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Poet apologises for 'appropriations' as poems are withdrawn and book is pulped

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A poet has apologised “to my readers, the poetry community and most of all to the poets whose work I have unintentionally appropriated”, over a number of uncredited borrowings from other poets in her book. Middlesbrough-based Smokestack Books has pulped remaining copies of Laventille, by Sheree Mack, but plans to reprint it next year with some poems removed. Mack said in her statement, issued to friends on Facebook: “What I have been guilty of is a slackness and carelessness in separating out writing exercises, workshops creations, prompts, lines collected in journals, words and lines and inspirations from my readings, and it is a habit, a practice I have gotten into over time but did not realise.

“Pressures of doing too much, and impatience to be published, feeding the public machine with work has made me slack, and I have made mistakes in my record keeping and attribution. I fill journal after journal with writing, personal and professional, sometimes going back years to mine or rework things. It is blindingly obvious now that I didn't take enough care to ensure what may have started off as a prompt was labelled accordingly at the outset, or that perhaps through revisiting and redrafting over time I have lost track of their inception. Never, never, have I set out to deceive, mislead, or appropriate the work of others.”

Despite her words, one online poetry magazine publisher has accused Mack of "wholesale plagiarism of other people's poetry". Judi Sutherland, of the Stare's Nest magazine, has drawn attention to Mack's poem 'The Dark Landscape Within', which it published earlier this year, and said: "Since this poem was first posted, it has come to my attention that it bears a very striking resemblance to John Glenday’s poem ‘Undark’ (which you can read here),such that it cannot be considered Ms Mack’s original work. This is one of many examples currently coming to light of this poet’s wholesale plagiarism of other people’s poetry."

And Jo Bell, organiser of the hugely-succesful 52 Project, has revealed that three examples of "borrowings" by Sheree Mack have cropped up there, too. In a Facebook post, Bell said: "Sheree Mack ... by the kindest account possible, has 'inadvertently borrowed' exact phrases, structures and in some cases whole stanzas, without crediting where they came from. This does not make her the Antichrist, and it's a damn shame that she did it, but she did it at least 20 times - and at least three times in 52, borrowing from *published* poems. I hate this feeding frenzy and I hate naming the people again. Sheree is well loved by so many and must be terribly unhappy about what's happening. We don't want to hound anyone, even if we are spitting feathers." However, Mack's poems will no longer be appearing in 52's anthology, and she has been excluded from the group.

Smokestack describes Laventille on its website as “the forgotten story of the 1970 Black Power Revolution in Trinidad and Tobago, when for forty-five days an uprising of students, trade unions and the disaffected poor threatened to overthrow the government. The book is a ‘shrine of remembrances’ for the ordinary people behind the headlines.”

In an email to Smokestack, poet and “poetry sleuth” Ira Lightman had called the publisher’s attention to what he described as “nearly a dozen wholescale uncredited borrowings from other poets”.  He was unhappy with the response he received, and published details on Facebook, and a furious row erupted.

Sheree Mack was born in Bradford, and now lives in Newcastle. She works as a freelance writer and lecturer for the Open University and has recently completed a PhD in creative writing at Newcastle University. She had been due to read from her collection at Teesside University in Middlesbrough on Tuesday 19 May, but this event has been cancelled, and she will no longer be reading at Ledbury poetry festival in July. 

Her statement went on to speak of her “horror and heartbreak …  I am devastated not only for the impact that this has on my reputation, but also for sullying the form, and injuring the writers whose works I have publicly appropriated, however inadvertently.

“I realise that this will, for some, raise questions about the provenance of my whole body of work. I say again, I never intended to appropriate the work of others, but the end result is the same. I'll do my utmost to locate any other past instances and acknowledge them publicly. Going forward, I know that my working practices have fundamentally changed.”

Smokestack publisher Andy Croft initially told Write Out Loud: “I have now pulped all extant copies of Laventille, and I am preparing to print a new edition without ‘The Den’, ‘Mayleen’, ‘Mother to Mother’ and ‘A Different Shade of Red’ (which Ellen Phethean, Joan Johnston and Judy Jordan believe follow poems of their own too closely). The new edition will also include the following acknowledgements: ‘Men of Success Village’ after Douglas Dunn; ‘Before Dawn on Lady Young Road’ after August Kleinzahler; ‘Elise’ after Vicki Feaver; ‘Static Rain in Maraval’ after Jim Harrison; ‘The Last Lap’ after Louise Glück.” Croft added: “Of course this may change; August Kleinzahler has emailed me to say that he has contacted Faber and Faber, with the threatening implication that their lawyers will soon be contacting me.”

On Tuesday there was a brief statement on Smokestack's Facebook page: "Devotees of this page will, no doubt, be please to know that Smokestack has now pulped all the unsold copies of Sheree Mack's Laventille. Sheree is currently writing a new version of the book, which Smokestack is hoping to publish in 2016." 

US poet Kleinzahler’s work was one of number of instances highlighted in Lightman in his Facebook posting. 


Before Dawn on Bluff Road

by August Kleinzahler


And the wind carries along as well,

from down by the river,

when the tide’s just so,

the drainage just so,

the chemical ghost of old factories,

the rotted piers and warehouses:

lye, pigfat, copra from Lever Bros.,

formaldehyde from the coffee plant,

dyes, unimaginable solvents—

a soup of polymers, oxides,

tailings fifty years old

seeping through the mud, the aroma

almost comforting by now, like food,

wafting into my childhood room

with its fevers and dreams.

My old parents asleep,

only a few yards across the hall,

door open—lest I cry?

I remember

almost nothing of my life.



Before Dawn on Lady Young Road

by Sheree Mack

And the breeze bears along as well,

from down by the port,

when the tide’s just so,

when the sewerage is just so.

The metallic residue of old refineries,

the rotting wharves and peeling lighthouse,

vicious asphalt, nutty cacao, burnt rice,

ethanol from the sugar mills.

A soup of oil, sweat and blood

trailing fifty years

seeping through the dusty red earth, the odour

almost comforting by now, like food,

wafting through Success Village.

With its fevers and dreams,

barefoot generations breathing together,

doors left open in case some soul cries.


Kleinzahler told Write Out Loud: “Displeasure, I believe, is the word I'd choose, as to how I feel. And disapproval, as to what I think about uncited appropriation of my work or that of other writers, or of artists of any sort. College students are routinely expelled for such behaviour.”

Another poem, by north-east poet Joan Johnston, published in 2011, is called ‘A Particular Blue’, and begins: “This afternoon the weather broke / and changing light / brought back morning.” Sheree Mack’s ‘A Different Shade of Red’, which has now been removed from the collection, begins: “This evening the weather broke / and threatening light / brought into the long night …”  Joan Johnston’s ends: “as you flew again into cloud, / as birds stilled, / stopped singing.” Sheree Mack’s ends: “as you dived again into the long night / as birds slipped / and motioned distress.”

Joan Johnston said: "How did it all make me feel? Furious. Sad. Gobsmacked. Determined. Furious again. Knackered. It's also left me wondering about a lot of things - including the role and responsibilities of poetry publishers."
She added that discussions over her poem with Smokestack’s Andy Croft began on 31 March “and went on for the whole of April. An apology came from Sheree to me on 28 April. She said she'd found out about my 'discussions' with Andy Croft the day before. In the same email came another errata slip offer, wording slightly revised. I replied, copying in Andy Croft, to acknowledge her apology. I said it was most welcome. But I also repeated - forget my name on any errata slip; her poem was essentially my poem and should have no place in her book; and that I wanted the poem 'A Deeper Shade of Red' withdrawn.”

In an early comment on the revelations on Ira Lightman’s Facebook page, one well-known poet and writing tutor said that “writing poems 'after' others, mimicking a structure, or using a beginning line or an end line to kick-start a poem etc, is an extremely common exercise/ generative technique. It's not one I use often, but some teachers do it all the time. Obviously you should always either acknowledge it is 'after' (which to be fair she sometimes does), or you should make it 'new' enough to count as your own. Sheree's mistake here seems to be that she hasn't made those lines 'new' enough …  I think this is very different from say, the poem of Helen Mort's that got stolen. It's more a matter of occasional laziness - these exercises are very dangerous if you're a fairly unoriginal poet, and so can't escape the scaffold, and come to rely on them too heavily.”

Ira Lightman said of his investigatory methods: “As is usual, I got involved because someone brought it to me. In this case the publisher wouldn't look further to find if there were more. But my experience tells me there are always more. … I immediately found more examples and proved them.” To those who claim there is something obsessive about his methods, he said: “I am slightly odd and I'm a terrier with a text.”

In a postscript to this unhappy and cautionary tale, Andy Croft added: “I cannot overstate how much this has distressed Sheree … Sheree has not been paid anything for writing Laventille except six free author copies of the book; in fact she has had to buy copies to sell at readings. After running Smokestack for over 11 years I have still never managed to find a way to pay myself anything. I run Smokestack single-handed and in my spare time. I have sold 114 copies of the book in the last two months, not enough to cover the cost of design and print. Pulping and reprinting will mean that the book will never cover its costs.”

In its comments on the case, the Stare's Nest poetry magazine said: "Our submission conditions stipulate that all poems submitted to the Stare’s Nest must be original new works. Editors take it on trust that poets have some kind of integrity but sadly it’s not always the case. Simply running the text through Google generally does not pick up fraudulent submissions. I apologise to our readers and to Mr Glenday that this has happened. I’m leaving Ms Mack’s ‘version’ here as evidence of a creative crime, and as a warning to other poets that sooner or later, your sins will find you out."

Jo Bell added, in a message to poets worried and upset about the current furore: "I hate ... to see good, amateur poets of integrity worrying themselves over nothing, putting down the pens which they already struggle to pick up, because they think there is some great mystery over what is acceptable practice and what isn't. There isn't. Keep writing as well as you can. If you quote, borrow or reply to another poem - and you should, it's part of our culture and we're entitled to it - just put some bloody quote marks round it and credit the original poet. It's not complicated."


Background: Write Out Loud interviews Ira Lightman



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Tommy Carroll

Mon 18th May 2015 10:53

Jan hi, If I may disagree with your assertion that "poets do not forget their poems" just a little, I have forgotten a couple of works owing to brain haemorrhage 2009. It not only effected my output but also my recollection of some items. But again I agree whole heartedly with the sentiment. (if you get my gist ) :) Tommy

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M.C. Newberry

Sun 17th May 2015 16:38

Imitation might be a form of compliment but there is a
marked difference between derivative work and lifting
stuff wholesale from the lines of others. Once might be
coincidence; more shows a policy of deceit that deserves
to be challenged and exposed in open forum so that
all may put their case and be judged accordingly.
I recall reading paragraphs in the work of a certain
biographer that seemed familiar - only to discover they
were virtually lifted from another author's work. The
former was subsequently brought to book (no pun
intended!), his activity identified.

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Chris Co

Sat 16th May 2015 16:22

An important news item and a quality follow-up article Greg. Difficult, but well reported.

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Greg Freeman

Fri 15th May 2015 21:17

The Forward prize winner Kei Miller has written an excellent blog about all this, in which he looks back at previous plagiarism cases - all reported on Write Out Loud at the time - as well

fitzroy herbert

Wed 13th May 2015 19:54

Oh Gooooooosh, Sheree gyul! You look for dat! Is t'ief you t'ief and now you tail in reeeeel trubble. Is licks like peas for you!

Alan Jankowski

Tue 12th May 2015 18:07

I actually been plagiarized quite a few times myself, I've sent out about a dozen DMCA takedown notices in the last two weeks alone, and it always amazes me how lax publishers and sites like Amazon treat the issue. It's theft plain and simple, whether you call it "appropriating" or not, any reputable publisher would drop her like the proverbial hot potato. She's a thief, by any name. Btw, I started Facebook group to alert others of plagiarism, should anyone be interested. That's how this article came to my attention, it's a public group called "Plagiarism Alerts - Poetry and Prose"...feel free to join.

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Andy N

Mon 11th May 2015 13:32

this is terrible to read and sadly not the first case i have read of this over the past few years. it makes you wonder whether any more in this book are not the author's own work (silly, silly)

jan oskar hansen

Mon 11th May 2015 11:00

apology accepted, poets do not forget their poems

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Graham Buchan

Mon 11th May 2015 10:44

Sheree Mack's long-winded 'explanation' fails to mention one word: theft.

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Dominic James

Sun 10th May 2015 09:51

Hats off to Ira.

I am surprised Croft pauses to drop this once-pulped Smokestack collection. Bitter indeed to write after poem after poem in the style of, in the manner of, taken from etc.

Recalling last year, the found plagiarists have talent, and it appears a problem in their over-weaning self belief, I can well believe they steal from other work just to build the body of their work then step by step lose sight of their own folly. Unintentional Appropriation: As ever, poetry conjuring up the best writing and the very worst.

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Chris Co

Sat 9th May 2015 10:56

To be clear. She doesn't take the begining and/or end line, she takes the lot!

Come on, let's not afford excuses here. This is not the kind of mistake that comes of writing exercises or workshops. This is whoesale. We need to smell the coffee!

How hard would it be for someone to copy a poets entire work in this manner. Same ideas, same structure, same language, doing nothing more than trading out a few words via a thesaurus, or swapping the position of the odd line. Seriously, c'mon?

To believe that this is a non stop series of mistakes and coincidences is, well, it is frankly ludicrous! The sheer odds, statistically speaking would be staggering.

Ira Lightman

Sat 9th May 2015 09:34

I've decided to remove my Facebook update. Here is all the evidence


Without you, I prefer the nights;
the darkness inside me

like the darkness around. All day
I am alone with my emptiness:

a white space, with nothing to feed it
but light and shadow.

My claw feet can’t follow you.
I have no voice to call you.

I only know you are near by scents -
orange oil, or lavender - and by a heat

that creeps up my cold skin
and tells me I will feel again

the weight of your body. You have no idea
how wonderful it is to hold you,

to have you lie so still, so happy.
When you move, I hear a whoosh

and you touch me in so many places
I’m trembling and tingling.

It’s spoiled by fear of your going.
Sometimes, I pretend I’m a cradle

for you to sleep in - but you always wake;
or a womb - but you still escape,

leaping out and leaving me.
So next time you come, I’ll be a coffin

filled with chilling water
in which you will stay for ever.


You touch me in so many places
I’m left trembling and tingling.

Yet, those feelings are marred by fear.
Without you, I prefer the nights;

the darkness all around, no moon,
is like the darkness inside of me.

All day there are others around me,
but I am alone with my emptiness.

I know you are near by your scent -
polished mahogany, molasses, and by the heat

that creeps up my black skin
and reminds me to feel again,

the weight of your body on mine.
You have no idea how glorious

it is to be chosen by you,
to be held by you.

I have no voice to call you.
I have no right to love you.

Yet, I want to keep you.

with Vicki Feaver

and 3 borrows heavily from Ellen Phethean’s Let Down, for which the publisher and Sheree make apology on the book’s website

The Men of Success Village (p.46)

strongly resembles Douglas Dunn, The Men of Terry Street

Men of Terry Street

They come in at night, leave in the early morning.
I hear their footsteps, the ticking of bicycle chains,
Sudden blasts of motorcycles, whimpering of vans.
Somehow I am either in bed, or the curtains are drawn.

This masculine invisibility makes gods of them,
A pantheon of bots and overalls.
But when you see them, home early from work
Or at their Sunday leisure, they are too tired

And bored to look long at comfortably.
It hurts to see their faces, too sad of too jovial.
They quicken their step at the smell of cooking,
They hold up their children and sing to them.

The Men of Success Village

They go out at night, come back early in the morning.
You hear their footsteps, the tinkling of bottles;
sudden blasts of calypso music, whining of dirty mas.
Somehow you are either in bed, or at the table, waiting.

This masculine invisibility makes good of them,
a phantom of bare feet and string vests.
But when you see them, home early from work
or at Sunday church, they are too tired,

bent, longing for rest and peace.
You hurt to see their faces, too sad or too large.
At the smell of cooking they quicken their step
They hold their children at arms-length and chastise.

Lives wasting and smoking in the dark.

The Den (p54) strongly resembles Ellen Phethean’s The Box.

The last line of Social Unrest (p55)

Social Unrest


as he is thrown into the gap, heaped and washed away.

is exactly the same as Tim Liardet’s

Static Rain in Maraval (p56)


Rain waits inside us for a door to open.
Rain is heavy like full-moon lips carrying midnight.
Rain is an utterance made from broken pebbles.
Rain is that village girl who was
molested by an uncle on her way home
from school, crossing the lone cocoa hills
for a shortcut.
A variety of life and lies, looking for she -
a mahogany tipped breast
catching honey smeared raindrops. Static.
It was March, a time of blossom and damp stars.
She dripped in and out of memory for fifty years.
Rain steals everything but our secrets.
should be compared to

Larson's Holstein Bull


Death waits inside us for a door to open.
Death is patient as a dead cat.
Death is a doorknob made of flesh.
Death is that angelic farm girl
gored by the bull on her way home
from school, crossing the pasture
for a shortcut. In the seventh grade
she couldn't read or write. She wasn't a virgin.
She was "simpleminded," we all said.
It was May, a time of lilacs and shooting stars.
She's lived in my memory for sixty years.
Death steals everything except our stories.

layered with phrases from M. Nourbese Philip e.g. “variety of life and lies”:

Mother to Mother (p59)

in its opening verse

Mother to Mother


In the sun’s lazy breath at day-fade,
in the seagulls’ plummeting cry,
in my bulging belly and creaking joints
memory calls me
to the sifted flour and poured milk,
to the tossed salt over her shoulder
seeping into the folds of the wind.

She bared her stomach to the full moon
to ensure that it was a boy this time.
She drank a bottle of caster oil to ease me
from between her legs.
She knew the hunger of green,
the words for washing away ants
and when to prepare for the time of the month.

I fit my hand along the smoothed rim of her bowl,
bind sausage meat with egg yolks
and I am fifteen years younger than
when she was buried.
I grow fat in the same places,
as I further work her face into mine.
I, who, have never made a life without myself.

Between last and first branches with blunt buds,
between the sunlight that enters through
the kitchen window and spreads itself thin
as a napkin besides
the shelves of peaches and pickled beetroot.
I, who have many women in one body,
feel my face held between her work-worn hands.

resembles the start of Judy Jordan’s Help Me Salt Help Me Sorrow

In the moon-fade and the sun’s puppy breath,
in the crow’s plummeting cry,
in my broken foot and arthritic joints,
memory calls me
to the earth’s opening, the graves dug, again, and again
I, always I am left
to turn away
into a bat’s wing-brush of air.

and the rest resembles Jordan's Scattered Prayers:

She swallowed a just -laid egg for conception,
bared her stomach to the full moon to ensure a girl this time.
A plowshare under her bed to cut the pain,
she drank a bottle of castor oil to ease me from between her legs.

Sifted flour, poured buttermilk,
tossed salt over her shoulder-
an offering to the devil,
an appeasement to the death-click of scuttle bugs.

She knew the hunger of ditchweed and possum fat,...

...She knew which forked branch for dowsing,
how many feet down for water,
which stump, the time of moon, the words for washing away warts.

I grow fat in the same places,
fit my hands to the smoothed handle of her hoe,
dry apples on the tin roof,
and wrinkle in the same sun that saw her buried my seventh year.

Each summer I sell tomatoes at the farmer's market
further works her face from mine.
Faster now that i'm only ten years younger than she can ever be,
faster now that I live so many women in one body,
I, who have never made a life within myself.

Between last and first frost
the weighted branches disjoin. ...

...Rises through the skiff's surge and strain
to hold my face between her floury hands."

Far from Delhi (p77)

Far From Delhi


Soon, I will be as wise as a swami by the Ganges.

Soon, they will come to the borders of Caroni.

As the morning’s gauzy humidity burns away, light

will splinter the low evergreen fields of sugar cane and rice.

With the air pungent with tamarind and cumin,

they will struggle to concoct one flame with our deyas.

Still, my people will walk the worn road balancing clay

pots on our heads, as cows and chickens wander unchecked.

takes phrases extant from a travel article in Islands Sep-Oct 2007, by Ted Alan Stedman. Google the phrase"As the morning’s gauzy humidity" and "chickens wander unchecked". The "low evergreen fields" is taken, and "air pungent with tamarind and cumin" and "walking the worn road"

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Greg Freeman

Sat 9th May 2015 09:31

I meant to include this paragraph in the story above but it got squeezed out:

In an early comment on the revelations on Ira Lightman’s Facebook page, one well-known poet and writing tutor said that “writing poems 'after' others, mimicking a structure, or using a beginning line or an end line to kick-start a poem etc, is an extremely common exercise/ generative technique. It's not one I use often, but some teachers do it all the time. Obviously you should always either acknowledge it is 'after' (which to be fair she sometimes does), or you should make it 'new' enough to count as your own. Sheree's mistake here seems to be that she hasn't made those lines 'new' enough … I think this is very different from say, the poem of Helen Mort's that got stolen. It's more a matter of occasional laziness - these exercises are very dangerous if you're a fairly unoriginal poet, and so can't escape the scaffold, and come to rely on them too heavily.”

I will restore it.

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ken eaton-dykes

Sat 9th May 2015 09:21

Wish someone would find my stuff worthwhile stealing

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Julian (Admin)

Sat 9th May 2015 09:20

I hope all of these comments are your own work.

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Carol Fenwick

Sat 9th May 2015 08:10

As someone who was brought up in Middlesbrough I am appalled that this can happen. Full marks to Ira Lightman. The fact that so many of us poets write truly original work and at times get rejected and pilloried, indicates a great injustice. Thank goodness this has been uncovered and hopefully injustices like this will be resolved.

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Chris Co

Fri 8th May 2015 23:59

Ira has done a brilliant job in uncovering this. As poets so many of us sweat blood and tears in order to pen what we do. They are not just poems, but in many respects extensions of ourselves. Whatever standard any of us reach, we aspire to the highest of ideals and can take pride in our own personal high water marks. This on the other hand sullies the art, no insult could be greater, either to the reader, or to the poets that find their work "appropriated". There is of course another word for that!

Ira might to a degree be somewhat limited in what he can say, due to professional etiquette. I am not bound in such a way and will call it for what it is. It is disgusting, it is outright and it is plagiarism; a crude theft of the work of others. I hope the poets reputation is in tatters and I hope she loses her job and qualification to teach: both of which must now be called into doubt. I know that will sound harsh to some, but only when the price to be paid for such action is equivalent to the rewards of the crime will people cease to do this. Make no mistake, all of the excuses are simply lies that compound the original offences (more than one). Nobody just happens to copy entire poems start to finish and "mistake it" for their own work. I feel very sorry for those who have found their work, lifted. It must be so hard for these poets to re-claim their own work in the light of this. To me it would be like having someone burgle my home. I'm not sure I would feel the same again (at least for some time) with all that I had treasured.

I'm sure some will disagree with me, that's fine, in any regards, a huge thanks to Ira for his work and for uncovering this. He has done a great service, for poets and to poetry. As I say, my thoughts go out to the poets whose work was lifted. Perhaps though with high profile cases such as this, people will think twice and turn to their own creative ideas and focus on what may make them genuinely worthwhile - in their own right.

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Ant Smith

Fri 8th May 2015 21:59

I often worry about the state of the 'poetry industry', the commoditisation of creativity. This is absolutely disgusting. Quite unforgivable. And very worry that a person with such attitudes is teaching at the OU and receiving limited opportunities like reading at Ledbury. Everything that is wrong with modern poetry practice in one story.

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