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Christian Ward's plagiarism 'mistakes' : is this no 4?

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A fourth apparent example of poetry plagiarism has emerged as the row over Christian Ward, the poet who has said sorry for an act of plagiarism that won him a prize, continues to shock and bemuse the poetry world. The latest example, which emerged on Facebook, concerns a poem, Damselflies, by Andrew Forster,  from a published collection, and another titled The Behavioural Patterns of Damselflies, by Ward. 

Earlier this week, after the Guardian reported on the story, a long comment that appeared to come from Ward followed, accusing other poets of acting like a lynch mob, and suggesting that famous poets such as TS Eliot did the same kind of thing at times. At the same time a leading figure in the poetry world pointed out that a third case of plagiarism involving Ward had been uncovered, in addition to the two he had owned up to - and the latest victim, Paisley Rekdal, said she was "upset, and angered, and embarrassed". Then, in a further twist, and almost inevitably, serious doubt was cast on a number of published poems said to have been "translated" by Ward, before the latest apparent example of bare-faced plagiarism was revealed.  

The row initially broke when Ward's prizewinning poem for the Exmoor Society, The Deer at Exmoor, was found to be remarkably similar to Helen Mort's poem, The Deer, written when she was poet-in-residence at Wordsworth's Dove Cottage in 2010. The Western Morning News reported that it had received a statement from Ward which says: “I was working on a poem about my childhood experiences in Exmoor and was careless. I used Helen Mort’s poem as a model for my own but rushed and ended up submitting a draft that wasn’t entirely my own work.

“I had no intention of deliberately plagiarising her work. That is the truth. I am sorry this has happened and am making amends. This incident is all my fault and I fully accept the consequences of my actions. I apologise to the Exmoor Society, Helen Mort, the poetry community and to the readers of the WMN.

“Furthermore, I have begun to examine my published poems to make sure there are no similar mistakes. I want to be as honest as I can with the poetry community and I know it will take some time to regain their trust. Already I have discovered a 2009 poem called The Neighbour is very similar to Tim Dooley’s After Neruda and admit that a mistake has been made. I am still digging and want a fresh start.”

The WMN said Mort had described her feelings online, saying: "I'm just bemused and angry. I'd be really interested to talk to whoever is responsible for the plagiarism, Christian Ward or otherwise, and find out what on earth the motivation was.”

As the Guardian reported, Ward has had a poet’s profile on Write Out Loud. It was still there a few days ago when the row broke - and Write Out Loud asked him to comment - but has now been removed from the site. He did not respond to our request for a comment. Write Out Loud regular Freda Davis raised the issue in a discussion thread

An online blog describes Ward as a “31-year-old London-based poet” who “graduated from Roehampton University with a degree in English literature and creative writing and has an MA in creative writing from Royal Holloway, University of London.  His poetry has appeared in Poetry Wales, The Warwick Review, Iota and is forthcoming in Poetry Review. He has won, been shortlisted and commended in a number of competitions, including a 2009 Eric Gregory award, 2012 Jane Martin poetry prize and the 2010 East Riding open poetry competition.”

In a long comment on the Guardian website that appears to have genuinely come from Ward, he said: "The recent Hope Bourne debacle has been one of the most uncomfortable and distressing experiences of my life. I have made several stupid mistakes during my time as a poet and there is simply no excuse for plagiarism. This behaviour is unacceptable and I shouldn't have let questionable morals and a lack of conscience govern the way I acted during this incidents. I'm sorry.”

"Now, I would also like to bring up how I was treated in this affair. I have been bullied, victimised and abused by a number of ‘poets’ who thought it was necessary to act like a lynch mob. One ‘poet’ wrote "Head ---------> Pike" in a Facebook comment about me. Another ‘poet’ suggested I be put in the stocks and alluded I should be put to death. Such behaviour really isn't on. I have become extremely depressed by their actions and don't deserve it. There is no excuse.

"I personally feel that I've been singled out for this kind of treatment because I'm not a well-known poet. If a major poet, perhaps one who had won literary prizes and brought out several collections, had done something similar, would he/she be treated this way? I doubt it. Remember that TS Eliot borrowed extensively when writing The Waste Land. If Eliot had written it today, would he have been accused of plagiarism? Again, I doubt it. It is far easier to pick on a relative nobody than a 'name'.

"I have written somewhere between 5 - 600 poems over the last eight/nine years. I intend to write more. I do not believe I should have to throw away several years worth of work over isolated incidents which I deeply regret. I am not, for the record, a compulsive plagiarist who gets a rush from doing it. I'm not that person. Please believe me.

"And before anyone asks, I deleted my Write Out Loud profile because it contained personal information. And yes, I have written letters of apology to the Exmoor Society and enclosed one to pass on to Helen Mort. I am not the complete monster that a lot of people think I am. I am a human being and deserve better.”

Neil Astley of Bloodaxe commented on the Guardian thread: “I see from Christian Ward's comment that he now volunteers that he also plagiarised a poem by Tim Dooley as well as the one by Helen Mort. But aren't there more? ANON 6 has just had to take down another poem of his which is almost word-for-word the same as a poem called Bats by the American poet Paisley Rekdal. She also has been incensed by this and the magazine has issued an apology to her. Her poem can be read online here: His near-copy can now only be found in the print edition of ANON 6.”

Soon after Astley's comments came one from Rekdal herself. She said, addressing Ward: “I don't think you are a monster. I don't wish any harm to you. I do hope that you will get over this scandal that you yourself created. But I am also one of the poets that you plagiarized. Your poem "The Bats" that you published in Anon entirely plagiarized my poem "Bats", a poem that I assume you found on, a website run by the Academy of American Poets which first posted my poem in 2007 and is published in my collection The Invention of the Kaleidoscope.

"I understand your embarrassment and distress must be great indeed right now, and while I am sympathetic to this, I am also upset and angered and embarrassed. I would greatly appreciate an apology, as I know the other plagiarized poets would appreciate one and have, to some extent, received one. As I said, I don't wish you personally or your 'true' work (whatever that is now) harm. I only wish that you had felt the same about me and my work.”


Compare and contrast ...


by Christian Ward

The deer my father swears to God we never saw,
the ones who stepped between the trees
on pound-coin coloured hooves,
I brought them up each teatime in the holidays

and they were brighter every time I did;
more supple than the otters we waited for
at the River Exe, more graceful than the peregrine
falcon landing at Bossington Beach.

Then five years on, in the same house, I rose
for water in the middle of the night and watched
my father at the window, looking out
to where the forest lapped the garden's edge.

From where he stood, I saw them stealing
through the trees, and they must have been closer
than before, because I have no memory
of those fish-bone ribs, that ragged fur

their eyes, like his, that flickered back
towards whatever followed them.

Exmoor Review, 2013, issue 54, winner of the Hope Bourne poetry prize



by Helen Mort

The deer my mother swears to God we never saw,
the ones who stepped between the trees
on pound-coin coloured hooves,
I brought them up each teatime in the holidays

and they were brighter every time I did;
more supple than the otters that we waited for
at Ullapool, more graceful than the kingfisher
that darned the river south of Rannoch Moor.

Then five years on, in the same house, I rose
for water in the middle of the night and watched
my mother at the window, looking out
to where the forest lapped the garden's edge.

From where she stood, I saw them stealing
through the pines, and they must have been closer
than before, because I have no memory
of those fish-bone ribs, that ragged fur

their eyes, like hers, that flickered back
towards whatever followed them.

Winner of the Cafe Writers Open Poetry Competition 2009, Norwich








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Greg Freeman

Mon 4th Feb 2013 19:32

Thanks for the tip about no 5, Robert. It turns that issue no 52 of Magma in which the latest example of Christian Ward's plagiarism appeared was called Putting On The Mask. He obviously felt this was a theme that was just up his street.

<Deleted User> (10865)

Mon 4th Feb 2013 14:17

Now we're at 5. Magma Poetry has just issued an apology for publishing Christian Ward's "Newton's First Law of Motion" which is identical, except for a few words, to Matthew Olzmann's "Sir Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion". Ward's version was printed in March 2012. Olzmann's appeared in the New England Review, Winter 2009/2010.

<Deleted User> (10832)

Sun 20th Jan 2013 22:10

What a rotter. I hope he doesn't filch any of my song lyrics!

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Freda Davis

Sun 20th Jan 2013 18:56

Only when genius steals the result is something much improved. Ordinary little backyard scrumpers don't add value.

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Tommy Carroll

Sun 20th Jan 2013 18:13

Ward the gobshite will go into re-hab then have a series of radio and press interviews planned, his next (hurried) work will be a best seller and no doubt a Hollywood deal is being 'considered'. Hahaha
''Talent borrows, genius steals'' Wilde- that makes Ward a 'genius'?

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Freda Davis

Fri 18th Jan 2013 21:17

Oh good grief, I have just checked out the two poems more carefully. He has just messed it up in little changes, substituting Like for as, making the rhythm clumsy. What a plonker!

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Freda Davis

Fri 18th Jan 2013 20:46

At least he didn't mess this poem about, just straight copy. What do they teach on creative writing MA's?

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Julian (Admin)

Fri 18th Jan 2013 12:21

The row has put us on the (plagiarism) world's stage. I do feel sorry for him not having the confidence to write his own stuff, which woudl doubtless, with a bit of guidance, have been better than plagiarising.
I now worry about my satirical takes on others' poems.
This be Worse:
He fucked me up did Philip Larkin, etc.

Now the question is, has anyone managed to write any (original) poems about plagiarising?

Kenneth Eaton-Dykes

Thu 17th Jan 2013 02:22

Wish someone would plagiarize my stuff and win

I was flattered when my work was described as
"being like Motions" some time ago, But on second thought,not quite sure what was really meant.

Never mind Christian,you've got yourself in the spotlight at last.

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Tue 15th Jan 2013 22:41

I noticed he'd made it worse too John LOL!

Ian - maybe he could have improved the poem if the father had been playing with his ukulele at the window, instead of gazing out at deer...

<Deleted User> (7424)

Tue 15th Jan 2013 22:14

I guess he didn't pick any of mine then ... ;-)

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John Aikman

Tue 15th Jan 2013 22:13

I couldn't help noticing that his few tiny alterations to the poem all made it a worse poem. How could he imagine changing 'more graceful than the kingfisher
that darned the river south of Rannoch Moor' .to 'more graceful than the peregrine
falcon landing at Bossington Beach'. was an improvement? The blokes a clunking oaf!


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Tue 15th Jan 2013 21:03

I suppose it all depends on who you are really writing for. If you are writing with the intention of being published seriously and selling your books to the masses (which is pretty rare even with great poets), then you are probably best saving your scribblings for THE book.

If poetry is your hobby, a means of engaging with like minded people, then I think the risk of it being plagiarised is a risk worth taking. Otherwise, what do you do with it - stuff it in a drawer? It would be like being a musician but never playing for anyone but yourself - for me there would be no incentive to carry on writing.

Also, I imagine that if someone is hell bent on plagiarising the work of others, they can do it from a book just as easily as they can do it from an internet site.

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Paul Sands

Tue 15th Jan 2013 20:00

While I don't consider myself breathing the same poetic air as Helen Mort I do now wonder about removing pretty much all my online presence just in case somebody takes a fancy to the odd little tidbit

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Chris Co

Tue 15th Jan 2013 16:52

It's literary sacrilege - plain and simple.

No need that anything should be personal, but this person should akin to a drugs cheat in the Olympics face a ban of some kind.

A 5 year ban from poetry competitions - with his name circulated and and maybe a 2 year ban from being accepted by publications...that would seem fair to me.


I agree with Isobel in reference to terms of allusion and plagiarism. Eliot gave us allusion.

I read the argument posited by Christian. The idea that it was/would be ok because it was Eliot, or would be ok if it was a big name today. I don't buy/agree with that for a second.

When did Eliot or any big name copy a poem that has been clearly attributed to another person, erm - almost verbatim! That has never happened as far as I am aware. I would be more than interested to see such an example.

Allusion and plagiarism are usually easy to separate. Particularly derivative poems or poems that clearly lend line(s) or structure from world famous poems. They are obviously a different kettle of fish. I guess we all know the alternative version of Larkin's 'Let This Be Verse that came with the opening lines;

They tuck you up, your Mum and Dad
They read you Peter Rabbit, too.

That kind of poem clearly acknowledges it's origin and in effect lauds the original work.

I think things do get much stickier even with that type of 'use', if the poem in question is not famous. I think in that situation the onus lies with the poet; to clearly detail what is going on. If in print; maybe even place both poems alongside one another with accompanying credit.

One thing that is neither allusion nor mistake is copying someone else's poem almost word for word, stanza by stanza ;)

When you just happen ;) to do this and place 'it' in an envelope and, just happen to attach your 'own name' to the accompanying piece of paper. Something that just happens to claim ownership...

It doesn't matter where that has been forwarded - that is a theft of a sorts. If for monetary gain it constitutes fraud.

Nowt personal - just facts? - surely?


Funny how almost the only words changed between the two poems - were the exact ones that were required in order to change location and qualify for the competition. Mmmmm

Plagiarism is a serious accusation that should never be banded about without just cause and evidence, given mud sticks. But it should be used when the cause and evidence is clear and incontrovertible - it should then come with the heaviest (non personal) censure.

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Tue 15th Jan 2013 15:03

P.S. I think you did brilliantly with this article Greg. The tough thing with something like this is having the balls to write about it. It seems so inconceivable that I'd be frightened in case I'd got it wrong and the man was innocent!

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Tue 15th Jan 2013 15:01

What grabs me in all this, is how easily some poets seem to confuse 'allusion' with plagiarism. The Wasteland is stuffed full of allusion. I suppose you have to ask yourself at what point allusion becomes plagiarism - when it's copied word for word - with no additional symbolic meaning - for me.

And I wonder how many people manage to graduate in creative writing on the back of other people's work? You'd have to have very astute examiners and tutors to be able to pick out the plagiarists. And what happens when the plagiarists become lecturers and tutors?

Infamy! Infamy! - and that would be my favourite quote from a carry on film - not original thought :)

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Tue 15th Jan 2013 08:50

I guess he didn't pick any of mine then ,,,

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Greg Freeman

Mon 14th Jan 2013 23:36

It was Freda starting a discussion thread about it that alerted me, Julian - and Isobel before her - so they deserve the credit! Incidentally, the Guardian mentions Ward's former profile on Write Out Loud. Are we taking the view that all publicity is good publicity?

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Julian (Admin)

Mon 14th Jan 2013 23:31

Well done getting this story up two days before the Guardian, Greg. Is that a scoop?

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