Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Q. R. Markham aka Quentin Rowan

"Up over the swell of hot sugar
up over the swell of rubber
Up over the death creaks, rises and falls
like heart attacks
Up over the backyards and bricks
Up over the smell of Ms. Roha's beans..."

So begins Quentin Rowan's poem "Prometheus at Coney Island" which appeared in The Best American Poetry 1996. His poetry has also appeared in Hanging Loose and The Paris Review. But Quentin Rowan uses another name as well: Q. R. Markham.

As Q. R. Markham, he wrote a thriller novel called Assassin of Secrets. The problem? It has been discovered that he copied entire passages of that novel from at least 13 different previously published thrillers.

Author Jeremy Duns appears to have been one of the first to discover the plagiarism and notify the publisher. He has a good write-up here. He says, in part:
"I considered emailing Mr Rowan to ask him what in blue blazes he was thinking, but decided not to waste any more time corresponding with him – it would make no difference what excuse he came up with. The evidence was incontrovertible,..."
Both the New Yorker and the Guardian ran stories about the plagiarism, with varying degrees of castigation. The New Yorker article is rather long and takes a closer look at Rowan the person. It's great reading. The Guardian article talks more about plagiarism in general and the recycling of ideas in literature. It's good reading. This passage in particular was thought-provoking:
"In the virtual world, the most valuable currency is reality. ...the howls are always loudest when it turns out that something presented as genuine turned out to be secondhand or fake."
I'm not sure I agree entirely with this, but it is something I will consider over the next few weeks.

Edited to add: Another great write-up that identifies many of the lifted passages and their sources in great detail can be found here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Christian Ward Update

[Christian Ward was the subject of a previous post here.]

I've been reading some further news coverage of the Christian Ward plagiarism scandal. A few updates:

(1) As previously noted, Mr. Ward has apparently also admitted to copying a poem by Tim Dooley. Mr. Ward's poem "The Neighbor" is here (scroll down to page 12 at that link). Tim Dooley's poem "After Neruda" is here (click on the "Work" tab).

(2) Helen Mort made a comment on a blog post which I thought should be highlighted. She said:
"Contrary to a few suggestions I've seen online in comments that I should be 'flattered' by this somehow, 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. This poem was quite a personal one and the idea that someone would deliberately copy it for a competition is something I find really upsetting. I definitely have a few things to say to the plagiarist, though I doubt I'll get the opportunity to do so."
(3) Another quote, this one from Paisley Rekdal about why reading her plagiarized poem upset her:
"I feel angry that you made my poem worse. In this, I admit, my emotions are entirely egotistical, circling around and around the drain of my own self-loathing and self-regard, the particular pains I took over my work to make it sound original and beautiful, the particular disgust with which I am forced to regard it, broken and clunky with your new line breaks, the poem less mine now than some sort of monstrous palimpsest that only limply resembles the sounds of the original. In a way, you have taken my poem from me, from my memory of the pleasure of writing it once, the sounds I imagined and heard when I read it to others or myself. I read every draft I write out loud, Christian, so I can hear the difference in the rhythms that occur if I change even a single word. Because of this, the side effect of my writing process is that I memorize all my work, so that whatever poem I write lingers inside me, like a bell still vibrating after the sound has passed. And now that sense, those sounds, that particular pleasure of making—which is the only reward we ever get in poetry, Christian—is gone."
(4) Finally, I finally read Mr. Ward's entire statement of apology, and I have to say that I find it lacking. Here is the meat of his excuse:
"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."
Sorry, but I'm not buying the "I didn't mean to do it". If he hadn't been outed as having copied from other poets, I might have believed it, but since the extent of his apparent plagiarism has come to light, his statement rings hollow.