Poetry and Poets: July 2006 Archives

This is extremely difficult, so please forgive the following for whatever it lacks in cohesion, it is excerpted from my part of a private correspondence:

But let me tell you about my experience. Someone took one of the poems I wrote, altered a few words akin to the example I published regarding racism and published it in their own magazine. The magazine was a marginal one anyway and I didn't have the money to go after these people, but they took my poem about the glory of diversity and changed it into a hymn to conformity and supremacy and left my name on it. The poem may not have been high art--in fact, it may not have been particularly good--so Art doesn't enter into it. But someone took my words, edited them for their own sense of suitability and then proclaimed the work to be my own. I only found out when I started to get angry looks/comments and letters about the poem.

Now, naturally, I have to repudiate the entire poem, and I don't even mention the incident lest it bring up the whole subject.

In other words, I know what it feels like when one takes it upon oneself to alter the work of another without proper acknowledgment of what has been done. And it hurts--tremendously.

This isn't mere wounded pride or vanity. This is stomach-churning horror and sickness. This is nauseating to the extreme because I have been saddled and labeled to with the name of racist for something I never even did. This hurts--a lot. It hurts because I have a child who may find this out in the future. amd if he does, what is he to think--that his own life with me has been a lie, or merely a means of atonement for past sins? It hurts because there is always the remote possibility my friends or acquaintances may discover it and make me a pariah. Sure, I can explain it--I can show copies of the original that even have comments on them from the professor who originally read it--so they can see its authenticity. But I can never escape from the shadow of it.

So none of this is theoretical to me. It is all factual--harsh reality. I know, as you do in a different way, whereof I speak. This is what impels me to the limits of politeness when I talk about the subject.

And it impels me to judge that the practice is immoral, unethical, and completely unallowable. This is what we are discussing here--the unilaterally transformation of a work and the republication of that work as the work of the original author. If what has been done to me is not immoral or unethical, what description might it travel under?

Later--I see that I did not make clear one essential ingredient of this stew. The poem that was published was not merely edited. It was taken from a previous publication and altered beyond recognition without my consent and republished with my name on it. This makes it the equivalent of the case I have been mistakenly referring to. We're not talking editorial changes in the act of creation, but rather usurpation with misrepresentation. Neither the orginal magazine nor I had any capability of fighting this legally--and fortunately (I hope) the incident was local and the publication that reprinted it hopefully remanded to the compost heap of time. But I lived with the consequences of it for several years.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Poetry and Poets category from July 2006.

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