Acknowledging inspiration?
May 24, 2023 1:45 AM   Subscribe

I have written a poem which copies a famous one fairly closely but changes the subject matter and doesn’t follow the original strictly in form. What’s the best approach to acknowledging the debt?

1. Ignore it because the resemblance is obvious and no-one would imagine I’m covertly plagiarising the well-known original.
2. Add ‘After Wordsworth’ or something similar at the end or the beginning? (It isn’t actually Wordsworth, incidentally).
3. Add ‘Based on Daffodils, William Wordsworth, 1807’.

Or some other approach?
posted by Phanx to Media & Arts (14 answers total)
Best answer: Yes, ‘after Author’ is the usual way — not naming the poem because it’s usually well known or part of the enjoyment is remembering which one it is.
posted by lokta at 2:23 AM on May 24 [5 favorites]

The way early modern scientists used to acknowledge ownership and preemptively scotch criticism etc. was to include an acrostic or anagram. If I'd written a sonnet andif it was too much hassle to start each line with the letters F R O M W O R D S W O R T H then I might make the hat-tip typographically:
i WanDeRed lOnely aS a cloud
that floats on high o'er vales and hills,
WHen all aT Once i saw a cRowd,
posted by BobTheScientist at 3:45 AM on May 24

You can get more specific than the "after Author" construction, so subtitling is a great way to add all sorts of information and referential material like this. See also, "an homage to This Work," "A pastiche in the style of Author," "A tribute to Author's Work," and all sorts of more specific hints depending on the nature of the parody, idyll, pastoral, or whatever it happens to be.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:19 AM on May 24

If it really is very famous, i.e. the famous poem is one you can imagine anyone who would read your poem will be familiar with then you can consider 1, but yes "after author" is probably the safer bet though "after Title of famous poem" can work too if you think people will have heard of the poem even if they have not read it.

Personally I would avoid the wordier kind of constructions late afternoon suggests but that's just personal preference I guess.
posted by juv3nal at 4:41 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]

Sometimes I release art that intentionally apes the style of a particular artist, and I will say, "homage to ____." This is possibly a different sense than, "after _____" in that I want to explicitly honour the original artist rather than just nod to them which is more the feel I get of "after."
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:10 AM on May 24

"after Wordsworth's Daffodils" is definitely a phrasing I've seen.

It's sort of a judgment call how much of a hint your intended audience needs. Including as little information as possible can be a way of (cynically) flattering your audience and (more charitably) creating a joyful sense of shared context, but it can backfire if you guess wrong about what your readers know -- which is an easier mistake to make now that there's not even the illusion of a fixed canon that "everyone" learns.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:13 AM on May 24

That said, in this case, starting "I wandered $adjective as a $noun" would be acknowledgement enough to stave off any accusation of stealing. That line is so widely quoted and widely parodied (I remember MAD magazine doing one, with -- as far as I remember -- no citation) that anyone who recognizes it will assume you're joining in on a long-running game rather than trying to get away with theft.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:26 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]

Years ago, I saw an angry letter written to a magazine because the cover had "plagiarized" the Andrew Wyeth painting Christina's World. That is an extremely well-known painting, the cover was very obviously based on it, and yet they got this accusatory letter. I'm not sure you can ever assume that something is well known enough that everyone will get what you're doing. And there are always people who didn't grow up in your culture, and they might have a completely different set of "obvious" artworks.

I think "After Wordsworth" is the standard format. If you're submitting the poem to a journal, the editor has the option of saying it's not necessary. But there's no harm in giving unnecessary credit and some potential harm in not doing so.
posted by FencingGal at 6:42 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]

If your poem is humorous, there's always "with apologies to William Wordsworth".
posted by What is E. T. short for? at 8:55 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]

I think it depends. Perhaps I should have attached a "with apologies to" to this poem, but it would have ruined the joke, at least partially, and it wasn't really published.

The significance of the place mentioned remains secret.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:11 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]

Having a subtitle, After "Wild Iris" is how it's done. And/or acknowledged in notes
posted by AnyUsernameWillDo at 9:48 AM on May 24

I think this depends on the context it's being used in. If it's being formally published, a proper acknowledgement is necessary. If it's going out in a company newsletter or to a couple of friends, you can assume they get it. If you're worried that people will think you're trying to pass it off as your own, put, "After Wordsworth."
posted by AugustusCrunch at 10:37 AM on May 24

Response by poster: Many thanks, all - really helpful. I should probably have said that I plan to enter the poem in a competition. Competition judges really ought to recognise (relatively) well known stuff, but I think ‘after Author’ is probably best.
posted by Phanx at 12:04 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

With my "not a parody but more like an exile in guyville" piece I titled the poem "Not Exactly the Love Song of Alfred Prufrock" Therefore, the title did all the heavy lifting. My editor didn't blink and put it in my first collection.
posted by Rumi'sLeftSock at 7:32 AM on May 25

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