ABOUT THOSE LINES YOU BORROWED

by Kathleen Cassen Mickelson, Gyroscope Review Editor

Who hasn’t been inspired by other writers, memorized lines that break our hearts open, been jealous of another writer’s way of ordering words and making stanzas that enhance meaning beyond expectations?

For me, lines from Shakespeare got my attention in middle school when I thought sonnets were the most romantic of art forms:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark…..

-Shakespeare’s Sonnet CXVI

See what I did there? I quoted Shakespeare and noted which of his sonnets those lines came from. Yes, you’re thinking, of course you noted which sonnet because that’s what a writer does to cite a reference in an article, to give credit to a source.

We all know that. But what about when we take liberties as poets who might use earlier works to fuel our own? What about something like this:

My marriage was not one of true minds.
O, no! it was not an ever-fixed mark
as my divorce lawyer surely knew.

Anyone who is familiar with Shakespeare’s sonnets would recognize the references here and can see that Shakespeare was not quoted directly, but his sonnet certainly informed this example – something I whipped up just for this article, by the way. A parody of sorts. Or partial parody. And if I developed this into a finished poem, would I need to cite Shakespeare?

Not necessarily. Such a well-known poet’s influence is widely understood and adds a layer to poems that riff on that influence. Poetry is an art form that often builds on what came before. But if I quoted an entire stanza that Shakespeare originally wrote, I would absolutely cite where that came from. And, if I didn’t cite it, surely hordes of fellow English majors would remind me from whom I was stealing.

Yes, stealing. To use someone else’s words as part of your poetry and not cite that someone else is stealing. There’s another word for that: plagiarism.

Go to www.plagiarism.org, and you’ll find this under, “Plagiarism 101: What is Plagiarism?”:

ALL OF THE FOLLOWING ARE CONSIDERED PLAGIARISM:

•turning in someone else’s work as your own

•copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit

•failing to put a quotation in quotation marks

•giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation

•changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit

•copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)

What the site refers to is the definition of plagiarism under US law, which is what Gyroscope Review, as an American journal, follows.

And why are we talking about this today? Because every once in a while, we receive a submission that we like and then discover through Google-checking that part of the piece is actually someone else’s uncredited work. And that is a huge disappointment because we realize a poet has either been careless in their submission or they’ve misrepresented their work to us.

Either way, that poem is rejected. We will send the submitter the link where we found the words that also appeared in someone else’s work. And we are unlikely to seriously consider anything else that submitter sends us. Ever.

In a recent case that happened here, the submitter borrowed from a poet who isn’t as well-known as Shakespeare, so the piece very nearly slipped through. When we told the submitter what we’d found, that person did not respond. We figured that might be the case. And, honestly, we have no way of knowing for sure who borrowed from whom unless we do further research; we can only guess based on the submitter’s history here versus the status of the other poet who happens to be widely published in this country. But our disappointment remains and we stay awake at night wondering what it is that causes a writer to borrow lines without attribution.

And then we write articles like this one.

The writing community is both large and small – large, in that an incredible number of people write poetry and share it; small, in that editors talk to each other and remember repeat submitters as well as any random offenders.

So, dear poets, please be generous in your sharing of poetry while being equally generous in your acknowledgement of your fellow writers. Cite your sources, influences, and borrowed lines that have set your hearts aflame. Otherwise, those flaming hearts are going to be doused by the firehose of rejection.

 

The firehose of rejection. (image courtesy of pixabay.com)

 

UPDATE ON OUR PRINT EDITION

We have our winter issue currently under review at CreateSpace and are very close to being able to offer it for sale. We will have a special announcement as soon at it’s ready! Thank you for your patience.

Thank you, too, for all of you who submitted work for our spring anniversary issue.

 

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About Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

Minnesota-based writer, dog owner, parent, photographer, coffee addict, and snow-lover, which makes her unpopular in the neighborhood around the middle of January.