• The Strange Case of Christian Ward

    There's rarely anything that shakes the rarefied plateau of contemporary poetry. A surprise competition win here or an unusual choice for a university chair there is about all that raises a murmur. Christian Ward, though, has managed to raise more poetry hackles than Cerberus’ and all her pups, when surprised by a small tabby kitten which had taken a wrong turn.

    Christian Ward took a Creative Writing degree at Royal Holloway College and then started sending his poems out, like most serious poets, to magazines and competitions. He had some accepted and won some prizes, but a recent prize, awarded for a poem based on Exmoor, turned out to be a poem Helen Mort had written, based in Cumbria, with a couple of minor changes.

    Enraged poets started to look through Ward's other published work and found further poems bearing striking similarities to the work of other writers. The count stands, apparently, at 15 (Google the name to find out if the tally has risen), with some poems only differing from the originals by a single word. The shout 'plagiarism' is heard loudly in the hills.

    It set me wondering what constitutes plagiarism. Plenty of poets write work based on a quote from another poem, usually italicised at the top of theirs and not part of the new work, but even that’s often considered OK. So for example, if you wrote a sonnet, two lines of which came from one of Shakespeare’s, most people would think that was reasonable, as long as the quote was well used…and credited.

    If only two of the lines were original and 12 were Shakespeare’s, though, there’d be many cross noises. This is fair enough, as a poem takes a lot of effort and passing off somebody else’s work as your own is theft of intellectual property, even if there’s little financial reward. However, there must be some point between 2 and 12 lines where it flicks from a reasonable technique to an unreasonable one. I would guess three or four lines would be the limit.

    And how many words could you use from another poem before you’re stealing; words, after all, are common currency for all writers. How about this:

    An Other To Go

    When children, in little satin shirts and slippers

    press flowers to railings and pick clothes for friends,

    and go for bread and papers in the purple rain of summer,

    I shall run along the pavement and stick candles in the shops

    I shall pay my public pension for the people's youth.

    When old people eat sausages and pickles in the street

    and sit in dry gardens and read of butter and money and pens

    I shall practice sobriety and gobble down three things:

    beer, brandy and nuts, so I can spit at alarm bells and swear.

    But I grow surprised and tired, shocked and suddenly fat.

    The woman doesn't have a red hat and gloves,

    doesn't spend pounds on pencils and dinner boxes.

    A terrible hoard samples that suit we wear,

    that example we've maybe set on the up.

    You ought to know we are for rent now

    and make me good and start my week

    and learn more and say to me, I must not have a…

    must not wear a… go in or out a… am too with us, am now.

    Keep our no, my who, my up and only and but,

    and the purple I shall wear, when I am old.

    This is my poem, perhaps rather more experimental than I usually write, about getting old. If it suggests another, particularly towards the end, that’s probably because it’s made up of only and all the words in Jenny Joseph’s Warning, the Nation’s Favourite Poem. Is it plagiarism?



  • The Broadsheet: an experiment

    First published in TheGreatBigBadgerBlog on 15.01.2013

    A couple of years ago a good friend of mine died. He was a computer buddy, who knew a lot about PCs before I did and helped me out in many ways. The final way was to leave me a wide format printer, the kind you find in drawing offices and architects' studios. It can handle paper up to A1, which is 16 times the size of A4.

    I wondered for a long time how to use it: posters, obviously, but how often do you get the chance to use A1, A2 or even A3 posters? Then, over the last few months, an idea occurred to me. How about revisiting the old publishing form of a broadsheet, one big sheet filled with text - song lyrics or poems?

    The advantage, from the point of view of the producer (me), is that it doesn't involve collation, folding, binding, trimming or any of the other tasks implicit in making a traditional book or magazine. Yes, you may have to fold it down to make it manageable or send it through the post, but it should be a lot easier to put together. Notice that word 'should'; I'll come to it again in a bit.

    In November, I set up a closed Facebook group of poets who all aimed to write a poem a day for the 30 days of the month. It was a great group, convivial and hard working, very open to putting their work up for comment. At the end of the month, there was a feeling that we'd like it to go on in some form so, perhaps rashly, I offered to put together a little (actually quite a big) anthology of some of the poems written in the month.

    Everybody sent me up to 60 lines of their work and I used Microsoft Publisher (a much under-rated desktop publishing tool, in my opinion) to design a Broadsheet, 24 inches square. I used a simple layout, with a lot of space to give the poems room and it only took a couple of afternoons to put it all together.

    All that remained was the printing, which should have been the easy part. The printer came with a 24-inch roll of paper already mounted, so all I had to do was print. The printer is clever enough to cut the pages when it has finished printing and catches them in a cloth hopper underneath. Very straightforward, once I'd managed to persuade it that 24 inches square is a perfectly respectable custom paper size.

    So I printed all the first sides from the roll and they ended up as little mini rolls in the hopper. Trouble was, when turned over and straightened out, the pages were still curled. Feeding them back into the printer as single sheets caused the leading edge to curl up off the printer platen and the printhead caught the edge of the sheet, smudging and tearing it.

    I wasted a lot of paper before I developed a technique of rolling the sheets, in tens, around an empty gift wrap roll core, taping them rolled and leaving them a day. At the end of that, they were flat enough to print and then it was only the folding to complete each Broadsheet.

    I'm happy with the result and 30 of this first broadsheet publication have gone out to the November 2012 Poem-A-Day Facebook group. I'm planning to do this again, but this time with an open version of the Broadsheet, as part of the work I'm doing this year as Bard of Exeter, but that's another story...and maybe another blog.


    1 comment





You are viewing the text version of this site.

To view the full version please install the Adobe Flash Player and ensure your web browser has JavaScript enabled.

Need help? check the requirements page.

Get Flash Player