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.
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.
We know a lot of poets who love holding books in their hands, actual books with pages to turn and dog-ear and scribble notes upon. That’s something that doesn’t happen with digital poetry journals.
Given that we fund this operation ourselves, we’ve set it up so it doesn’t make us bankrupt. Website hosts and domain names and submissions systems do add up in cost, but it’s doable for a small journal like ours. Digital publishing allows the dissemination of poetry to anyone who wishes to read it, which is an amazing gift. We love to think about the fact that some kid in high school in Indiana can read us just as well as a poet-farmer in rural England or an urban dweller on New York’s Upper West Side. The variety of submissions tells us that our digital reach is doing exactly what we’d hoped: offering a place for poetry to people from multiple layers of society whether from a home computer or a shared computer at school or in a library.
But we still have a gap. There are those who do not like using digital platforms, who love the smell of paper, whose eyes feel strain when they read on a screen. And that is why we have made an account on CreateSpace and are working to get our winter edition available to purchase in print form on March 15. This is a learning exercise for us, so bear with us as we figure this out. If this works as we hope, we’ll be able to offer future editions through CreateSpace as print versions. We don’t have a price point yet and that is one of the things we have to learn.
Any money that might come in from this venture will have to go right back into the cost of running Gyroscope Review, so until such time as we make a profit (a long-shot for poetry journals, but we can dream), please know we aren’t paying ourselves. People who don’t work in this field may not know how hard it is to come up with a sustainable model that pays everyone when a journal is still trying to gain a decent audience. Our main goal is to make poetry available to all and we hope that is your goal, too, if you submit to us.
We look forward to this next chapter of Gyroscope Review. We’ll keep you posted.
P.S. Our current reading period is open until March 15! Keep ’em coming. Guidelines here.
With one month to go in our current reading period, we’ve received 229 submissions. Of those submissions, we’ve already declined or withdrawn 148. There are 63 pieces in process right this minute, and that will change by the time this post goes live.
Every reading period, we see some of the same trends, not all of them good trends. Since we want you to succeed as poets, want to get submissions that both make us honored to do this work and make you honored to be part of it, we thought it was time to talk about what makes us love our poets.
Submitting work is not always the fun part of being a writer. Okay, maybe it’s never the fun part unless the work is accepted. Acceptances are fun. Acceptances are what we all strive for.
When editors have the opportunity to say yes to a piece, they sometimes do a little dance.
When editors have to say no, for any reason, it makes them a little sad. Much of their sadness, and yours, dear submitters, could be prevented with simple attention to guidelines, details, and a respectful tone.
Let’s start with those guidelines. You’ve read it and heard it over and over: read the guidelines before submitting. It usually goes with the advice to read the publication to which you are submitting. This is really important. If you’ve read Gyroscope Review at all, you will notice that we publish contemporary poetry. We don’t publish work that sounds like it was around in Shelley’s time or harkens back to Beowulf. We seldom publish pieces that rhyme. We’re picky about pieces that have racist or sexist undertones, don’t care for gratuitous sex, aren’t fond of political rants even though those are tempting at this point in history. So, tone and form are something to study.
Our guidelines also point out some housekeeping items. Every reading period, we have someone who sends us a piece that we like, that we accept, and then we get an email that says, oops, someone else already accepted that piece. We take simultaneous submissions, but we want you to do your part. And what is your part? Tell us immediately if a piece you’ve sent us gets accepted elsewhere. We spend a lot of time reading, thinking, and Google-checking work. If we’ve done all that and made a decision only to learn you forgot to tell us that this piece is no longer available, that’s not respecting our time. Respect needs to go both ways.
While we are on the subject of knowing and sharing the status of your own poems, don’t resubmit something we’ve already rejected. Chances are pretty good we’ll remember the piece and wonder what you were thinking.
Another housekeeping item in our guidelines that someone ignores every reading period is when a submission contains more than one poem in a single document. We have our system set up for one poem in document = one submission. Why? Because when we vote on each poem, we need to be able to filter between accepted and declined. If everything is in one document, we can’t do that on a poem-by-poem basis. Therefore, multiple poems in one document means they will automatically be declined. And don’t think that you can submit one big document four times to make up for there being four poems in that document. One poem in one document = one submission. No exceptions.
Now, can we talk about appearance? We know you play with fonts sometimes. They can make writing something fun, shake things up a little but. We do it ourselves – on our own computers for our own amusement. When submitting, stick to a standard Times 12 pt font in basic black. A piece submitted in purple Comic Sans is distracting and takes us out of the piece. We sit there and wonder, why purple? Why Comic Sans? Just don’t.
And now a little bit about respecting our decisions for our own journal. Let’s say you send us a piece and we have to say no. Maybe our rejection has come to you on a bad day and you rapid-fire write a response telling us we don’t know good poetry from a hole in the ground. And then you hit “send.” When we open that email, are we likely to take pity on you and your submission? Nope. Are we likely to think, oh, that poet must be having a bad day and give you a pass on your rudeness? Nope. Are we likely to remember who you are? Oh yes. Yes indeed. And when we see your name in the slush pile in a future reading period we may not read your work with as much enthusiasm as someone else’s.
Now, if you had sent us a different email that asked us if we could give you more feedback on why your poem did not make the cut, would we be likely to answer? Yes, we would. There are hordes of reasons why pieces get rejected on any given day. Maybe we already have lots of pieces in the same vein. Maybe your piece, though wonderful, is better-suited to a different season. Maybe you’ve submitted four pieces, and we’ve already accepted three. Perhaps the subject matter just doesn’t fit with our vision for Gyroscope Review. And maybe the piece honestly could benefit from revision.
If you have a piece that gets rejected and you are going to revise it, give it enough time. A revision done within hours of a rejection is too fast. You know how a good stew slow cooks for hours so all the flavors can blend? Good poetry is like that: it needs simmering time for all the nuances and metaphors to come together into a delicious stew of lines that makes the reader want more. It cannot be rushed. If you try to shortcut revision, you will end up with an inferior piece lacking in essence.
And what about sending us something else if we decline your work? You are welcome to do that, but please take a moment or three to think about why we said no to your poems. Think about whether the next batch of work you want to send us looks just like what we’ve already rejected. Think about whether we are a good fit for you.
We should tell you that we have accepted a piece or two – or, well, 18, if you want exact numbers. We expect to at least triple that by the time we go to press; we expect just as many submissions during the last month as we’ve had up to now. So, you still have a shot if you like Gyroscope Review. Get writing. We’re waiting.