What to do when "influenced by" looks a lot like "written by"?
March 26, 2013 1:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm part of a tight-knit community of spoken word poets. A few months ago, a new poet started showing up and reading truly breathtaking poetry. Yay! Recently, a lot of it is sounding suspiciously familiar. Yikes. What to do?

This poet is very young and a wonderful performer, and seems to have gained quite a large internet fanbase. Each time I hear her read, at least one or two lines sets off an alarm bell in my head, making me think "I've heard that before." Now, obviously poetry has common themes, everyone talks about their love being like an ocean and soulmates like a boat, blah blah blah. But I'm talking about exact lines pulled from other poems, books I've read before, etc. A lot of them are coming from Dear Sugar's advice column.

She regularly competes in poetry slams and has told me that she intends to put out (and sell) a book in the near future. Is this something I need to confront her about? What's the best way to do so?
posted by karminai to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is this something I need to confront her about?

I don't know, is it? Are you running the slams, pitching the book to publishers, etc.?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:36 PM on March 26, 2013

I'd just say, privately and whenever it comes up, that "I love your delivery! Most of what I've seen you do is that Dear Sugar (or wherever) stuff, but I'm really looking forward to to seeing the original material!"
posted by mhoye at 1:36 PM on March 26, 2013 [12 favorites]


Maybe? Possibly?
posted by decathexis at 1:54 PM on March 26, 2013

"I notice that you use lines from other poet's poems, instead of doing all-original work. Is this some sort of homage? Are you worried at all about being accused of plagiarism?"
posted by IAmBroom at 1:57 PM on March 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Why not pull her aside and be direct about it? Depending on how young she is, she may not realize quite how serious the implications of her actions could be. You could be doing her a huge favour.
posted by futureisunwritten at 2:09 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

This story will not end well. So it's better that it end quickly: it won't benefit your tight-knit scene to invest its emotional and institutional resources more deeply in a scam.You may wish to read a similar story of a painter who had been supported by his local arts community; this situation had progressed farther than yours when his counterfeiting was exposed.
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:10 PM on March 26, 2013

I would go with mhoye. Some people just have easily influenced writing styles and I've found myself accidentally borrowing lines or phrases in my own writing before. If it is accidental, a direct confrontation feels like coming on too strong, especially since this is presumably a hobby for both of you (and a literary agent/pro editor should hopefully pick up any egregiously lifted lines in her book). If she is doing it knowingly, a "I've noticed the strong Dear Sugar influences on your work, good to see you developing a more distinct voice of your own" in private should make her realize that others have noticed the similarities while still allowing her to save face.

If it continues after a few such conversations, then yeah, something more direct might be called for.
posted by angst at 2:12 PM on March 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's hard to say. Can you surreptitiously record one of her performances, transcribe it, and run a check on the content?

Presumably in spoken-word poetry it's harder to make attributions, but she should still be at least doing that much or, if it's not feasible, stop using lines from other people's published work.

So I'd count up how much of her work is attributable to other people. If it's a little, it might be a matter of taking her aside and saying how much you appreciated her mashup but she needs to find a way of citing her sources if she's not to be accused of plagiarism.

If it's a lot, you might have to take your evidence to the group leader.
posted by tel3path at 2:23 PM on March 26, 2013

I'm pretty sure Dear Sugar would like to know. Is this supposed to be like sampling? Or is the poet just presenting the work as her own?
posted by Ideefixe at 2:40 PM on March 26, 2013

Some young people are getting shockingly casual about plagiarism. She may actually think lifting lines all the time is fine and no one will care. I'm gonna guess she's not even aware someone would see it as a strong negative and I admire your instinct to help, especially in this context.

(As for sampling, there's definitely a slam tradition where you do quote a WELL-known line you know people will recognize and the point is that shared reference you're now riffing from, but she's either not thinking of or really not getting that.)
posted by kalapierson at 2:53 PM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the suggestion to privately give her a chance to own-up to or explain what you've observed is a good one, but I'd suggest you inoculate yourself against the possibility of behind-your-back retaliation by first expressing your concern and your plan for dealing with it privately to a few other trustworthy and respected members of the community.

That way, if she acts contrite or apologetic when you confront her but then goes all out to discredit you before you have a chance to persuade anyone else, you've got some backup. Another option is to confront her publicly, or broadly express your concern privately, but that could end up being a pretty shitty thing to do to her if she is just misguided or misunderstood.
posted by Good Brain at 11:36 PM on March 26, 2013

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