I read an article today about a poet who plagiarised another person’s work and managed to get a book deal out of it until someone recognised a poem written by another and a whole shit storm happened.
Yes, that’s terrible and rude and lazy and more but this post isn’t about the plagiarising of the words but the plagiarism of the experience.
One of the phrases in question was:
in the sink. I trace the
foreign topography of
my body, find God
in my skin.
Which was “inspired” by a poem, written by Rachel McKibbens, who wrote about childhood trauma and her memories. Her words are below.
spitting teeth into the sink,
I’d trace the broken
landscape of my body
& find God
Her poem was a response to the awful trauma that involved mental illness in those she loved including her mother and son.
A poem is a reaction. It is a raw and real response to what is happening to you physically and mentally and is always deeply personal. It can make you feel less alone, contented, fearful, and the good ones can make you cry and learn them by heart, because you feel understood.
What I found troubling about this poet’s decision to plagiarise the poem, besides the obvious, is her taking on the other experience of the writer. She is dismissing the pain of a childhood of abuse the author suffered and she has invalidated the experience of the author exploring her life with a mother and her son having schizophrenia.
I read poetry on most days. It is my touchstone and it is a powerful tool to help me become a better writer. It is also something I like to read. Little dream like moments that swirl through my brain. I always have more evocative dreams if I read poetry before I sleep.
I have read a lot of the new what I call “Tumblr” poets. Few are amazing, many aren’t so amazing. What I enjoy is the real and the raw, and those that reflect the authentic voice and experience.
To steal Sylvia Path or Anne Sexton’s words, is to wear their coat of depression for a while but then having the privilege of taking it off when it gets too heavy. It is entitled and dismissive of the poets experience.
What this poet was really saying when she stole the other person’s work is “Can I borrow your trauma to get a book deal?”
It’s appalling and it’s happening more often. Do people romanticise trauma and writing so much they will plagiarise to succeed? It seems so.