Why Copy? (Today’s Thoughts on Plagiarism)

Hmmmm. I have just read a review of a book of poetry http://rochfordstreetreview.com/2013/10/02/a-non-review-of-the-first-30-and-other-poems-by-graham-nunn/ and I am deeply saddened at what it revealed.  It seems mighty selfish of some to practice the art of the ‘rip off’ without so much as a tip-of-the hat to the efforts of others.

It might have been a line here, and a phrase there.  But the image is still disturbing. it is not even in the vein of that old apologetic excuse that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  This is not even much of an effort!

I thought about it for a bit, then realised that I was reviewing how to best reference influences on my own writing. To give credit to the creative efforts of others… to what has gone before and been created already.


I remember undergraduate assignments in first year academia where the art of regurgitating the same idea that you had just read five different ways but ‘in your own words’ actually was a big ask. It was after the first semester of writing disparately psychology experiment results, geography field reports and English genre essays that I resolved that limiting my subject selection to two styles each semester might be a wiser approach.

Out in the working world one finds new and uncharted measures of inefficiency is one’s sparkling ability to reinvent the wheel.  No one has time for that, least of all the boss!  Lately I’ve come to an understanding of why people who write business plans call them their fiction-years.

So who sucked up all the oxygen out of the publishers’ houses?  I’m not speaking with any bitterness because Mark Tredinnick didn’t choose my offering to the anthology of Australian Love Poems 2013.  He told me himself, with a touch of weary pride, that he personally read everyone of the so many hundreds of extra poems that Australian poets had proffered. He did look a bit scuffed at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival, but I put that down to chairing a panel on poetry that commenced before 10:00am!

Maybe it is a case of the gree-eyed monsters that I have.  This grabber got one published where mine didn’t.  I was not all that surprised mine didn’t make the cut.  It has been a while since I was in love or even falling out of love.  Maybe that well has gone dry and I was just picking around the ground at pieces of my memory of something that had once been and was now cast aside.  Some bright and shiny, others just little lumps in the dirt.  Sometimes it pays to go back over the same ground.  Nuggets have been found that way before today.  We are all magpies to some extent – just some are clearly more ‘grabby’ than others. Why not say that you picked it up from a line you heard or read somewhere. Why not acknowledge that it came from someone else’s well?

I have attended workshops where another poem is read and re-read, or a piece of music played, a photograph offered or a word proffered as a starting point.  We’ve noted the names of the piece and the author. We relax, get centred. Then we write.

One of my fellow writer-friends uses things I say in my text messages and emails in her stories – as long as she lets me know where, I figure I am just part of her writing environment and one of her influences.  I’ve even reshaped a poem from a conversation, actually a chat session on Facebook with another friend – and I checked – he was OK with that.  I have writtten verse based on a web page that lists the cartoon character Bart Simpson’s chalkboard lines.  I have even noted something witty someone tossed out in conversation as a message to myself on my mobile phone, probably because I was riding my bicycle somewhere and didn’t have a pen to hand to scrawl it up my arm… I remember poems used to come to me while I was in the shower (Gaaaaah!), but my muse has since learned that this is not always an appropriate channel.

Maybe you cannot remember those flashes of inspiration… or you are having a dry spell… but to deliberately deceive? To delete posts from blogs past? To erase your tracks? Rub out the evidence? The crime is that this bloke got caught out and his actions speak rather loudly in the echo chamber of published words!

Writing poetry is more of an art than a science.  Sometimes it can be based on a recipe.  Though even then, I feel it can be more like baking a cake and juggling possibilities: hoping that the eggs were fresh enough and that the oven is working and the timer goes off at a time convenient for rescuing the proceeds.  It is just bad manners to be tossing up as a dining table centrepiece a sculpture made from a few items wired together that you pilfered from the handbags of your fellow dinner guests!

I don’t mind being someone’s inspiration. really! But if you are going to copy my poems, at least use my name as well! -AJC-

One thought on “Why Copy? (Today’s Thoughts on Plagiarism)

  1. On the other side, it does not matter where things are taken from, but where they are taken to. The importance is what use was made out of something. There is really little that is ‘original’ in life. All has happened before. If you just look at painting and how often painters have copied the works of those who went before it shows that each time the work is changed somehow, filtered through the vision of another and distilled by the new artist. To outrightly take a line is perhaps one thing but to re-tool a phrase. If you were to distill your concerns down into absdurdum it would be that even using the same word wqould be off-limits. I think that language is free. IUf someone were tyo use my idea, or retool a pohrase of mine I would only hope that it makes for interesting reading.>KB


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