I don’t understand why a poet would plagiarise another poet’s work. It goes so deeply against the reasons why people are drawn to poetry, both as readers and writers. It’s a betrayal of another and it’s a betrayal of self. It’s sad and it’s despicable. I suppose in the poetry community it’s just about the worse thing you can do. The financial rewards of writing poetry are not huge, certainly not worth risking one’s reputation for, because poets exposed as plagiarists pretty much become persona non grata to other poets. It’s worse than being a drugs cheat in athletics. You would have to be really lost to do it.
One of the worst ways in which plagiarism takes place, because of the intimacy and the direct betrayal of trust, is when a poet steals a fellow poet’s work in a poetry writing group or workshop, and even more so if it is the workshop leader actually doing the stealing! Real poets don’t magpie.
I run poetry writing groups in Bristol. Amongst the ground rules, discussed from time to time and always when a new person comes into the group, are the importance of confidentiality and the absolute prohibition against ripping off the work of fellow group members. Happily, plagiarism’s never been a problem for our groups.
Sadly, I’ve recently heard of a number of instances where plagiarism has taken place in poetry workshops, which is what prompts me to write this.
I would advise anyone attending a poetry workshop to raise the issue at the start of the workshop by reminding the group about the importance of respect, confidentiality and the prohibition against plagiarism, which includes nicking a line and altering it just a little bit. It might not stop a determined plagiarist but hopefully it will give them pause to consider what they’re doing.
And if anyone tells you it’s not plagiarism if the line concerned hasn’t been published, they are wrong and it is.
Be safe out there!
The celebrated American photographer Barry Feinstein’s famous photograph of Bob Dylan standing on the jetty at Aust in May 1966, along with a visit to the same spot earlier this year, was the inspiration for our Deb to write a poem about this small moment in rock history, and the subsequent changes to this spot in the intervening years.
‘Bob Dylan waits for the ferry at Aust’ was the result, and the Leaping Word is delighted to announce that it has just been awarded fourth place in the 2019 Welsh Poetry Competition.
Congratulations to the writers of the winning poems, and all those on the short-list or with special mentions.
It is a truth more or less universally acknowledged that whatever it is in you that makes you write poetry is also likely to make you unsuited to sticking your head above the poetry parapet and publicising your work – which is why, in an ideal world, poets would make enough money to employ a literary agent to do it for them. Alack. This world is far from ideal.
To be fair, I enjoy readings now I’ve learnt to adopt a persona to do the reading for me, ie someone who looks like me but who talks in a slightly lower register and who understands that it’s the poems that matter, not the poet. She lets the angst-ridden me-who-writes-the poems stand just behind her, not quite in full view, and together we give the poem our best shot.
Submitting to magazines and entering competitions, with all its attendant rejection, is a harder thing to keep doing. Even those rather more elusive acceptances can be anxiety-inducing if you are prone to feelings of unworthiness. Finding a group of poets who similarly struggle can be helpful in this instance. Gentle peer pressure, and the sharing of triumphs and insecurities, can be helpful in overcoming what is a very natural reticence.
Then there’s social media. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. I love that this morning, before I even got out of bed, I went on a wander around a Christmassy New York, saw the Northern Lights in Iceland, and had a paddle around Bristol’s Floating Harbour in a canoe, all thanks to the marvel that is Facebook. But I don’t want to spend hard-won free time on FB, Twitter, Instagram et al shouting into a vacuum about my poems when I could be writing them.
To this end, I recently went on a course run by Josie Alford, who’s half my age and who knows how to do this stuff in an efficient and organised way. It was reassuring to find that I already do much of what she suggested to grow a readership, and that it was mainly a question of fine-tuning the process, by looking at the insights and doing a bit of analysis to find the best times to post, and who my target audience might be. Instagram, I decided, is probably not an ideal platform for my work. Two-line platitudes in an arty typewriter font don’t really float my boat, though if I could get one of my kids to show me how it works, I might post some photos.
I think I’m always going to struggle with the writing/publicising balance, and submitting, for that matter, but it’s a fact that writing poetry is essentially a collaborative art. Poems only really come into their own in the imagination of the reader. So if you want your work to achieve its potential, self-publicity is something that has to be done, preferably in the least painful and time-consuming way possible.