think you’re post is arrogant and irrelevant. Slattery and Nunn should be named for the lazy and wrong ways of writing poetry. Many of us writing poetry work hard – reading widely, improving skills through workshops (among many ways), redrafting versions of poems and so on. To receive monetary benefit and significant recognition under false pretenses deserves opprobrium

  39. Well, that was one fine essay on the ignoble tradition. Thanks, Alan Wearne, for sending me the link. Vin Buckley would be proud of you. Coming home from Dublin to Cork, from the very sad funeral of our Seamus Heaney, I was actually rereading one of the best essays on plagiarism ever published. It is THE ROGUERIES OF TOM MOORE by FATHER PROUT (Francis Sylvester Mahony), published in FRASER’S MAGAZINE, London, 1836. It is an attack on the character of Tom Moore of MOORE’S MELODIES. Prout provides French, Latin, Greek and Italian versions (‘originals’) of Moore’s famous poems/songs, claiming a great theft from these languages. Here’s Prout in action: ‘Among the Romans whoever stole a child was liable by law to get a sound flogging; and as plaga in Latin means a stripe or lash, kidnappers in Cicero’s time were called plagiary…the term plagiary has since been applied metaphorically to literary shoplifters and book-robbers who stuff their pages with other men’s goods, and thrive on indiscriminate pillage. This is justly considered a high misdemeanour in the republic of letters, and the lash of criticism is unsparingly dealt on pickpockets of this description. Among the Latins, Martial is the only classic author by whom the term plagiarius is used in the metaphorical sense, as applied in literature…………….Cicero himself was accused by the Greeks of pilfering whole passages, for his philosophical works, from the scrolls of Athens, and cooking up the fragments and broken meat of Greek orations to feed the hungry barbarians of the Roman forum. …'(1836)

  40. Ah poets, chuck ‘em all out of the city. McCarthy’s etymology leads to Plato who worried before the Romans did that the little words and letters written down were just like little children out in the world with no father to look after them and thus available for kidnapping by all and sundry. Of course you can all come back if you justify yourselves in prose.

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