Plagiary: Wednesday Workshop

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Plagiary
Wednesday Workshop
9 August 2017

No, plagiary has nothing to do with the plague, though it might do in certain circumstances, especially if a plagiarist is plagued by lawsuits from others who think that the thief has benefitted financially or unfairly from the theft.

What is plagiary? The Merriam-Webster dictionary suggests the following, and I quote, with references:

Plagiarius, the Latin source of “plagiary,” literally means “kidnapper.” “Plagiarius” has its roots in the noun “plagium,” meaning both “kidnapping” and “the netting of game,” and ultimately in the noun plaga, meaning “net.” The literal sense of “plagiarius” was adopted into English; in the 17th and early 18th century, a kidnapper might be referred to as a “plagiary,” and, in the legalese of the time, kidnapping was “plagium.” But “plagiarius” also had a couple of figurative meanings – “seducer” and “literary thief.” It is the latter that has made the most enduring contribution to the English language. A “plagiary” could also be one who commits literary theft (now usually referred to as a “plagiarist”) or the act or product of such theft (now, more commonly, “plagiarism”).

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plagiary

From the above definition, we can conclude that plagiary is theft, the stealing of another person’s work, and, above all, the presenting of that work as if it belonged to the plagiarist. In other words, creators create: they are not meant to steal and misrepresent.

Does plagiary matter? Of course it does. By its very definition, theft, it is one of the Ten Commandments, and therefore something to be avoided: Thou shalt not steal. However, as with all things, the gravity of the crime depends very much upon the circumstances. In academia, where creativity and original thought is the ‘name of the game’, the theft of intellectual property is considered by the gatekeepers of the purity of knowledge to be a very serious offence. That is why so many universities so carefully define plagiary / plagiarism and place such stiff academic penalties on the plagiarists who offend. By extension, certain professions, such as journalism and science (in the broadest sense, the creation, protection, and distribution of knowledge) must hold to very strict rules on the subject of intellectual theft.

The article on plagiarism in Wikipedia [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism ] opens several horizons. It stresses that academia (with its spin off into scientific and industrial research) and journalism (with its theory of scooping) are the two biggest areas in which plagiarism is considered offensive. Plagiarism, the article stresses, more than anything else, is re-quoting other people’s material while claiming it as one’s own and without citing the sources from which it was taken. This quickly leads to the infringement of copyright and this is a much more serious and complicated legal matter, as the article points out.

As for literary and artistic plagiary, this is a very different kettle of fish as artists seem to borrow from each other in the most curious of ways. Molière, for example, proudly announced that, as for his artistic material, “Je le prends où je le trouve.” This roughly translates as “I take it from wherever I find it.” In his day and age, imitation was a favorite rhetorical device, and the imitation of other people’s work was considered more like flattery than theft. Miguel de Cervantes, in the Don Quixote, that most original of novels, took the first sortie of the famous and ingenious knight almost word for word from an earlier entremés (short play to be performed in the interval between the acts of a longer play) entitled El entremés de los romances. This is not so much ‘Homer nods’ as Homer ‘carries a gun and holds up a local bank’. Do we cry plagiary or imitatio when the similarities between the play and the novel’s opening are such that for a long time people attributed the Entremés de los romances to Cervantes and referred to it as his early work?

I follow the Spanish tradition and often use lines and words from other authors in my own work. However, I think that what I borrow is in most cases well enough known for it not to need quote marks, nor to need identifying. Though Lovers Be Lost and Broken Ghosts, two of my book titles, come directly from Dylan Thomas’s poetry. However, I quote the verses in the opening pages of each book and Dylan Thomas’s name is clearly attached to them. If, however, I write “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” … or “Rage, rage … ” against anything, I think personally that the attribution should be clear as should the literary dialog that I am starting within the text. Similarly, if I write that “July is the cruelest month, because we expect the sun and it is always raining”, then surely the reference to T. S. Eliot is clear as well, and so is the attribution and twisting of his ideas. I have used the phrase “Jack Pine Poems” before now, without referencing Milton Acorn, but most Canadian poets will be aware of the origin of the term without my writing “following in the footsteps of Milton Acorn and his Jack Pine Sonnets” ….

To further complicate the matter, plagiarism is a hydra, and its many heads may take a multitude of forms. Wikipedia suggests that there may well be a whole epidemic of what might be called ‘literary borrowings’ that verge on plagiarism; there is, for example, a touch of ‘literary theft’ about all of these: “plagiarism, literary theft, appropriation, incorporation, retelling, rewriting, recapitulation, revision, reprise, thematic variation, ironic retake, parody, imitation, stylistic theft, pastiches, collages, and deliberate assemblages.”

However, as the Wiki points out: “There is no rigorous and precise distinction between practices like imitation, stylistic plagiarism, copy, replica, and forgery. These appropriation procedures are the main axis of a literate culture, in which the tradition of the canonic past is being constantly rewritten.” The quote marks show that this list is lifted bodily from the Wikipedia article.

What I would underline most strongly is that “the canonic past is being constantly rewritten.” Literature is, to a large extent, a writer’s dialogue not only with (in my case) his own times, but also with the way other writers have seen the world and written about it. And not just written about it: think of the geometric expansion of oral literature. We hear so much, so much is repeated, words and phrases slip in and out of common usage. There is usually a prime over, an original author, but when a word r a phrase slips into what might be called ‘common usage’, then plagiarism takes a turn in a different direction.

“To borrow from one author is plagiary, to borrow from many is research,” as Oscar Wilde is rumored to have phrased it. As a result, what is considered to be a can of worms in academia, science, and journalism, may turn into an interesting and not necessarily a dishonest practice in the artistic world. How about the erotic cowboy novel that I am thinking of writing? I am going to call it Fifty Shades of Zane Grey … how many copyright laws am I breaking with that little joke? None, in my opinion, yet given a competent lawyer and two or more clients greedy for money, and virtually anything can be turned into a fertile battleground for legalistic dispute. Hopefully, the pitiful pennies that I own and the innocent and innocuous literary discourse that I exchange with other authors, many of them long dead, will not bring on a flurry of lawsuits.

“Where there’s muck, there’s money,” as a famous Yorkshire millionaire once said. So quit mucking about with even the possibility of plagiary, check your sources, and, if in any doubt at all, make sure that you add those quote marks and those references. And remember, it’s better to be safe than holding up your hand in court and saying “I’m very, very sorry, M’Lud.”

Battle Axe

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Battle Axe

A battle axe, the children call her,
grim-faced, ageing, wrinkles
bone-deep scarring her skin,
a grimaced frown, much practiced,
worn like a fencing mask to keep
the world’s sharp teeth at a distance.

Over her shoulder, the mail-pouch
slung like a Viking’s shield,
swung to keep stray dogs at bay.
At her hip, mace and pepper,
twin guns in separate holsters, ready
for Rotty,  cross-breed, and Pit Bull.

Wrapped in her coat of mail,
her eyes aflame, trigger finger twitching,
ever on the lookout for that one wild dog
to run the gauntlet of her gaze
and launch its all-out, mad dog attack.

Comment: I was disappointed with my earlier version(s) of this poem, entitled Mail Lady, and wanted a stronger, more forceful set of images that hinted at the perils of dog attacks on mail (and fe-mail [sic]) workers. This is the result.

Damnatus

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Damnatus / Doomed

‘Poor poets of today: condemned to be nothing more than the dry dust of an unread doctoral thesis.’ They languish, empty headed, in dark rooms, those poets, hunched over their computers, waiting fr someone or something to fill up their heads. They hammer away at their keyboards, correcting their spelling with an  ever cautious spell-check. Intent on making their poems cryptic, they shrug off the sunshine, the beach, the flowers in the garden,  the cardinals, orange and red, who clamor at the feeder, and concentrate on abstract meanings, abstruse words, and twisted thought.

Phone calls go unanswered. Friends are left hanging on the vine to dry. These poets are worse than wallflowers at a dance or lemons out on a date as their crowded heads fill up with metaphors and myths that limp their unsteady ways onto screen and page. Oh pity the blisters on their fingers, the calluses that harden their fingertips to the delights of re-writing, again and again, for they are not real writers but real re-writers, and every thought is a skirmish with unreality, a pledge to continue their servitude to their life’s mission: the curdling of words and the nurdling of poetic thought. What better poetry is there than a hamburger for the hungry or a helping hand stretched out across a street to help a beggar in need … but there are neither burgers nor beggars in these un-windowed buildings, just the poverty of a poetry undiscoverable in its lack of lustre gloom..

Where is the graduate student, earnest, destined to be penniless, who will delve into the notebooks of these poets’ lives and dig out the thought-gems, the diamonds that will make everyone great, publisher and published, poet and practitioner of the uncritical art? Will someone not take that student by the hand and lead him to pastures green, or to the sea, to taste and test the blessed salt and the winds that will drive away the mind’s unwholesome fog and bring light and understanding that will un-cuff the wrists and heal the immortal wounds for, left untreated, they will bleed for all eternity?

Oh the bright bracelet of learning bound round the heart-bleed wrist. Oh the false knowledge gained, that leads poet and critic up and down the slippery garden path towards promotion, tenure, and a seat on the picket fence. Oh those grey human bodies chained to their wooden desks in a dusky library or transfixed on metal seats in academic meditation. Sit and watch while cobwebs sprout in the unused brain and the only certainty lies in footnotes and bibliographical entries that rise like a surging tide to flood the drowsing mind that craves more sleep.

What bright word, what metaphor dim, has poisoned the wit so it effortless moves into the serenity of contemplation? Look on this pathless sea of words, ye mighty, and despair. But take great care: for what if this sylvan warrior awakes, steps out of that figmented dream, sees the reality beyond the shadows, demands a proper challenge, a walk in the park, a vision of the grass that is so much greener on the other side where the administraitors gather and garnish paper and paperclips as they strive for the privilege of herding more and more slovens in their poetic pursuits?

Oh grant them more grants, these purloined poets. Gift them pure visions of things that never were and will never be. Never let them break away from their dissolute dreams that wrap their disadvantaged forms in the ignorance of mental slumber, half-sharpened pencils, and a box of blunt sharpeners..

Wollemi

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Kingsbrae 21.3
21 June 2017

Wollemi Nobilis

To see you on this day,
the summer solstice,
when time and the sun
stand still,
is to recall you as relictus,
then to acclaim you
as Lazarus,
risen from the dead.

Your fossil footprints
walked for so long,
two hundred million years,
and you walked with them,
unknown, unrecognized,
lost in the wilderness.

What poverty in language:
we either describe you
in impossible scientific Latin
or else we reduce you
to a chocolate coco pops
breakfast cereal.

Hand-cuffed, chained,
your feet rooted within
this immobile crockery pot,
you will never leave us now.

You are your own solstice,
a stationary seed,
growing to adulthood,
sown in a circle
of never-ending time.

Comment: I have been trying since Sunday, 5 March 2017, to write this poem. But what are four months in the life of a seventy-three year old poet or a pine tree that was thought to have become extinct 200 million years ago. I do not have the words to express how I feel looking at this throwback to the time of the Dinosaurs. And maybe that is how this poem should start for it is, after all, Wordless Wednesday … “I do not have the words …” and thoughts, too, jam in the brain and refuse to cycle, let alone re-cycle. So, I’ll leave this poem for now. That said, I will probably come back to it. Meanwhile, do I ever feel so absolutely, totally, and completely inadequate.

Kingsbrae Creations

Chaos

 

 

Kingsbrae 14.4
14 June 2017

Kingsbrae Creations

Carlos Carty has recorded me as I sat reading some of my poems out loud. He has also put some of them to music. I think of it as mood music, because he captures meaning from tone and voice and then adds a music he has created to match the emotions expressed in the poem. We have recorded six poems so far and I list them below. Just clink on the links and turn your volume up. Carlos and I hope you enjoy these Kingsbrae Creations, one of the many results of our collaboration here at Kingsbrae and KIRA. Here are the poems, click on their titles to access to voice readings and musical accompaniment.

Giving Back

Word Blooms

Scent & Touch

Small Corner

Yellow Bird

Love

 

Painting

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Kingsbrae 10.4
10 June 2017

Painting
for
Geoff Slater

I took a line for a walk.
It was
as disobedient as
an untrained puppy on a leash,
as crazy as a kite
in a wind-filled sky,
as joyful as
a schoolboy when they cancel school,
as easy as
pie when the R is squared.

The dog walks round in circles,
gets my legs caught in his leash.
The kite, all twisted strings,
comes tumbling down a ladder of sky.
The apple pie is a pulled-up sheet,
folded double, and I am a child again,
trapped in my boarding school bed.

“Color me now,” my painting cries
and I fill the spaces between the lines:
blue for happiness, blue for hope;
yellow for the lion mane of the sun;
red for the redbreast;
brown for the worm;
and green for schoolboy freedom
at the end of term.

Journal: I had the great pleasure of working with Geoff Slater this afternoon. He sat me down at his painting table, alongside all the children, and gave me a palette, brushes, water, cleaning paper, and a rainbow of paint. Then he placed an easel and a canvas before me and put an apron on me to protect me from the paint. “Go for it,” he said. I looked at a field of white … and I remembered … “Drawing is taking a line for a walk” … so I drew a line, first a beak, and then a head and an eye, then I added wings, and legs … it was wonderful. The children were laughing with me and I was slapping the paint around with great delight. “Let me see, let me see,” they cried. And then, when they saw it: “What is it?” It was even more fun when I started to fill the spaces between the lines. This is, or was, the first time I have ever placed paint upon a canvas. In my old age, I have started to paint. “Is it a worm or a fish?” they asked. “Is the bird going to eat it?” “Is the bird spitting it out?” Such curiosity … and even I didn’t know the answers. “What’s the bird’s name?” asked one little girl. “Eagle-eye,” said the other. “And the worm’s called Squirmy,” added a third. “Are they talking?” another chimed in. “Yes,” I said. “I think they’re friends and they’re having a chat.” What fun. We left the painting out in the sun to dry … and now I don’t know where it’s gone. Let me know if you see it, anyone.

Poetic Process: Thursday Thoughts

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Kingsbrae 8.3
8 June 2017

Poetic Process: Thursday Thoughts

The end result of the poetic process, however we define it, is the poem. Whether the poem be good, indifferent or bad, depends on a set of critical value judgments of which the poet may or may not be aware at the time of writing. The end product must be allowed to look after itself. But what about the process?

The question is simple, but the answer is more difficult, because the actual nature of the process will vary with each one of us. If the end point is the poem, how do we write the poem, what is its starting point? Is it when we sit down to write? Is it when the pen nib (yes, I still write the old-fashioned way) makes contact with the paper? Is there a pre-writing starting point and if so, where does that begin? Is it in the poet’s head, or the poet’s eyes? Does it reside in touch or scent? Good questions: no answers other than the failsafe … it depends.

One thing that has emerged from this KIRA retreat is that above all we need time to be artists. Art and poetry take time, and artists, whatever their medium, need time to think, time to practice, time to splash paint on canvas, time to sit down and put their head in their hands and meditate … “What is this life,” writes W. H. Davies, the great Welsh poet, “if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”

Elise Muller came up with an interesting exercise for developing self-expression. “Write down a question with your dominant hand,” she said. “Then answer it by writing with your less dominant hand.” I tried this. “What do you mean by writing process?” my right hand asked. My right hand held the pen about half an inch from the page and made me stop … and think. I thought about the critical analyses, usually ultra-academic,  that I had written and read over the years. Then I started to organize them into do’s and don’ts. The thoughts of certain serious writers sprang to mind … then I switched my pen to my left hand.

Uncontrolled, uncontrollable thoughts came tumbling out and spilled off the end of the pen on to the empty page that rapidly filled with visual and verbal images: evening falls and the stars grow into flowers in the darkness … three deer enter an empty field and dance on the dandelions … the sky fills with snowflakes that erase, one by one, all the objects in the yard … the tide flows back in and the bay recovers its memories of silver fish beneath the waves … the half -empty / half-full glass becomes meaningless: its essence is to filter the sunshine and to sparkle with light … clouds gather into small, wooly herds and the wind chases them across the sky …

To be filled with poetry and creativity we must first be emptied of the cares of the world. Then, when our heads are empty and free there is space for them to fill with the most beautiful images and ideas. This creative process needs time. Time to download and forget our worries. “Time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep and cows” (W. H. Davies again). Time to be ourselves. Time tobe. Time to become one with nature.

To gain this state of freedom, we need to be free of financial cares and woes. We need to escape from domestic duties. We need to be alone (when we need to be alone) and among friends of a like mind (when we need company). “The time to see when woods we pass, where squirrels hide their nuts in grass” (W. H. Davies, yet again). So, in the poetic process, we need that freedom to create, to cut the ties that bind so tightly, to walk and watch and stop and stare. When that old, tired head is empty, the poetry will flow back in. And it will be a poetry not of grinding ideas but of dancing metaphors and sparkling words. “A dull life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”

KIRA has gifted me with this time, this quality time. Clare and the WYPOD and my Fictional Friends and the Thursday Grunts and my fellow New Brunswick writers have encouraged me to take advantage of it. The process is in process. Some of the results are already being seen on these pages.

My thanks to all those who made this adventure possible. I would also like to thank all those who now facilitate this process every day.

 

Bistro 7 Flash Fiction

Discards

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Toni walked in, scowling, and strode straight up to Nando who leaned against the bar with a glass in his hand.
“You son of a bitch,” he said and swung his fist. One of the patrons, an ex-bullfighter quick on his feet and even quicker to spot a threat, stepped between them.
“Enough!” He shouted as he parried the blow.
“Are you mad?” Nando put his drink down on the bar.
“Me? Mad?” Tears ran down Toni’s angry face and his breath came in short, sharp gasps. “You’re the one who’s mad. You’re the one who’s screwing her.”
“Screwing who, for God’s sake?”
“Raquel, dammit. You know: my girl. What are you doing here anyway? Waiting for her?”
“Waiting my turn; like everyone else. And I expect they’ll call my number pretty soon.”
“You got a ticket?”
“Of course. I always get a ticket. Why?”
“Because I want her before you get her. Here, give me your ticket.”
“No way.”
“I’ll buy it off you.”
“No way.”
“Why don’t you dice for it?” The ex-bullfighter sensing the possibility of both a truce and a bit of fun broke into the conversation. “I’ll be the judge.”
“Cards?” Nando raised his eyebrows.
“Done,” Toni dabbed at his face with a grubby hanky. “But win or lose: you’re still a son of a bitch.”
“Not if I win.”
The crowd made room for the two men at the bar and Nando asked for a green cloth and a pack of cards. Shuffle and cut. Deal. Frowns and smiles. The patrons looked on in expectation and shouted and groaned with each discard. Every so often, a number was called out and a man stood up, gave his ticket to the barman, handed over some money, and went upstairs.
They played the best of seven hands. Tied at three hands each, sweat drops beaded down both their faces. The ex-bullfighter roared approval with every card and checked each discard. The patrons crowded round shouting their approval in bullfighting terms.
“¡Música! ¡Olé!” They chorused as they clapped their hands and stamped their feet.
“Number 69,” the barman roared.
Nobody moved and a silence fell over the room.
“69,” the barman’s voice repeated, a hard stone cast into the silence.
“Well, I guess that’s me,” Nando rose to his feet, put his hand in his pocket, and drew out his number.
“Son of a bitch …” Toni’s voice rose above the uproar. “I’ll get you for this!”
“”What’s it all about?” A new bass voice rose above the crowd noise. “What’s happening here?” Pedro, the owner stood behind the bar, beside the barman.
“I’m next. That’s all.” Nando waved his ticket.
“He wants my girl,” Toni screamed. “I’ll get him … ” Toni struggled through a sudden thicket of arms to get at Nando.
“And who’s your girl?” Pedro’s deep bass voice rose up and conquered the room.
“Raquel,” Toni stood there, defiant.
“Raquel?” The owner of the deep bass voice sounded incredulous. “Raquel? Raquel!” He shouted. “Raquel, get your ass down here.”
Silence.
All eyes turned to the staircase behind the bar.
A beautiful, dark-haired, brown-eyed woman walked slowly into the room.
“This Raquel?” The owner’s voice shuddered in disbelief. “My wife? The woman carrying my child?”
Toni and Nando stood there, staring eyes, mouths open.
“Get out,” the owner said. “I never want to see either of you here in my bar again.”
He drew a battle-field green Glock 21 from an inside pocket, pointed it at them, and shouted: “Run!”
Toni and Nando ran from the bar, their tails between their legs.

 

Bistro 6 Flash Fiction

Crazy Glue

Late last night, a fallen star grazed by the lamp-post. A bouquet of golden sparks flew from an iron tree and sanctified the gutter. The gas lamps sputtered patiently in uniform rows. A scarecrow stuttered into the limelight and shook my hand. She was wearing my grandmother’s Easter bonnet, with all the flowers renewed, but she couldn’t keep my heart from last winter’s left over crumbs. Suddenly a tulip thrust through the concrete. It became as red as a robin and flew into the lounge bar of a public house. The bronze leaf necklace circling my throat filled with a flow of springtime song. My heart stood upright, a warped piano in my breast, and my skeleton tarried at the corner to play knuckle-bones with the wind. Torn butterflies of news fluttered round and round and kissed my eyelids when they closed. Yesterday’s horoscope winked its subversive eye and called to the hermit in his lonely cell: “Look out for the stranger with the tin can alley smile. Tie your heart to the tail of the first stray dog that comes whistling down the street and follow it home to the empty house that breathes in and out, moving thin membranes of memory.”

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That’s where I now live. Upstairs, downstairs, a lonely route I tread while the wind at the window scratches tiny notes. Something breaks loose in the confines of my mind and walks beside me. My twin brother stalks through this silvery sliver of splintered glass, this simian mirror wrinkling our troubled suits of skin. I glimpse the old moon’s monkey face through a broken window. Jagged and thin, it wanders like an itinerant snail, cobbled with clumsy clouds. Once, I descended the playground slide in a shower of sparks. A vagabond in a paving stone sky, I rumbled across metal cracks, a knapsack of nightmares humped on my old man’s back. Tell me: when the snail moves house, who stores the furniture he leaves behind? The hermit crab lurks naked on the beach, seeking new lodgings. Who killed the candle and left us in darkness?

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Two eyes in limbo watch me roll this snowman’s belly of flab across an unknown, clouded room where yesterday I got lost in the mirror. I know how to swim, but I would have drowned, except the light was too shallow and my feet touched bottom when I let the wheels down. I swam on and in looking for a deserted island on which to build my idle sand castle dreams. Two people said they saw my reflection swimming like a goldfish in the silver of that secret space. They said I stared back out at them with circles of longing ringing my eyes; but I laughed when they said they had seen me, for when I looked in the mirror this morning to shave, I just wasn’t there. My razor dragged itself over an empty space and its sharpened blade scraped white music from the margin of a cd rom that spun on edge like dust rings round a vanished planet. Now there is a black hole where my passport photo used to thrive. Someone plucked me from the circle and cut me out in the dance last night. Today I’m looking for a scrapbook in which to stick myself with crazy glue that never, never, ever comes undone.