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Cases of poetry plagiarism have been rocking the British poetry scene since 2013. The main detective of these crimes – the popularly dubbed ‘poetry sleuth’ is Dr Ira Lightman.

lightman

His fans (I am one of them) have jokingly suggested that he deserves a knighthood for the good work he has been doing for the poetry community – bringing crimes of theft to light. But Lightman has not come out completely unscathed. As a literary vigilante of sorts, his critics see something a bit too hard-nosed, a bit too relentless and dogged in his actions. They see him as the leader of mobs that proceed to dance on the graves of disgraced poets. And it is true that on Facebook where these instances of plagiarism have been largely discussed, there has indeed been something of a mob mentality, a self-righteousness and a venting that can go on for a post too long.

The plagiarists have certainly tried to present themselves as victims. Christian Ward was the first to be found out. He had won a prize with a poem that he stole from Helen Mort.

HelenMort

Here are the two poems:

THE DEER AT EXMOOR

by Christian Ward

The deer my father swears to God we never saw,
the ones who stepped between the trees
on pound-coin coloured hooves,
I brought them up each teatime in the holidays

and they were brighter every time I did;
more supple than the otters we waited for
at the River Exe, more graceful than the peregrine
falcon landing at Bossington Beach.

Then five years on, in the same house, I rose
for water in the middle of the night and watched
my father at the window, looking out
to where the forest lapped the garden’s edge.

From where he stood, I saw them stealing
through the trees, and they must have been closer
than before, because I have no memory
of those fish-bone ribs, that ragged fur

their eyes, like his, that flickered back
towards whatever followed them.

THE DEER

by Helen Mort

The deer my mother swears to God we never saw,
the ones who stepped between the trees
on pound-coin coloured hooves,
I brought them up each teatime in the holidays

and they were brighter every time I did;
more supple than the otters that we waited for
at Ullapool, more graceful than the kingfisher
that darned the river south of Rannoch Moor.

Then five years on, in the same house, I rose
for water in the middle of the night and watched
my mother at the window, looking out
to where the forest lapped the garden’s edge.

From where she stood, I saw them stealing
through the pines, and they must have been closer
than before, because I have no memory
of those fish-bone ribs, that ragged fur

their eyes, like hers, that flickered back
towards whatever followed them.

Ward apologized, rather unconvincingly, in the following way.  “I was working on a poem about my childhood experiences in Exmoor and was careless. I used Helen Mort’s poem as a model for my own but rushed and ended up submitting a draft that wasn’t entirely my own work. I had no intention of deliberately plagiarising her work. That is the truth.”

That word – ‘careless’ – it will come up again soon. But that Ward was happy to submit the poem for a prize, happy to be shortlisted for the prize and happy to walk away with it in the end, makes us doubt his sincerity. What is even more interesting is the moment when Ward turns round to attack his attackers:

“Now, I would also like to bring up how I was treated in this affair. I have been bullied, victimised and abused by a number of ‘poets’ who thought it was necessary to act like a lynch mob. One ‘poet’ wrote “Head ———> Pike” in a Facebook comment about me. Another ‘poet’ suggested I be put in the stocks and alluded I should be put to death. Such behaviour really isn’t on. I have become extremely depressed by their actions and don’t deserve it. There is no excuse. I have written somewhere between 5 – 600 poems over the last eight/nine years. I intend to write more. I do not believe I should have to throw away several years worth of work over isolated incidents which I deeply regret. I am not, for the record, a compulsive plagiarist who gets a rush from doing it. I’m not that person. Please believe me…. I am not the complete monster that a lot of people think I am. I am a human being and deserve better.”

In a bizarre moment of irony, Ward, by using quotation marks, questions whether his attackers are truly ‘poets’ or not. It seems in his mind poetry is not about coming up with an idea and exploring it through original language and metaphor, but about good and decent behaviour. That these poetry enthusiasts should attack him so vehemently over what turned out to be his serial plagiarism (many more poems purporting to be his were subsequently revealed to be rip offs) disqualified them and not him, from being authentic ‘poets’.

Ward also made the shrill claim that he was being attacked simply because he was not established, and that other poets who enjoyed greater esteem would not have been treated similarly. This is a spurious thesis, but in fact those who have expressed unease with Lightman’s crusade parrot a version of it. They do not go so far as to support Ward and other plagiarists, but make a case for supporting pastiche, imitation and mimicry as good poetic practices – as authentic beginnings to legitimately new work.

Now this is actually valid, except that Lightman has never attacked these practices, and even a cursory glance at Ward’s work shows that what he’s done and is being accused of is not pastiche or mimicry or anything like the multi-layered intertextuality of TS Eliot (who he invokes as a fellow plagiarist). What he’s done is theft. Lazy, outright, careless theft – changing a mere word or two from the original poem.

The case of Christian Ward was followed fast on its heels by the case of David Morgan, and the case of David Morgan barely had time to settle before the case of CJ Allen had erupted. Allen had been shortlisted for a Forward Prize in the best poem category and though there was no evidence that the poem submitted for that prize had been plagiarized, the long history of plagiarism that trailed behind him, and that was only then being unearthed , forced him to withdraw his poem.

Scandal after scandal after scandal. The British poetry world was exhausted – sick and tired of the whole shebang. It took a deep breath and hoped it had seen the last of such cases. Poets were now on their guard. They were policing themselves and no longer needed Lightman to do the dirty work.  But as Kamau Brathwaite might say, just when you think everything going ok, brugalungdung! And blue murder start! A fresh scandal has only just erupted, and I am paying attention to this one because while the poet in question, Sheree Mack, has been rather global in her ‘theft’, reaching from the shores of Britain to ‘steal’ from poets all over the world, she has dropped her loot in my waters – the Caribbean – in Laventille, Trinidad to be precise. Piracy, that long tradition on which West Indian society was partly founded, has come back to our shores via a poet.

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The Caribbean has a strange way of romanticizing its painful past. Or maybe it’s not so strange – just the way in which we make the hurt palatable. Former plantations are therefore converted into 5-star hotels – former site of brutality and genocide, now site of weddings and spring break holidays. I never imagine a gas chamber could be converted into a resort, but maybe that’s just me. Also, the days of buccaneering and piracy gets constantly Disney-fied most recently with the Johnny Depp franchise of movies. Though Bob Marley sings plaintively ‘Ole Pirates yes dey rob I, sold I to the merchant ships’, more recent artists try to reclaim piracy as an appropriate act of subterfuge. Cocoa Tea sings, ‘Dem a call us pirates, dem a call us illegal broadcasters, just because we play what the people want.’

pirate

Piracy as subterfuge, as an especially legitimate way to create art for the Caribbean —I could just about stretch my mind to accommodate that, but Mack’s plagiarism is not so thoughtful  or intellectualized; it requires no such stretching of the mind. In her own words, it is just ‘carelessness’. Mack uses her poetic skills for euphemism. She apologizes for the work she has ‘unintentionally appropriated’. The whole apology can be read here and I’m afraid is worth a hearty guffaw. As one Facebook poster said in a conversation happening amongst West African poets, ‘Isn’t this what we know as mere stealing in Nigeria?’

The craftedness /craftiness of the apology is probably not unlike the man I once heard of who confessed to stabbing his wife in the neck but insisted he was not actually aiming for her, but for a mosquito perched on that neck.  Murder – theft – as ‘unintentional’, as mere act of ‘carelessness’…it just doesn’t fly. The apology is ultimately humorous for its outrageousness, and offensive for the same reason. But as plagiarism case after plagiarism case has surfaced in Britain, the knives drawn seem to be less and less sharp, and no one seems out to dance on Mack’s grave. There seems to exist a genuine hope that she will get past this kafuffle and re-find an authentic voice. But I can’t but help but wonder if Mack’s search for authenticity might be about more than just voice, but about subject matter as well?

laventillebook

I know – I know – this is a troubling question to ask and to be asked. Policing who has the right to write about where and about what is first of all useless, and secondly fraught with all kinds of complications, and too often masks nastier biases of essentialism. I also don’t want to reopen recently closed wounds, but it’s worth mentioning that a great and furious debate happened only recently amongst Caribbean writers about these issues. In truth, many of us felt more than a little uncomfortable with the fury of the debate as it felt at times that what was being policed was not authenticity exactly, but race. To put it bluntly, white Caribbean writers who had left the Caribbean for too long had lost their authenticity (in a way people would be less inclined to accuse me of losing mine), while white expat writers who had lived and made a home in the region for years had somehow not lived there long enough to achieve authenticity. White writers who were born and still lived in the Caribbean were acknowledged as ‘authentic’ but grudgingly so, and with a kind of proviso that they surely couldn’t understand life for the ‘typical’ West Indian citizen. It was nasty business all around, and a kind of politics I do not want to be associated with.

But to my mind, Mack’s book belongs squarely in this debate about Caribbean authenticity. A number of factors have shielded her from it so far: most obviously, her book was out for too short a time for it to register amongst many Caribbean readers and it has subsequently been withdrawn and pulped (though with a promise that it will be reissued in 2016); it was published by a press that doesn’t give ready access to a Caribbean market; and thirdly, the fact of race undoubtedly gives Mack an added layer of insulation from what one of my friends calls the ‘blacklash’. Had Mack’s collection been out for a longer time, and had it reached to Laventille and the rest of the Caribbean, and had it been published by a press such as Peepal Tree, and had she been racialized as anything other than black, I suspect she would have found herself in the middle of a whole other storm.

Though born and raised in England, Sheree Mack does have some claim to the Caribbean through parents. I believe she has family in Laventille – the eponymous community of her controversial book. But it is interesting that when she tries to evoke Laventille she has to use the template of other poems set in other places. Here is one example:

Men of Terry Street
by DOUGLAS DUNN

They come in at night, leave in the early morning.
I hear their footsteps, the ticking of bicycle chains,
Sudden blasts of motorcycles, whimpering of vans.
Somehow I am either in bed, or the curtains are drawn.

This masculine invisibility makes gods of them,
A pantheon of boots and overalls.
But when you see them, home early from work
Or at their Sunday leisure, they are too tired

And bored to look long at comfortably.
It hurts to see their faces, too sad of too jovial.
They quicken their step at the smell of cooking,
They hold up their children and sing to them.

The Men of Success Village
by SHEREE MACK

They go out at night, come back early in the morning.
You hear their footsteps, the tinkling of bottles;
sudden blasts of calypso music, whining of dirty mas.
Somehow you are either in bed, or at the table, waiting.

This masculine invisibility makes good of them,
a phantom of bare feet and string vests.
But when you see them, home early from work
or at Sunday church, they are too tired,

bent, longing for rest and peace.
You hurt to see their faces, too sad or too large.
At the smell of cooking they quicken their step
They hold their children at arms-length and chastise.

Lives wasting and smoking in the dark.

But using the template of a whole place to suggest the specificity in the Caribbean – well – if not done thoughtfully enough, can’t that end up being just another colonial project? I’m not saying it’s impossible. It has been done — but thoughtfully. So is it that Mack does not know the Caribbean well enough or cannot imagine it sufficiently that she has to lean on these other evocations of distant places? She ends up substituting the most precise and wonderful details of the Dunn poem for the most clichéd and tourist-brochure images of Trinidad. Dunn’s ‘Sudden blasts of motorcycles, whimpering of vans.’ becomes ‘sudden blasts of calypso music, whining of dirty mas.’  Really!?

Is the Caribbean evoked and imagined so easily? The second half of that image is bound to have several of us scratching our heads. Dirty Mas or Jouvert (the first mas of Carnival) happens only once a year but Mack seems to be describing something that happens every morning. If only!

dirtymas

And does she mean ‘whining’ or ‘wining’? I suppose — poetically — it could be both, a pun perhaps, but it’s clear that the ‘wh’ from the original ‘whimpering’ sets a trap that she doesn’t quite know how to escape. Mack knows that she must change things but doesn’t know how to change them far enough.

The blurb for Laventille reads like this:

Laventille tells the forgotten story of the 1970 Black Power Revolution in Trinidad and Tobago, when for forty-five days an uprising of students, trade unions and the disaffected poor threatened to overthrow the government. The book is a shrine of remembrances for the ordinary people behind the headlines. It’s an attempt to stay close to the facts as well as breathing life into the lost and hidden history of the revolution.

Again, Caribbean readers might wonder: forgotten by whom? Laventille – that famous hill topped with its two water tanks, the place where the steel pan was invented – is iconic in Trinidadian culture and literature.

laventille2

Even Derek Walcott who was long resident in Trinidad has written about Laventille:

LAVENTILLE [From the Castaway and Other Poems]

It huddled there
steel tinkling its blue painted metal air,
tempered in violence, like Rio’s favelas,

with snaking, perilous streets whose edges fell as
its Episcopal turkey-buzzards fall
from its miraculous hilltop…  

It’s a long poem, but worth reading. As well there is another long poem of his, Spoiler’s Return, that takes place in Laventille, and the novelists Sam Selvon and Earl Lovelace have featured Laventille in their own books. More to the point, Lovelace’s most recent novel ‘Is Just A Movie’ could be called ‘a shrine of remembrance for the ordinary people behind the headlines’ as it relates to the ‘1970 Black Power Revolution in Trinidad’. So is Mack’s collection really telling a story that has been forgotten or is she peddling exotica to a British audience that might not know how to ask the right questions?

Earl Lovelace

Earl Lovelace

Earl Lovelace has something to say about this whole situation. In an address he made years ago, he reads an extract from his great novel ‘The Dragon Can’t Dance.’  The prologue to this novel is a beautiful piece of writing – almost a prose poem – depicting Calvary Hill in Trinidad, which sits more or less beside Laventille and in some ways the two can even blend into one. At the end of his reading, Lovelace says this:

I have read this extract to demonstrate that the language I employ not only locates me, but expresses me. That is to say it tells that I come from a place in the world and that I come out of a particular experience. It is that experience I see myself as a writer struggling to wrestle into language and by that means bring it into the world. In a way there is nothing remarkable about that because I believe every individual writer must have his or her own experience, and seeks to wrestle that experience into language and to bring it into the world.

Lovelace might not have had plagiarism on his mind, but his words seem to speak with frightening directness to the present situation and to what is so deeply and ethically wrong about Mack’s ‘appropriations’. Her words do not evidence any struggle and they inevitably locate Laventille not in Trinidad but in disparate streets and towns all over the word. Her language, which is not her language, does not express any experience other than the experience of theft. Another of Mack’s plagiarised poems tries to paint a picture of Lady Young Road that snakes its way up into Laventille. One Caribbean writer online reading this poem was doubtful. He asked, ‘Which lady young road she talking bout? I couldn’t recognize the one I know.’

Just a week ago I was supposed to take this very road – Lady Young Road – on the way to Piarco Airport, but the dry season being upon Trinidad meant that a bush fire had broken out causing the road to be closed. The taxi took me instead through downtown Port-of-Spain, and it took a while to escape the city, the traffic being so heavy. At last we were on the highway heading out and the driver pointed to a section where clouds of smoke were filling the air. ‘Dah is Lady Young Road over dere.’ He told me. ‘Dah is de road we shoulda take.’ I had taken it before of course, but today it was hazy, indistinct, too far away in the distance.  And perhaps that is exactly the problem many of us might have with the way Mack chooses to write Laventille.

laventille

47 thoughts on “Plagiarism in Poetry; Looting in Laventille; Carelessness in the Caribbean

  1. Thank you for this. It’s given me a lot more insight into this whole area of poetry plagiarism. I’ve only read of it very recently (as a result of the Sheree Mack case) and am deeply shocked and troubled, not only by it happening at all, but even more so by the excuses the plagiarists come away with. I think you’ve given an excellent overview, and applaud the way you name it for what it is.

  2. Sheree Mack would not deliberately plagiarise another poet’s work, this is a statement of fact. The hysteria generated by this incident has only proved my long held theories about the moral and intellectual vacuum in which a great many literary people exist. There are few, there are indeed very few, people in the world of academic literature and poetry who are entitled to throw stones at someone of genuine talent and integrity. My work has been plagiarised on at least one occasion, by a prominent and titled author it must be said, who lifted three paragraphs from an essay I had written many years before – but being a level headed and generous sort of chap I didn’t make a fuss. Ah, but those bluffers who set their sights on literary glory cannot afford generosity, and reasonable behaviour will invariably be replaced with hysterical defensiveness.
    Frederick Lewis
    Fine book collector
    Bibliographical author and contemporary poet
    Founder of the Heddon Quarry private press

    • Frankly, that’s absurd — fpr most observers the evidence is clear and not open to spin. You seem not to understand the difference between “this is fact” and “this is my dearly held belief”. As with so many other would-be defenders of plagiarism, yyour main weapon is to present your nasty speculations about the motives of those who don’t share your complaisant attitude.

      • Dear Mr King – may I point out that your is spelt with only one “y” and not “yyour”… This is the literary standard one has come to expect from academia.
        Frederick Lewis
        Who can spell words such as “your” correctly

      • I see that your desperation to use insult instead of reason leads you to pretend to mistake a typing error (in a forum that doesn’t allow post-posting editing) for an inability to spell. If I were to follow your example, I might sneer at you for not having noticed that mistyped “for” as “fpr”, but I’ll refrain. I take it from the fact that you decline to address my points that you accept them, and are now engaging in an embarrassed tantrum.

    • But it was wrong for that titled person to pass your work off as his/her own. You might extend grace to the person; you might see it as a compliment, but the rules of the game are quite clear. It is not that we are not expected to use the work of others, but that when it is done, the borrowed material is acknowledged. For poetry, that is even trickier since poems are so short.

    • I haven’t ‘thrown any stones’ . I am not a ‘literary bluffer’ . I do not set my sights on ‘literary glory’ whatever that is…
      I asked Sheree Mack’s publisher to withdraw her poem from Laventille because it was essentially my poem, published in 2011. Have you actually bothered to read my poem and hers? I suspect not.

      • Joan, you have every reason to feel angry – essentially you have been stolen from, and as a result of that theft you have been upset and abused. Poetry is about seeking the truth in our experiences and expressing it in living language. How anyone can have the gall to call themselves a poet when they routinely use others’ ideas, structures and words is totally beyond me. It’s very important that excuses are not made, that publishers and editors do not gloss over this kind of dishonesty and continue to promote the career of a poet with a track record of ‘appropriation’.

  3. Thank you for this Kei. Yep. Plagiarism goes far deeper than ‘superficial’ word theft. As someone whose poem was very closely plagiarised I know that for sure! SM’s inauthenticity re the Caribbean perspective needed pointing out too – I welcome that you’ve done it so well here.

  4. All too true, I’m afraid (and in the Sheree Mack case, too, I saw her friends accuse her accusers of “harrassment” — normally a dog-whistle word, guaranteed to set villain and victim in permanent positions, but it didn’t work this time).

    It’s worth pointing out that plagiarism is an increasing problem in higher education, and the frequent excuse by offenders is that this is what they were encouraged to do at school.

  5. I agree that the first two perps named are guilty of plagiarism in the first degree. I can’t remember the third, but it’s unfair, I think, to paint the poetic transgressions of the subject of this blog post as being on the same shameless scale as the high literary crimes Ward et al committed.

    Publishing verbatim the middle stanza from Douglas Dunn’s most well known poem, is self-sabotaging literary idiocy, proving only how silly she is. And though for some a perhaps debatable position, I believe that what Mack was doing in the John Glenday poem that caused her to be outed, Undark, is far from practicing the same laughably embarrassing levels of unchallenging cut and paste Ward and herself in the Dunn poem, both did as grade A divvies. And for which they have been rightly mocked.

    However, putting aside this perfectly amateur behaviour and seeking something positive to take away from the whole affair, I do think that her efforts in the Glenday poem demonstrate a very healthy creative talent and ability with language. It will, hopefully, be good for her art and writing in the long run. In a few years time she could resurface with something that stands on its own two feet and doesn’t need a title and the name of a prize attached to it to be considered authentic by the reader, who does, after all, have the final say in recognising the real thing.

    I started reading the two poems of John Glenday alongside Mack’s The Dark Landscape Within, and felt a flush of excitement as I did, reading two wholly different texts, and it was only when I came to the last two lines, I spotted Mack’s foolishness. She’d done most of the work and only needed to change the final two lines and the poem would be bona fide her own.

    I recognise what she is doing, merely using one text as a template and creatively playing with it until 100% of it is turned admirably into our own. She plays with Undark and changes six-sevenths of it utterly into a text that can openly acknowledge its source and be flatteringly compared to it, in much the same way as many poems that have one source and are turned by the creative and spiritual alchemy and agency of imbhas, into something wholly human and authentic.

    Her only ‘crime’, in that exercise at least, is that she was too foolish and lazy to do the job properly and finish it so the charge couldn’t arise when read alongside Glenday’s poem.

    ~

    I remember it kicking off with Ward when chief poetry hack Alison Flood gleefully reported two years ago in the Guardian how Ward had won a prize with Helen Mort’s stolen poem.

    The reporting of it opened the gates to an angry anonymous band of voices, in the main unhappy with their own ‘career’ in poetry, unleashing a hate-speech hell. The anonymous commentators collectively appropriating the whole business as an excuse to publish angry drivel claiming to be publicly outraged on Mort’s behalf. One youthful luvvie even sounding as if he wanted to physically smash Ward’s face in, claiming to be overtly devastated on behalf of the poetry ‘community’ itself. Themselves, who didn’t write the poem, had eff all invested in it personally, but happily channel a disgusted moral attitude into the whole episode for the purpose of trolling Ward. Whose crimes are up there with trousering toiletries in a convenience store.

    Following the individual reactions of the Anonymous collective Guardian lynch mob, reading them grow more and more unified, shrill and faux-outraged until it lost all semblance of appropriately normal human response and reaction to a person that was clearly and transparently daft as a brush – lifting poems wholesale with no changes whatsoever and trying to pass them off as his own; I joined the commentary to be purposely provocative to the, by now, mad as hell mob, pointing out to them that there was no material difference in what Ward did and what Kenny Goldsmith is feted for doing, slobbered all over and promoted for ‘achieving’, as the cutting edge experimental poetic brain that the wealthy avant-garde hipsters of the Foetry Poundation want you to worship and learn from. Kidders.

    The only difference is Goldsmith has the chutzpah to stand his ground, and gets off on winding up the haters by contextualizing and defending his plagiarism as successful conceptual art.

    My intervention worked, in that it opened up a new direction in the conversation, presenting a different way of looking at the reality of the, literally, Ward’s bardic and wholly civil crime spree, helping stop a macabre public mass punishing by the many unhappy members in the British poetry community, of the naughty poet-plagiarist Ward. The Anglicisation of an Irish name, Bhard, one of the hereditary bardic filidh poet families of literary Gaelic Ireland.

    I have been following the plagiarist-finder general, Lightman, expose these literary crimes on Facebook, as and when he details the fresh literary depositions and presents the perps to us. In many ways it reminds me of a minor version of Foetry, when American librarian Alan Cordle spent the mid-noughties becoming the most hated person in American poetry, by anonymously exposing on his Foetry website the relationships between the winners and judges of what are, in effect, pay-to-enter poetry competition scams, choosing as lucky winners in the big prize culture; what we all learned through him were their students, friends and lovers.

    His biggest scalp was Jorie Graham, who’d chosen her lover as the prize winner of a pay-to-submit manuscript competition she was judging. In much the same way it works in British poetry elites, first exposed by Private Eye informing us how Sean O’Brien, Don Paterson, and the deified poet-friend saint of this self-appointing trinity, Michael Donaghy; had all independently arrived as Eliot and Forward judges, at choosing from the hundreds of entries, their close chums for these high value corporate cash prizes. Again the mosquito defense invoked, chosen not because they were mates, but because the judges sincerely believed their intimate personal friends were writing the best poetry in Britain. Back in the day.

    I want to plagiarise this one. https://soundcloud.com/supafastpoetrydublin/fergal

    • While some of what you say is worth thinking about, too much of this is made up of special pleading, the attribution of wholly speculative disreputable motives to people who complained about various plagiarisms, and a tendency to dismiss by facetiousness.

      • Thanks, Peter J. King, for your sensible, grounded posts. One problem not yet mentioned. If I come across the plagiarised poem
        first, and the original poem second, I might end up thinking the original idea was the plagiarist’s. Very unfair. It’s simple really. Be truly creative as Kei suggests in his blog. There really is no excuse for all this ‘acquisition’ of the creative work of others. Frankly, I’m totally disgusted by it.

  6. Sorry to clutter up your private view of this. I got into responding after being led here by a Nessa Mahoney Facebook post, where I posted the above in its 8.28am form here, and editing it on fb as i went, expanding it and inadvertently posting flawed versions here that can only be corrected byre-posting. The latest timed one, the last one i posted, is the final draft, though there is an ‘of that can be removed and comma missing that can be added, to leave this:

    I started reading the two poems, John Glenday alongside Mack’s The Dark Landscape Within, and felt a flush of excitement as I did, reading two wholly different texts.

    May God grant you always a sunbeam to warm you, a moonbeam to charm you, a sheltering Angel so nothing can harm you. Laughter to cheer you. Faithful friends near you. And whenever you pray, Heaven to hear you.

    Slainte!

  7. Joseph makes a good point, but it concerns me that when people are living on the streets, people are living in poverty, people are dying for their political beliefs, the writers who might do better to address such injustice make such a fuss over nothing. To use the modern phrase, some writers need to step out of their ivory tower and “get a life”. As for Mr King, apart from needing a lesson in good manners, I can only suggest that he and his friend Lightman find a career more suited to their talents, I’m told that shelf stacking at Tesco pays quite well.
    Frederick Lewis
    Oh, and Mr King, I don’t believe in forgiveness, see you around sometime…

  8. Frederick Lewis, you have published two collections of poetry that include a foreword by Sheree Mack. You have an emotional investment in Sheree Mack and I suspect that you probably count her as a friend.

    Your loyalty does you credit but it is misplaced.

    Sheree Mack is a plagiarist and has been caught
    (over 25 poems to my knowledge… so far).

    It is a shock and is extremely upsetting for all of us in the North East who thought well of her, attended her poetry readings, workshops and felt that we were being encouraged in our writing by her. It is extremely difficult to reconcile how Sheree Mack presented herself with what she has done, but there it is.

  9. Dear Mr King, I really must apologise profusely that you took my last line as a threat, having read it again I can easily understand why you might reach such a conclusion. I’m afraid my dubious sense of humour is an acquired taste, and unfortunately in this case I have missed the mark and caused you offence, for which I am truly sorry. Recovering from a particularly painful tooth extraction last Wednesday has probably not improved my demeanour, which tends towards gloomy at the best of times – gloomy but well meaning. In fact I was quite enjoying our exchange of views, and can only apologise once again and reassure you that I am always a gentleman and absolutely abhor any form of violence.
    Best wishes…
    Frederick

  10. I do not believe Sheree Mack is ‘guilty’ of intentional plagiarism. The strongest thing I would say is that some of the pieces in question lack proper attribution to their sources. A ‘sin’ of ‘omission’ rather than ‘commission’. This has been acknowledged by Sheree Mack and by the publisher. The examples I have seen, in my view, create new pieces of art from the source material. What I find far more troubling is the mobbing of a person, particularly via social media, which seeks to maiximise humiliation and punishment. I consider this bullying, plain and simple. I do not care for Mr Lightman’s approach at all.

    • The evidence seems to be against you — and resorting to attacks on those who disagree, though common, isn’t edifying.

  11. I wish to add that, in the instances I am aware of, I do not believe Ms Mack acted “mens rea”. This is precisely the charge against her laid by the Kangaroo Court set up under the auspices of our latter-day Matthew Hopkins.

    • But upon what is your belief based? As with your other comment, you’ve simply contradicted those who hold that these are clear cases of plagiarism, without offering evidence or argument. As Mack has herself apologised and admitted her fault, you need more than simply assertion if you want to convince anyone.

  12. No, you’re attacking – in intemperate language – those who disagree with you. If you needed merely to state your own view, you could have said: “From the evidence I’ve seen, intentional plagiarism wasn’t involved, only a failure to provide attributions to material used.” No need to accuse those who hold a different view of dishonesty — of bullying rather than acting out of a concern for honesty, of setting out to humiliate Ms Mack rather than to defend those from whom she has taken material without permission or attribution.

    In fact, even if she had only done what yoiu claim, that would be straightforward plagiarism, but the evidence is clear that much more was involved.

    It’s possible to accept the glaringly obvious fact that Mack plagiarised, and still feel sorry for her — still feel that she shouldn’t be treated as a pariah, or hounded in the nasty social-media wirch-hunting way that we’ve come to know and loathe. What’s not acceptable is trying to hound her accusers in that way.

  13. I stand by my comments, and by my belief that what has occurred in this instance (is occurring), as was the case with previous instances concerning other writers, has the quality of a witch hunt about it, and certainly involves both overt and covert bullying, and acts effectively to render an individual a ‘non-person’ in terms of their position within the self-described ‘poetry community’. It enacts the age-old ‘drama’ of an in-group shaming and ostracising an individual for perceived transgressions. I do not believe describing this cruel and denigrating process constitutes a ‘hounding’ of anyone.

  14. As long as the writing is industry led plagiarism will find fertile soil. A degree of vulnerability is inbuilt and who is to say ‘I am immune to such practices/temptations?’ An active Union protecting copyright and promoting standards is one way forward. An overseeing body with self governance in the rank and file. The cult of personality and, by implication, the power of an influential elite ought to be curbed in favour of a return to writing … to originality and freedom of expression outwith trends in the market place, cliques, ‘teachers’ and territorial mafioso. The EU at Brussels and the IWU in Dublin runs an open season on these issues. It is worth reading their monthly newsletters.

    • *Is* poetry writing “industry led”? You mean that the vast profits and reputations to be made by publishers and poets make plagiarism attractive? Sheree Mack was worshipped as a personality, and part of a powerful elite? And to prevent that horror, we need a bureacratic organisation to enforce rules, which will allow freedom? I can understand why the EU might like this, inspired by George Orwell.

      Copyright is already protected, and whose standards would this organisation promote?

      The one thing that I agree with is a concern about the growing academicisation of writing in general and poetry in particular, which is probably the most stultifying and damaging changes I’ve seen since returning to the poetry scene after some decades’ absence.

  15. I reiterate my position. The drive to feed an ever hungry machine and at speed can and does cause lapses in judgement by othewise sound minds. Regulation of the CW industry is one way forward … expectations with sanctions. And Peter does not have a monopoly on this matter.

    • Oh well, no need to respond to anything I said — reiterating your position removes any need to defend it or argue for it… (You might look up “have a monopoly on”, incidentally; it doesn’t mean whatever you seem to think it means.)

  16. Peter… the broader issue of regulation is what is at stake here. All industries experience ‘growing pains.’ The music industry itself is only now beginning to regulate and operate with fewer hiccups than heretofore. Relax. Drop the confrontationality. Folks above are growing tired.

  17. Mr King enjoys being right. Probably easier to let him have his way. He might wish to look up a definition of ‘hounding’, incidentally, as it does not mean whatever he seems to think it means.

  18. I grew up in Trinidad. I went to school in Belmont, not far from Lavantille. I know the pot holes of Lady Young Road quite well. Miller is absolutely right when he points out the discrepancies in the description. The opening lines of the summary makes me laugh. In Trinidad, no one forgets anything, especially Black Power in 1970. Most adults fear their elders when they start an ole talk with “remember when you did so and so…it was 1952 eh?”

    A poet’s words are their livelihoods. To plagiarise is in fact IP theft. It’s lazy. To do it once, is a mistake, to do it twice is a pattern. It is bad creative practice and is very telling about the plagiarist’s lack.

    And lay off the messengers! We need people to point out bad practice, or have we forgotten that the goal is to elevate our art? To strive, to improve, to fail, to fall, to try again? Plagiarism is lazy. We don’t need lazy poetry. Now more than ever we need authentic voices.

  19. Pingback: “Lovac na plagijate u poeziji”

  20. Pingback: One Night Stanzas » Blog Archive » Procrastination Station #144

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