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Monday, September 23, 2013

a plague of plagiarism.

  • THE AUSTRALIAN
  • SEPTEMBER 21, 2013   12:00AM

DAILY readers of this newspaper may have seen a story I wrote on September 13 (a Black Friday for some) about a plagiarism scandal involving Newcastle-based poet Andrew Slattery.  [The original story is here.]
The award-winning poet admitted he had been inserting lines from other poets - including famous ones such as Sylvia Plath, Charles Bukowski and Seamus Heaney - into his own work. (He also "borrowed" from prose writers, including Romanian Emil Cioran, which I mention in passing because I have such fond memories of my younger self reading On the Heights of Despair.)
Slattery said he was striving for a cento format, where the works of other writers are inserted into new poems, but I suspect this was a half-hearted defence, and certainly it was one no one was buying. Ultimately, he admitted he had done the wrong thing.
The story sparked a vigorous debate in poetry circles and the wider literary community. In a long and stimulating article on the Overland website, Justin Clemens makes many good points, including one that immediately occurred to me: how did Slattery's deception go undetected for so long? How did prize judges, often poets themselves, not spot lines from Heaney, say, in Slattery's work? " ... all the judges and editors and aesthetes ... have been left with poetic egg on their faces," Clemens writes.
Slattery was widely published, including in this newspaper. "The victims," Clemens observes, "have come from all colours of the political and aesthetic spectrums. It seems Slattery has taken in almost everybody, from internationally famous poets ... through academic specialists and journal editors and media hacks, not to mention a more general and diffuse readership."
The continuing fallout from this affair has exposed some toxic undercurrents in the Australian poetry scene. You can bet your bottom dollar the work of a lot of poets has been run through online search engines since Black Friday, being checked for plagiarism.
You can also wager with confidence that some of the people doing the checking are fellow poets. How many poets this makes nervous is something I do not know. If you missed my original story, you can find it, and also Clemens's piece, on my professional Facebook page, which I've been meaning to mention for a while. This is a public page so you don't have to be my "friend" to look at it.www.facebook.com/stephenromei

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