Sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton 2013
A poet named Sheree Mack was just caught with plagiarized poems in her book, ‘Laventille.’ Write Out Loud, where I read about this, has included some correspondence from the poet talking about how she kept densely composed notebooks with prompts from workshops, among other things, and that these rough workings were simply not adequately labelled. When I read what she said, I found it compelling, and thought how easily this could accidentally happen. But when I read examples of the poems, and saw she was a PhD, I found her explanation strained credulity–for one thing, to have re-written someone’s entire poem, while not a bizarre or rare exercise, might, I’d guess, entail also having the original copied out so you could refer to it.
Should we leave her alone? What do you think?
Was it inadvertent? Was it intentional? Would crediting the original authors have been enough? I’m sure she is embarrassed and horrified, not to mention that her rep is mud. Is that enough? Apparently legal action is being considered. But are our words this precious? Yes, you might say, we build our reputations on them. Or, conversely, you might argue, Who do we think we are? We’re here for (approx) 70 years, a blink, a wink, and more words will pile over top of our words in short order. It just doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
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.
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At first seemed to me that she must have had a problem with organization and might have an excuse of sorts, plus certainly we have all run across work we don’t remember writing. However, I have come to the conclusion that she is either more clueless than that, or was purposeful in her plagiarizing. When I read the examples of her writing and the poems she emulated, they were just too similar. She should have given the other poets credit, at the very least. I just can’t believe she accidentally left out the poets’ names on the prompts in her notebook in the first place. It does bring to light the importance of citing sources and crediting poems where a line or more have been “borrowed”.
My first thought is everything is derivative. Of course that doesn’t excuse out right plagiarism, but I think it should temper our reactions. It makes me think of rap music and how their liberal sampling of music, though hotly contested, has never led to a discrediting of the artists themselves. Also, if we apply Occam’s razor to the situation we can see it is probably more likely that she forgot she copied the poem, then she knowingly plagiarized with hopes of getting away with it. Last thought, the plagiarized author in this case should be happy that their chances of being read just got raised, if ever so slightly…controversy sells and all that. Anyway, interesting post.
These were my thoughts exactly, firstname.lastname@example.org. What do others think? What if it were you? I have said on FB that I can imagine it happening to me and if nothing else, it hammers home the reason to cite, cite, cite.