Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Tuesday, May 12, 2015



1.  an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author's work as one's own, as by not crediting the original author:

"It is said that he plagiarized Thoreau's plagiarism of a line written by Montaigne."

Synonyms: appropriation, infringement, piracy, counterfeiting; theft, borrowing, cribbing, passing off.

2.  a piece of writing or other work reflecting such unauthorized use or imitation:

"These two manuscripts are clearly plagiarisms," the editor said, tossing them angrily on the floor.

     "To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research." - Author unknown.

Newcastle poet Sheree Mack
     Using copyrighted text without permission is infringement.  This becomes plagiarism only when the procurer claims it as his or her own creation.  Tangentially, this distinction is far more significant in cyberspace and among artists than in the legal community.

     In a "Write Out Loud's" article, "Poet apologises for 'appropriations' as poems are withdrawn from collection", we see a charge of of plagiarism leveled against Newcastle poet Sheree Mack.  In her poetry collection, Laventille, Ms. Mack has included a number of "writing exercises":  rewordings of published verse. 

     To illustrate, here is "Before Dawn on Lady Young Road", ostensibly by Sheree Mack:

And the breeze bears along as well,
from down by the port,
when the tide’s just so,
when the sewerage is just so.

     And here is "Before Dawn on Bluff Road", which August Kleinzahler has confessed to writing:

And the wind carries along as well,
from down by the river,
when the tide’s just so,
the drainage just so,

     In a workshop, we'd call these "[complete] rewrites"...but they'd be done solely for the author's benefit;  no critiquers would dream of publishing them as their own work.

     The first thing that strikes me is her choice of victims.  If you're going to steal, why not swipe the best?  My fingers refused to sully my fancy new keyboard typing out this unspeakable, cloying shite ("Riddle" by Vicki Feaver) so I had to cut and paste it:

Without you, I prefer the nights;
the darkness inside me

like the darkness around. All day
I am alone with my emptiness:

Ira Lightman  Photo by
Greg Freeman / Write Out Loud
     Which thought is more frightening?  That someone would steal this or that someone would publish it in the first place?  In Lenny Bruce terms, plagiarizing such dreck is like kidnapping junkies.  It makes no sense!  However, after some thought a method to the madness emerges:  she needs source material that even she can improve.  To be fair, she has succeeded for the most part (which is saying precious little).

     Ms. Mack's "apology" is the flimsiest excuse I've seen in a while:  "What I have been guilty of is a slackness and carelessness in separating out writing exercises...from my readings".  Ahem.  Come Christmas, Santa Claus may be bringing coal to Newcastle.

Smokestack editor Andy Croft
          Even more astounding are remarks by her publisher, whose immediate reaction was to label Ira Lightman a "wretched creature" for bringing the truth out and to despair that Sheree Mack is not making any money from her "appropriations".  Then we read this change of direction:

     Smokestack publisher Andy Croft told Write Out Loud: "I have now pulped all extant copies of Laventille, and I am preparing to print a new edition without ‘The Den’, ‘Mayleen’, ‘Mother to Mother’ and ‘A Different Shade of Red’ (which Ellen Phethean, Joan Johnston and Judy Jordan believe follow poems of their own too closely). The new edition will also include the following acknowledgements: ‘Men of Success Village’ after Douglas Dunn; ‘Before Dawn on Lady Young Road’ after August Kleinzahler; ‘Elise’ after Vicki Feaver; ‘Static Rain in Maraval’ after Jim Harrison; ‘The Last Lap’ after Louise Glück."

     Say, what?!?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #157
     You are going to [re]publish the work of a known plagiarist?  One who has already undermined all credibility--yours and hers--with insufficient candor?  Are you daft?  Why trust that any of her work¹ is original?  Don't you realize that plagiarism is the second most serious charge² one can level against an author?

     At the end of this tale there are some interesting twists concerning the intent to publish these rewrites with attribution (e.g. "'Elise' after Vicki Feaver").  If these are not sufficiently distinguished from the original, does Mr. Croft understand that he'll need the permission of the copyright holder?  And that this permission will not be easy to obtain?

     What is more, had Ms. Mack presented these as rewrites, along with the intact originals, she could have claimed fair use, it being a critical and educational exercise.  If a place exists, this is where such derivatives would belong.

     Context is everything.


¹ - And, sure enough, other discoveries/accusations are pouring in.

² - Next to having ghost-written "50 Shades of Grey", of course.

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel


  1. Excellent analysis of the facts... and some very good advice to Andy Croft of Smokestack on the dangers of even thinking of bringing out a revised version of Laventille.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Anon. One has to wonder: with so many poets trying to publish original work, at least half of which must be better than what we've seen in "Laventille", why bother with Sheree Mack?

    2. Probably because she's black, and ticks a box with some Arts Council goon peddling a grant

    3. Anonymous: We have witnessed this catastrophic collision of poor ethics and worse taste far too often to ascribe it to race, gender, nationality or age.

      Sadly, the case against public funding of poetry continues to build.

  2. On the subject of giving people credit for their work, could you credit the picture you've used of Ira Lightman, please? The credit should read: Photograph: Greg Freeman / Write Out Loud.

    Many thanks!

  3. Done. Thanks for the heads-up and the photo, Greg!


Your comments and questions are welcome.