Christian Ward had a lot going for him - a book forthcoming, a prestigious creative writing MA degree, and relative respect, as a younger poet, At 32, he was not a rising star (he had not won any major prizes or an Eric Gregory award) but neither was he unknown; he had been featured at Eyewear, for instance, so was on my radar. All this has changed, disastrously for him. He has made national news, as a plagiarist - possibly in the worst case imaginable - ripping off, apparently, the hugely beloved genuine rising star Helen Mort, in a contest celebrating Exmoor, a beloved part of England. Mr. Ward's poetry career is in ruins - just as Nigel Farage's campaign plane once was - and he needs a reboot, such as perhaps Max Clifford or Oprah offer.
But he is no celebrity, and in poetry circles plagiarism is as bad as kicking a kitten. Christian Ward is now something of a poetry pariah in some British circles. I have sympathy and concern for anyone in freefall. I am worried for the poet. I am puzzled, deeply puzzled, as to what drives an intelligent person to rip off other's poems. And, it should be added, in his own words, Ward now realised he has used the words of Tim Dooley, too, an avuncular, hugely admired figure. Ward was not doing something post-modern here in these rewrites; were they ghosted experiments? Were they lazy drafts? Or a self-destructive campaign of gross arrogance or ignorance?
Who knows. Time may tell. The lesson is clear: don't do what Eliot did, and reuse other people's best lines, unless one's stealing is allied to genius, and value added - sure, some Eliot is borrowed, but the sources were often foot-noted. What's next for Ward? I am tempted to think he should apologise and come clean, and throw himself on our mercy. After all, poets are no strangers to mental illness. Pleading insanity might be better than claiming daft cunning. I do hope he is able to find a second act to his career, but he'll need to take a few years out, and do some community service first, I should think. [Editor's note: Following a Facebook comment from Toby Rivas, which I agree with, important to state we should all go as easy as possible on Mr Ward; he is after all as sensitive as the next poet, and needs our help more than our blame, now that he has been exposed].