Friday, October 30, 2015

Moonlight Musings

Poetry Is Theft

... said some poet, once (it may have been Keats). Many others have quoted it since without attribution, so we don't really know who originally said it. Which rather fits the assertion, doesn't it? Everyone stealing the line, I mean, until its origin is lost or at least becomes uncertain.

What is theft; what is borrowing? What is legitimate allusion; what is illegal and fraudulent? 

Complications of the Internet

In our digital era, where students and researchers use Google and Wikipedia etc., it's easy to copy and paste information. It has become the norm. When is this legitimate and when is it plagiarism? I think it depends whether the source is acknowledged or the material is passed off as your own. When in doubt, err on the side of caution!

In practice it's not always easy, as I find when researching material for The Living Dead and I Wish I'd Written This. Sometimes I give a direct quote; that makes attribution easy enough. But when I paraphrase, and mix information from various sources to make the article more readable, it can get tricky. 

I rely on stock phrases like, 'Wikipedia tells us'. The penalties for breach of copyright, a closely related matter, can be severe. I don't know if the same applies to cases of plagiarism, but a guilty finding would destroy one's reputation as a writer, which many of us might regard as even worse. Even an innocent lack of attribution might cause a student to fail an exam. (Ignorance is seldom an acceptable excuse; we are supposed to check these things.)

However, that's more to do with matters of scholarship. Let's bring the focus back to poetry.

The unwritten word

I read somewhere, once, that some societies don't care about authorship of poems; they just love the poetry. So it doesn't matter in those societies, is not a shameful thing, if one poet uses another's lines and passes them on, perhaps interwoven with his/her own. It's not an intentional fraud, simply something no-one worries about. But these tend to be societies of oral poetry ... or so I read. Asia, the article said, or Russia. 

I don't know about that. Is there somewhere in the world, still, where poetry is only spoken and memorised, never written down? Lots of 'spoken word poetry' happens right now in the Western world, we know – but it is usually written as well. And the Western world is where we take pride in original composition and like to put our names to our creations; even the rappers do that.

I am ignorant of a lot of world history; for instance I know almost nothing of Arabic poetry, or African. So I am open to being educated on this subject. Maybe there is still a tribal culture somewhere, where poets are not proprietary – but in Russia there is a long tradition of poets putting their names to their work, even in the days of Stalin's gulags when it was dangerous to write any poems that didn't toe the party line. In China, Japan, India, Indonesia, etcetera, poets have claimed their writings for centuries, and still do today.

It's true that, before written language, or before the ability to write was widespread, the oral tradition and memorisation were the ways poetry was disseminated and retained, in Europe as much as Asia or any other continent. But whatever happened in ancient times and wherever it happened, for a long time now authorship has mattered to us. I certainly like people to know that it was me who wrote what I wrote.

What's in a name?

So where does that well-known poet, Anonymous, fit into this discussion? S/he wrote such good things! I'm glad they've been preserved for us. But no-one has tried to steal them; it's just that the authorship has been lost. I'm sure, if it was me, I'd rather have something of mine out there with no name on it, getting read, than have it named but unseen. What I would seriously object to, though, would be someone else putting their name on something I originally wrote and passing it off as theirs.  

And yet, we do learn from each other, and borrowing is a well respected tradition too. So when is it allusion and when is it plagiarism? 

Case histories

These thoughts arose when I featured the wonderful Aga Shahid Ali in a recent 'The Living Dead' post. I was startled to discover that his poems were full of allusions, none of them attributed. 

But they were very well-known allusions. The particular poem I featured was a ghazal about rain, which ended with the line, 'No-one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain.' Who wouldn't immediately think of e. e. cummings's 'No-one, not even the rain, has such small hands'?

It's interesting to note that Ali has not quoted cummings perfectly; he has slightly altered the line – and yet it is instantly recognisable. His work is peppered with similar examples. As both poet and academic, moving in very literary circles, he must have fully expected that these allusions would be recognised. He wasn't trying to deceive anyone into thinking they originated with him; they were intentional homage. As I said, the originals were very well-known. 

A rather different case happened in Australia last year and caused a scandal. A respected poet was found to have used a number of lines from other poets, without attribution, usually changing them slightly. They came from good poets, but from work not all that widely known (though it was out there, obviously, to be found). He did try to play the 'allusion' card, and also to suggest that these phrases were in his head but he had forgotten their origin and thought they were his own. And haven't we all had that experience? A line pops into your head and only later you realise it was a memory of something you read. Or, even worse, you don't realise until someone points it out. How dreadful if you were unjustly accused of plagiarism on the strength of it!

(I remember my dear husband, Andrew, showing me in delight a charming story he'd found on his computer. 'I must have forgotten writing it' he said – a feasible surmise, as he was indeed getting forgetful in his old age. Fortunately, I wasn't. I was able to remind him that a friend had sent it to him. It was true that their writing had similar themes and styles; that's why she wanted to show it to him. So it was a fairly easy mistake for him to make. But imagine how hurt she would have been, and how mortified he would have been, had I not been around to stop him sharing it with the world as his own!)

The trouble was, in the case of the Australian poet, there were so many such instances in his work. It stretches credulity to think someone could be that forgetful! And even if these instances were, as he also (contradictorily) claimed, intentional allusions, they were not well-known like Ali's, so he should still have identified his sources. (Even Ali was assuming a particular, poetically erudite audience. In theory he could unintentionally have deceived others.)

In an even more extreme case, a poet I know had her identity stolen online. Another person not only created a presence in her name on blogs and networking sites, but also stole and posted her poetry there. I don't know if the poet or the poetry was the primary target of this deception, but the poetry was part of the identity of course. The police were brought in and the thief was stopped, but the young poet was traumatised for a long time afterwards. She doesn't post her work online any more, which is our loss.

Those are extreme cases, though. We are much more likely to trip ourselves up without meaning to.

The accidental theft – or accidental give-away

The 'remix' is a popular method now. There are also the erasures and cut-ups which have been around a while longer. And there is all the 'found poetry', which can sometimes be found in other people's writings. I think these are valid methods, and I have played around with them myself from time to time. I am careful to acknowledge what I am up to and where I got the source material.

It gets even more complicated than that. In recent decades writers have started 'asserting their moral right' to be acknowledged as author of their published works. I understand that this is meant to prohibit anyone from altering that work without permission. This seems to be the opposite extreme from another recent practice: sharing one's writings online at sites where other people may come in and edit them. 

No way is anyone going to do that to anything of mine! All my docs in online storage are private, thanks. But, again, my writing is poetry, memoir and related matters, not scholarship. On the other hand, I can well imagine that scholars might have to be particularly careful not to get their stuff misappropriated. 

It's a minefield, isn't it? 

What can we do?

We may exercise great care to ensure that we ourselves are not stealing, but how can we protect our own work from theft? We're a community of blogging poets: our work is out there for anyone to take.

I think, if someone wants to steal it, we probably don't have much hope. The identity thief I mentioned above would not have been caught if she had not also used the poet's actual name and pretended to be her. However, it seems unlikely. 

Because we make our work so public, and participate in a community, anyone who wanted to enhance their reputation would probably steal something less recognisable. Anyone with such considerations would probably not be playing at this grass-roots level anyway, but would have their eye on academic standing or cash prizes. Some of us may do that too, but we are also willing to share our work here, whereas anyone motivated to steal other people's good lines would have to be focused on status and ego.

I think we are more likely to have to guard against the possibility of innocent / ignorant stealing. Most of us do have copyright statements on our blogs, or even on every individual poem. We can only hope it will give people pause and stop them from blithely sharing something that impresses them without asking first.

If they did, you might never know. But if you should find out, the fact of having a blog with dates and actual readers could help in any legal case. Dates can be faked, but if 20 people say they remember reading it on your blog last year, that must carry some weight. You could go one better, by emailing your work to someone, if only to yourself, or putting it in (dated) online storage. You could keep dated copies of all your drafts too. You probably don't need to – but you might.

(A poet friend of mine is also an artist, and one of her sketches appeared as an illustration in one of her books. Some years later a schoolgirl's prize-winning painting was exhibited in a small-town art gallery — where someone who knew the poet recognised that it was her sketch, only slightly altered except for the addition of paint. It turned out that the school art teacher had photocopied a lot of drawings he liked the look of, and given them to his students to play around with. The young girl had no idea about copyright, though the teacher should have. My friend didn't ask for any financial compensation, but her lawyers did insist that the Gallery display a notice saying that the painting was based on her sketch, which it did. I imagine the teacher was told to be more responsible in future!)

I see that a few Poets United people have the 'Copysafe' notice prominently displayed on their blogs. Does that work? And if so, how? I've always wondered.

What about the Creative Commons option? I haven't used it for my own work, but have sometimes been glad of it to get access to other people's (for legitimate reasons, such as to use in I Wish I'd Written This). I imagine that all the detailed wording, combined with free use of the material, would encourage people to make proper attribution. If anyone has licensed their work in that way, what is your experience?

Is poetic theft an issue that affects you? Concerns you? And what, if anything, do you do about it?

Feel free to share your thoughts

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Animation

 Midweek Motif ~ Animation

Today is  International Animation Day!

Animation is giving spirit or life.
To animate is an act.
Animation is an art.
Animation for children is a joy.

"Laughing Heart" by Charles Bukowski 
in AnimationPoetry| May 5th, 2014 )

Your Challenge: Write a new poem that is about animation or about a specific animation or a new poem that is animated or a new poem that would make a great animated film or a new poem that reacts to one of the visual images in this prompt. 

 Hahaha ... lots of choices!

An example of computer animation which is
produced in the "
motion capture" technique

Excerpt from 

A Lovers Call XXVII by Kahlil Gibran

. . . . 

Where are you, my beloved? Do you hear my weeping 
From beyond the ocean? Do you understand my need? 
Do you know the greatness of my patience? 

Is there any spirit in the air capable of conveying 
To you the breath of this dying youth? Is there any 
Secret communication between angels that will carry to 
You my complaint? 

Where are you, my beautiful star? The obscurity of life 
Has cast me upon its bosom; sorrow has conquered me.
Sail your smile into the air; it will reach and enliven me! 
Breathe your fragrance into the air; it will sustain me! 

Where are you, me beloved? 
Oh, how great is Love! 
And how little am I!

(Read the long beginning of this poem HERE at Poetry Soup)

Excerpt from  I Ask You  By Billy Collins

What scene would I want to be enveloped in

more than this one,
an ordinary night at the kitchen table,
floral wallpaper pressing in,
white cabinets full of glass,
the telephone silent,
a pen tilted back in my hand?

. . . . 

So forgive me
if I lower my head now and listen
to the short bass candle as he takes a solo
while my heart
thrums under my shirt--
frog at the edge of a pond--
and my thoughts fly off to a province
made of one enormous sky
and about a million empty branches. 

(Read the rest HERE at Poem Hunter.)


*** *** ***

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others 
in the spirit of the community.

(Next week Susan's Midweek Motif will be ~ Tranquility)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Poems of the Week ~ Kerry, Bjorn and Rajani

This week, my friends, we are featuring  poems by three very fine poets, Kerry O'Connor of Skylover, Bjorn Rudberg of Bjorn Rudberg's Writings, and Rajani of thotpurge. Each of these poems, when I read it, made me stop, catch my breath, and say "wow!", and I thought they might do the same for you. Enjoy.

Kerry O'Connor, South Africa


When a woman’s cry pierces
the dark places, like a spike heated in coals,
it slips through the jelly of the eye
to silence the moon.

A woman knows the ways
her body incites hatred, how her bleeding
is anathema to despisers of the womb.
Her ankles are bound.

In every age, a woman hears
the ring of chains new-forged by fists that reap
through night spaces in masked secrecy
and throttle her terrors.

Each woman feels the weight
of her belly as a basin, a catchment place,
and each breast is a bourn whose origin
is the wellspring of tears.

*Esifazane is the IsiZulu word for Female.

Sherry: "Each breast...a bourn whose origin is the wellspring of tears." I think every woman can resonate with those words.  How did this poem come to be, Kerry?

Kerry: August 9 is Woman's Day in South Africa, inaugurated in 1994 to commemorate the 1956 protest march led by women of all races against harsh Apartheid laws in South Africa. This poem is a tribute to women the world over who still struggle against gender discrimination.

It is inspired by the poetic style of Australian poet and activist, Judith Wright, featured in The Imaginary Garden's Sunday Mini-Challenge, in particular her poem Bora Ring and the biographical statement: The main theme in the volume was the poet's awareness of time, death, and evil on a universal scale.

In the main, however, I have been affected on a deeply emotional level, this year, by the reports of excessive cruelty to women by extremist patriarchal enclaves, such as Boko Haram and ISIS, as well as several well-publicized cases of historical abuse of under age girls, both in South Africa and abroad.

Sherry: It is a powerful poem, and we share your concern about the abuse of women, of all ages, worldwide. Thank you, Kerry, for addressing this issue so effectively.

Our next poem is Bjorn's  "A Sharkwind Laced With Need". The word "sharkwind" alone made me catch my breath.

Bjorn Rudberg, Sweden


When the windows to my soul are smashed,
by blowing shattering glances,
gusts of words — as hail
pebbles rolling on the hardwood floor.
Doors are closed and locked,
chains across my chest.
and from the sea a sharkwind blows.

In chill of silence afterwards
The night is laced with need
acute a sense of absence
plagued by words

Sherry: Truly breathtaking: "....from the sea a sharkwind blows".  Bjorn, tell us a little about this fine piece of writing. 

Bjorn: That poem was written in response to the wonderful poem: "Broken Windows"  by Cheron L'Estrange, one of Kerry's students. I wanted to extend the metaphor of broken windows to a feeling of sitting indoors and seeing the windows shattered. I created the word sharkwind more out of accident, when I was typing up the poem, and thought it could reflect the menace, that becomes obvious in the last line... words unstitched. I see the shattered windows with those words and wind as the result of a really destructive quarrel.

Sherry: And you succeeded brilliantly my friend. Your use of imagery is so effective.

Now let's take a look at the depthful poem written recently by Rajani : "Unhealed".

Rajani Radhakrishnan, Bangalore, India


sitting by the window
making dark deals with the shallow twilight,
venomous promises,
that sear purple welts upon my naked arms;
while the half-light rustles Rumi’s clove scented words;
I will the wind to open a page,
a random vial of bitter antidote,
his robes whirl white against the glowing slate,
drunk on the wine of an ingrown truth;

but mystic water cannot drown
the endless thirst of a ripped out throat;
so he pours it into fifteen bronze bowls,
his feet skimming their tones,
a jal-tarang of buoyant rapture;
I stare at his wing tipped soles,
waiting for the bruises
where his toes turn over the silent waves;

he can’t negotiate with a dim hour
that is devouring the last of the sun,
cueing the ungracious night,
that lacerates those wounds
with its purple tongue,
its five-edged crystal teeth,
drawing chimeras
with granite eyes and blue poisoned veins
and scaly pink legs
dangling in circular swamps of wine;

perhaps only the new day can heal,
grinding its jaundiced sunshine
into a turmeric poultice,
scratching into my burning eyes,
the camouflaged mediocrity
of an unreal morning;
filling shapeless bags of shade
with secret talismans-
the sigh of a poem,
the lilt of a wave,
the arch of a spotless foot;
venomous deals
to haggle with
yet another toxic night

Sherry: I am struck by the line "drunk on the wine of  an ingrown truth." And I love the fifteen brass bowls, and the presence of Rumi felt in this poem. I love the premise in the closing stanza, "perhaps only a new day can heal...." 

Rajani: Sherry, first of all, thank you for featuring my poem here. I am especially delighted to find it alongside the beautiful and inspiring poetry of Bjorn and Kerry. This has been a fabulous forum to share and learn, and I am very glad to be part of this community of poets.

Sherry: And we are happy to have you among us! I am eager for you to tell us the story of this poem.

Rajani: This particular poem mirrors a state of unresolved conflict that sometimes becomes a false bubble of reality, while the world outside that tangle seems unnatural and surreal, even while it offers temporary respite. The outline of the poem came to me one evening as I was reading Rumi's Divan-e-Kebir, a book I reach for often, and then of course it took on a bit of drama, some music and dance and a heap of metaphors, before it was done! I think like most of what I write, it started someplace else and took off on a tangent -all on its own! 

It did sound a little too dark in the end, but maybe as we search for light, we sometimes describe the inside of the tunnels we find along the way!

Sherry: I love when a poem takes charge and leads the way; the poet hobbling along trying to keep up. Smiles. Thank you for this poem and its story, Rajani.

Thank you to each of you fine poets, for your unique voices, and for the way you write poems that help us feel more, see farther, and think more deeply than we might do otherwise. I am so pleased to have had the privilege of featuring each of your poems today.

Wasn't this a meaningful and thought-provoking visit, my friends? Do come back and see who we talk to next, won't you? Who knows? It might be you!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Poetry Pantry #275

Photos of Rusty Cars

By Björn Rudberg

Good day, Poets!  Hope that those of you in the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing a beautiful autumn Day and that those of you in the Southern Hemisphere are having a beautiful spring day.   (Let me tell you, I would love to trade places with my friends in, let's say, Australia who are heading into summer rather than winter!)

Today we have some interesting photos taken by Björn Rudberg who told me "there is a certain stark beauty in them."  And indeed there is!   If any of you regular poets have photos that you think would work well for the Pantry, please let me know!

Again, it has been a good week here at Poets United.  Many of you took part in Susan's "gravity" prompt for Wednesday's Midweek Motif.  Really that was a challenging topic, but it inspired some very creative poems!    The prompt for this coming Wednesday's poem is "Animation."  Hope to see you!

And who will be featured by Sherry tomorrow/Monday?  Let me just say that she is featuring three 'poems of the week.'  The three poets are all well known to those of you who participate in the Sunday  Pantry.  No further clues.  Stay tuned!

On Friday, please return for Rosemary's interesting article on Poetic Theft, a subject that I think will interest all of us.  Rosemary also hopes that, after reading the article, poets will engage in a bit of conversation sharing their thoughts on the subject.  Don't miss this opportunity.

Now it is time to share poetry.  Link your one poem below, & then visit the poems of others who post!  We all enjoy visits, don't we?

Friday, October 23, 2015

I Wish I'd Written This

For Lebanon
By Rhie Azzam

I've been saying I'm going to write about this for weeks,

but the truth is,

I don't know if I can

I don't know how to make beautiful devastation.

See I hear "Lebanon"

I see red stripes and a cedar tree.

They tell me that 60 people were killed in a village outside of Beirut,

I see Aunt Ragida

The first female pharmacist in the history of Lebanon

I see a woman who overcame so much,

broke free from tradition,

and followed her dreams,

I see myself in the mirror at three years old,

she's in front of me,

wiping her make up off of my face,

laughing, joyous, loving.

They broadcast the score

Israel-29 Lebanon-300

I see Uncle Osmat,

the one I've spoken with my whole life,

the one I've never met because

he was fighting this battle the year I was born.

I hear his voice, "anuphebic, habiti"

He tells me his home is gone

I see her,

it's 10:30, it's been a long day, and all she can think about

is brushing her teeth

14 yrs old,

with a head full of dreams she can never chase,

hearts she will never break,

knowledge she will never share,

in a bomb ridden slumber,

she's no longer here.

I don't want more people to die,

I don't want devastation for my family,

I read about 100,000 people having no place to call home,

and I picture

5 adults, 6 children,


over a pharmacy.

The thing is,

there is no solution.

there is no hope

this war on terrorism has cost me my hope

my country is killing my people

and i am more helpless than i have ever been.

and what is war but

terrorism with a bigger budget?

I want to scream, shout, tear the roof off

but what's the use?

My anger gets me nowhere but angry,

my hate won't save my heritage

these are all emotions not worth feeling anyway,

because there is nothing i can do to save them

and bitching about it gets me nowhere.

i pray

i pray to Kali, Buddah, Christ, God, Nefertiti, Diana, Lakshmi, Thor, Zeus, Mohammed, Allah, Yaweh, I pray to the god in all of you,

I pray my family lives to see tomorrow,

I pray my cousins will be granted the luxury of life,

I pray my aunt becomes a grandmother,

I pray to God they get through this.

I want the world to see,

I want every executive, vp, banker, homeless, broken hearted, cynic, idealist, poet, artist, musician to see

that this isn't some nameless, faceless fight,

this is life,

and it deserves better.

Although this powerful piece was written some years ago, sadly its sentiments could apply to many parts of the Middle East today.

I met Rhie when I visited Austin, Texas in 2006, at an open mic in a café called The Hide-Out.

I was enthralled by the dynamic poetry I heard there, and no-one was more dynamic than Rhie. She strode out on the stage, completely owning it, and performed a fierce, angry poem in a strong voice, with assured gestures. I was going to say she belted it out, but that would be doing her an injustice; it was not a rushed or careless performance as that might imply. She followed it with a tender poem to a dead friend, recited in a much gentler way, moving many of us to tears.

We fell into mutual love and respect immediately, as poets and women. I was only in Texas for a few weeks, but I made some permanent friends and she’s one of them. She’s decades younger than me, and I expect we’ll never see each other in person again, but our shared poetic and socio-political sensibilities transcend such trivia as age and geography. (Of course, the internet and social networking are a big help.) 

Originally from Dallas, she studied Sociology at the University of North Texas. When I met her she was homeless and unemployed, yet with no loss of personal dignity. She tells me she was homeless off and on between 2000 and 2006, attended several semesters during that period, and that for four years she hitch-hiked around the US, crossing the country 13 times, a feat she’s proud of.

Since then she’s changed her circumstances. She has a job and a home, and has now been happily married for three years. Still quite a young woman, she says about herself:

‘I've been writing since I was 12 as a way to hear myself think. My future cult will be called "amare." I want so badly to not be one of those hippie dippy folks traipsing the world with love on my tongue, but some day I hope we will remember that love will bind us. And then, maybe, we could feed the hungry (which I am blessedly no longer), house the poor, offer safety to those fleeing death. "All you need is love," or so I've been sung to all my life, but perhaps love + action is the better plan.’

The poem I chose for you is sad and outraged, and also full of love – for her family, her homeland, and for Life.

You can find more of Rhie’s powerful writing at her blog,  Words I Live By.

Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Poets United Midweek Motif ~ Gravity

“Gravity is a habit that is hard to shake off.”
― Terry PratchettSmall Gods

"In a poem the excitement has to maintain itself.
I am governed by the pull of the sentence as
the pull of a fabric is governed by gravity."
Marianne Moore

But the strong base and building of my love
Is as the very centre of the earth,
Drawing all things to 't.
— William Shakespeare

Midweek Motif ~ Gravity

"Gravity is the force that attracts two bodies toward each other, the force that causes apples to fall toward the ground and the planets to orbit the sun. The more massive an object is, the stronger its gravitational pull."

Falling apple
(Today is Apple Day in Great Britain.)

Gravity is also seriousness, solemnity and dignity.

Your Challenge:  
Write a new poem 
with lots of gravity in it.

*** *** ***

Height Is the Distance Down

What’s geography? What difference what mountain   
it is? In the intimacy of this altitude   
its discolored snowfields overhang half the world.

On a knife rim edge-up into whirlpools of sky,   
feet are no anchor. Gravity sucks at the mind   
spinning the blood-weighted body head downward.

The mountain that had become a known profile   
on the day’s horizon is a gesture of earth   
     . . . . 
(Read the rest HERE at the Poetry Foundation.)

*** *** ***

Please share your new poem using Mr. Linky below and visit others in the spirit of the community.

(Next week Susan's Midweek Motif will be ~ Animation)

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