To catch a poet
September 12, 2017 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Porlock. At bottom, it's always Porlock, isn't it?
posted by pracowity at 8:23 AM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by thelonius at 8:36 AM on September 12, 2017

He characterises the fuss as nothing more than “a series of low-level petty jealousies”. Mack, who is of Trinidadian/Ghanaian/Bajan ancestry, “is one of the tallest, most striking women you’ve ever come across”, Croft says. “A lot of the original animosity was from white women poets in Newcastle. I don’t even want to know how to unpick that. To begin with, it felt like some girls in a catfight, picking on the most glamorous and the most beautiful girl, because they’re not as glamorous and beautiful.”

How twisted does this editor have to be to wave away blatant plagiarism with a halfhearted accusation of racism immediately followed by a whole dollop of his own sexism? How do you edit books and not catch yourself digging this hole?

The Pierre DesRuisseaux issue seems to be a much bigger deal than the other instances in the Guardian article though, both for its scale, the dude's own prominence as poet laureate and how ridiculously blatant it was. Tupac, Maya Angelou, Dylan Thomas, Charles Bukowski... it's genuinely incredible that he got away with it.

The Root has some coverage of DesRuisseaux affair here: Canada’s Ex-Poet Laureate Stole From Tupac and Maya Angelou in the Greatest Cultural Appropriation of All Time. The author suggests that he was counting on the community of Francophone Canadian poetry aficionados not catching the lines of Tupac but christ, everyone else he ripped off.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 8:43 AM on September 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Wow, that's a fascinating piece (by Will Storr). The people caught at this always claim either "It's intertextuality, you ignorant lout!" or "Oops, my notes were sloppy, I meant to credit the original," and of course those close to them (their loved ones, agents, publishers, etc.) indignantly agree, and those more removed shake their heads. I don't know what drives people to plagiarize, but it's definitely a thing, and as with so much else it's much more visible in the age of search engines. I love this bit:
Born to middle-class parents in 1967, Lightman was an unusual and sometimes difficult child. When, at the age of three, he was told the family were moving from Buckinghamshire to Kent, he pulled down his trousers and refused to pull them up again until they changed their minds. (“It didn’t work.”)
Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 8:52 AM on September 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oops, my notes were sloppy, I meant to credit the original,"

This is the standard excuse in many cases of scientific plagiarism.
posted by dhruva at 9:07 AM on September 12, 2017

I find this a bit weird, as I know Ira a little bit. I remember him once saying that he had breakfast with Joe Biden.
posted by The River Ivel at 9:12 AM on September 12, 2017

What's also a treat is reading the comments. (It's not often you can say that with the Guardian these days.) Especially the persistent commenter who seems to have signed up just to comment on the article and then spends their time making spectacularly ill-informed references to Borges, Shakespeare, Romanticism, and the history of copyright in an attempt to say "no, this is all fine; intertextuality!" I'd love to know what the story is there. I very much hope they're not a creative writing teacher.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:16 AM on September 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Spectacular piece (and post).

I don't always admire public rectitude, but I do enormously admire the Ira Lightman presented in the article.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:23 AM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Along a similar line, Neal Bowers' Words for the Taking is about his experience of discovering he'd been widely plagiarized, and the tremendous dissatisfaction involved in trying to get redress in an industry where there's no money and so, for many people, no sense that any harm was done.
posted by Orlop at 10:10 AM on September 12, 2017

"Intertextuality" just sounds like an excuse: I really don't see much difference between 'using someone else's work to base my own slightly rewritten work on it' and straight-out plagiarism. Either way, the end product isn't your own original work.

And that editor continuing to support Mack because she's "one of the tallest, most striking women you've ever come across" is just gross: what the hell does her height or her looks have to do with her plagiarism?!? Or is this guy trying to say that, because she's tall and attractive, her committing intellectual theft is perfectly hunky-dory?
posted by easily confused at 10:12 AM on September 12, 2017

He deserves at least two medals for this work.
posted by Oyéah at 10:21 AM on September 12, 2017

Or is this guy trying to say that, because she's tall and attractive, her committing intellectual theft is perfectly hunky-dory?

Did you miss the "cat fight" part? He's saying that she's being attacked by less attractive women because of their jealousy of her looks.
posted by Orlop at 10:30 AM on September 12, 2017

I read this the other day. The slant in the article towards portraying Lightman as an oddball socially-challenged obsessive is curious. By which I mean, Huh? I followed links to get to this, Plagiarism in Poetry, a blog, which has a really elegant takedown of the crassness of Sheree Mack's pastiches. The blog writer claims they betray not just, well, dishonesty of course, but a cloth ear, a lack of internal logic*, complete ignorance of local colour, context and nuance to do with Laventille, and a tendency to always default to cliche. Which claims are very well backed up with quotes comparing the original versions with the plagiarised. (Also, the photo of Lightman is much less unflattering.)

Something comes through in the comments, which is the fervour with which this woman's allies defend her. It got me wondering exactly what is the nature of their emotional investment? And it also reminded me of that time during the Olympics in China when the little girl who could really sing wasn't deemed beautiful enough to represent during the opening ceremony so they got a more glamorous child to lip-sync.

I think artists of all kinds are pretty familiar with circumstances when they don't conform to the expectations of those in a judging position. Maybe they're old or short or not good looking or socially awkward or probably most often they simply don't say 'the right things' in 'the right way'. Whatever, serious errors of judgement appear to have been made about the quality of Sheree Mack's work, which errors seem to be compounded by the follow-up. Thank goodness SOME GOOD PEOPLE are ready to stand up for and acknowledge the hard work and skill and talent of the people who have been ripped off. As if stealing the voice of another poet isn't also a denial of representation. Not so obvious from the Guardian article is that the issue of denial of voice also applies to the (much, much, better) Caribbean poets she's ripped off. Like, she herself is denying minority voices.

The defenders of Sheree Mack do so from a position of ignorance: of quality; of Caribbean literature and writers; and of professional standards, including ethical standards.

* Since poetry aspires to be the most precise, concentrated and rigorous of the verbal arts this is a VERY BAD FAULT
posted by glasseyes at 11:26 AM on September 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

I do enormously admire the Ira Lightman presented in the article.

ME TOO! And that's taking into account that the article seems from the beginning to be looking at him funny, a feeling that reading round the links confirmed.
posted by glasseyes at 11:37 AM on September 12, 2017

The River Ivel, pls to tell Ira Lightman that Metafilter thinks he's an excellent guy.
posted by glasseyes at 11:41 AM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

In creative writing classes, I did exercises where we were directed to write poems "after" existing poems - here's a page with some examples. The closest to plagiarism is the advice to steal the first line of the poem. But that still, it seems to me, falls under fair use.
posted by larrybob at 12:35 PM on September 12, 2017

“Xbox, Xbox/You’re the one for me/I also love my 3DS/And my Nintendo Wii.”

Talent borrows, genius steals.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:10 PM on September 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

"I have been bullied, victimised and abused by a number of ‘poets’ who thought it necessary to act like a lynch mob"

I swear to God H.D. said this to Vivian Eliot at a Cocktail party when Tom started doing his impression of Tito.
posted by clavdivs at 3:29 PM on September 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I find this a bit weird, as I know Ira a little bit. I remember him once saying that he had breakfast with Joe Biden.

Is he sure it wasn't Neil Kinnock?

I've heard it can be hard to tell the difference, sometimes.
posted by jamjam at 8:22 PM on September 12, 2017

DesRuisseaux's latest book has been pulled from the shelves by the publisher. They said that DeRuisseaux "suffered from a degenerative brain disorder in his final years and may have been confused when he submitted work he believed was original". Not catching plagiarism, conscious or otherwise, in two thirds of the poems in the book does not reflect well on them.

It also says something about the market for poetry in Francophone Canada when a poet laureate's work only sells a hundred copies in four years. Still beggars belief that the handful of aficionados who did buy them couldn't recognise Angelou's most famous lines.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 2:08 AM on September 13, 2017

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