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Monday, October 11, 2021


 Here's the typical defense of plagiarism. Those poor poets up at night, worrying whether Ira Lightman is going to discover some small, unintentional borrowing!  The article doesn't name Lightman, but makes a snide remark about how poetry doesn't need the plagiarism police.  

I would say we do need the plagiarism police if people are going to plagiarize.  In other words, we need detective work to discover the culprits.  

The problem is this: believing plagiarism is unethical, in the normal sense of plagiarism and the normal sense of ethical, does not commit one to a romantic view that poetry as some deep expression of one's individual soul. It's just saying that one cannot take a poem written by someone else, change a few words, and pass it off as one's own, or borrow whole stanzas at a time without attribution.  

What about parody?  Well, I think parody is parody, not plagiarism. For example, my false poems of Bronk are advertised as such, and do not contain Bronk's own, literal language. In other words, I wouldn't pass off a real poem by Bronk as a fake one by me.  In fact, parody is a kind of anti-plagiarism in this sense. If Spicer writes a poem and lets us be confused about whether it is his or a translation of Lorca, then we have that confusion, but this is virtually the opposite of Spicer translating and not telling us it is a translation. 

Likewise, other kinds of intertextuality don't belong in the same discussion.  Usually, these plagiarists aren't playing some cool postmodern game, but simply stealing. 


Leslie B. said...

Isn't this a bit ridiculous? I mean: I've taken notes on academic articles, paraphrasing and commenting, and then had to go back and make sure I didn't have unattributed quotations, if the notes turned into something. But that's because academic prose can be kind of ... standard. I can't imagine getting confused about whether a line of poetry were mine of not.

Jonathan said...

It is very ridiculous. I suppose I could have someone's line in my mind and then accidentally write something similar. Usually, though, people are only caught for this kind of plagiarism if they do this over and over again in many poems with many sources. That's where you need to plagiarism detective.