Leading Australian poet admits borrowing without attribution after intervention by poetry sleuth
Has poetry sleuth Ira Lightman cracked another major case? It would appear so, judging by a recent public admission by a leading and multi-award-winning Australian poet. The Australian newspaper has reported that Judith Beveridge has acknowledged borrowing from the work of other poets without attribution.
The Australian story says: “In a letter to Lightman obtained by The Australian, Beveridge agrees that in her early years ‘she had not always been rigorous about noting a phrase I have jotted down or adapted into a poem’, adding: ‘I deeply regret not being more scrupulous’. ”
She goes on to say: ‘I do work hard on my poems and have dedicated thousands of hours to learning the craft … These borrowings do not constitute what I am about, though I do regret my negligence in failing to acknowledge all borrowings.’
Judith Beveridge, aged 64, won Australia’s Prime Minister’s Literary Award in 2019. She was born in England, and moved with her family to Australia in 1960 . She has published several poetry collections, including The Domesticity of Giraffes (1987); Accidental Grace (1996), which won the Wesley Michel Wright award; Wolf Notes (2003), which won the Judith Wright Calanthe award and the Victorian premier’s Award; and Storm and Honey (2009). Beveridge edited The Best Australian Poetry 2006 and co-edited, with Jill Jones and Louise Wakeling, A Parachute of Blue: First Choice of Australian Poets (1995).
In an article for the Telegraph, he set out the problems with some of Beveridge’s poems that he had uncovered. “Judith Beveridge has up to now been an Australian national treasure … her first book The Domesticity of Giraffes was an instant hit in Australia and saw a meteoric rise. By the year 2000, the title poem was a set text.” However, Lightman goes on to say that “Beveridge has never revealed [until this weekend] that the poem draws significantly on Stanley Moss’s poem, ‘The Meeting’. She was using uncredited phrases from Moss, and some of the theme, to communicate the general poetic effect. Her name is on the poem, but the ‘ideas and feelings’ it was communicating were not wholly her own. This will be news to many in Australia.”
He says of ‘The Meeting’ by American Stanley Moss, now aged in his 90s, that it “concerns a mirage of a dying bird that Moss thinks he sees while driving near a bird sanctuary in an urban area: ‘the beautiful creature/rolled in sensual agony’, he says. He looks at its long neck, considering if he should ‘slit its throat’.
“Beveridge’s classic poem instead looks at an unhurt giraffe in a zoo in an urban area. She describes it – slipping in a different uncredited phrase from another Moss poem, ‘the loneliness of smoke’. The giraffe gazes over the zoo walls … ‘shy Miss Marigold’ … ‘rolls out her tongue/like the neck of a dying bird’. Offered the poet’s hand, the giraffe’s tongue ‘rolls over it/in sensual agony’.
In his article Lightman says: “It’s a dialogue, so why not declare indebtedness? Why wait so long for proper citation? Another Beveridge classic, ‘Making Perfume’, takes over verbatim lines, keywords and themes from Stanley Plumly (1939-2019) and his poem ‘Wildflower’. Beveridge’s starts ‘So that summer I picked everything/… Then I took some bottles from their cupboards/and their lids twirled off.’ Near the end of Plumly’s he says ‘I remember the summer I picked everything,/flower and wildflower, singled them out in jars/with a name attached.’ Both list and name and rename nature’s flowers. Beveridge differs mainly in using the varieties to home-make perfume.”
Beveridge has also agreed that she has borrowed from poets Mark Strand and Derek Walcott. But in The Australian article, Beveridge’s publisher, Ivor Indyk of Giramondo Publishing, said: “There is no way you can see this as plagiarism. It is what poets have always done as part of their conversation with each other. It is common to think of poetry as an echo chamber: poets converse with each other, as all writers do.
“You just have to look at the extensive notes in Judy’s poetry collections to know that it has never been her intention to deceive. Her use of fragments from or allusions to other poets is not in any way beyond the bounds of poetic practice. What one sees is the occasional use of phrases, with significant modifications, which in the context of the poem, makes them her own.”
The Poetry Foundation describes Judith Beveridge’s poetry as “tender and even affectionate, Beveridge’s poems model the interaction of spirituality, the natural world, and selfhood”.