Ward Games

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].


"I am still digging and want a fresh start" Does this mean Christian will soon unearth another poetic skeleton and claim it as his own? Yorick's, perhaps?
Anonymous said…
Ah, who cares!!
Zoë said…
This is all rather sad. I can easily understand how phrases accidentally creep in (I once found a line of Eliot in one of mine - fitting?!) but whole poems is just bizarre and makes me question the originality of the rest of his work. Which is a real shame as if they are original he is clearly very talented.

I don't really understand this whole 'ghosting' thing but I don't write poetry in that way and so maybe it's a lack of understanding on my part. I will say that unless someone is extremely prolific, it seems unlikely you could think someone else's poem was your own, even if you used the 'ghosting' technique. Again, this is based on my own experience, but surely each line takes a lot of effort - you read and re-read - write and re-write - how could somebody else's poem make it through that process?

Again, I think it's a shame if he does have a body of original work which is now tainted by this mess - but it's the whole Occam's razor thing. Many of the explanations of this seem to rely on crazy assumptions; isn't it simpler to think that the plagiarism probably goes deeper than the high-profile cases that have been identified?
Anonymous said…
Rather than get all 'concerned' about this sort of thing I always feel that the person daft enough to try passing of a plagiarised poem as their own, deserves a bit of a break. If I was Helen Mort I would be made up and very happy for the compliment and out of the blue publicity that can only be all to the good for her own profile.

Poor bloke will feel bad enough already without all the faux outrage and manufactured concern from others.

Desmond Swords
Anonymous said…
Todd, A well known London poetry editor not averse to plagiarism once copied whole pages and lines from a collection I submitted to him, palming it off as his own work....
Anonymous said…
yeah? who? would be good to know.
Anonymous said…
You fail to mention the other poems this man has plagiarised. At least two other poems have since come to light (not including the one he himself admitted). Bats by Paisley Rekdal and After Neruda by Tim Dooley.

His apology is hollow and insincere, incredulous as to why people might be angered and upset by his actions. The 'poor bloke' doesn't seem to feel bad at all. Which only angers people further. There is nothing faux about the outrage surrounding this. I, for one, can completely understand it. The man is a destructive force to poetry.
Anonymous said…
I completely disagree with Desmond's notion (above) that the poet being plagiarised should somehow feel flattered, or happy about the publicity. He or she would much more probably feel used, robbed or violated... Helen Mort has already said that she is deeply upset about the whole matter, and so has another poet plagiarised by Ward, Paisley Rekdal, who has insisted that she wants an apology. Neither of them sounds too flattered to me. Plagiarising is nothing but another form of stealing --- should I feel flattered because a thief liked my house enough to break into it and steal my furniture?

Also, for those of you talking about 'phrases creeping in' and the like, please note that Mort's poem was plagiarised almost verbatim. Ward only changed 4 or 5 words --- and two of them, incidentally, were place names, the changes being aimed at making the 'new' poem eligible for the Exmoor-themed competition!

It's only natural for people with a creative bent to go over the top with this. Me personally, to feel 'used, robbed or violated', something substantially more than someone stealing a poem of mine would have to occur.

I spent a good few years when I first got online, debating, arguing and generally putting on masks when I engaged in the dance of blah blah blah with others hell bent in the fora and salons of online literature, on causing maximum effect by getting all actory and carried away.

This is what I think what's happened here. Kenny Goldsmith has made his whole career doing mass plagiarisms and urging others to do the same.

Ward has not killed anybody, yet a majority of the self-confessed arties in the online massive, are behaving like disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, upset on behalf of Literature itself, in a narrow, shrill and insistent note of the petty bourgeoisie.

Anyone silly enough to to something like this is gonnna get found out and getting so down on his ass makes me laugh. The spirit of the poetry community comes out then alright; the faux moral outrage as if the guy is some greaet big criminal. He nicked a poem, not break into houses and molest pets, chop up your cats, saw your parents in half whilst balancing a glass of stale urine on his elbow.

Get over it. Lighten up. He's hardly Hitler.

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