From the Ether
We find ourselves in that time in between winter and spring—one day a crocus
flowers in the rock garden, and the next day brings a snow flurry. That got me thinking about other ambiguous states of being, particularly those experienced in the writing life.
Perhaps you have had the most unpleasant experience, while reading the latest issue of your favorite journal, of seeing a poem that contains very strong echoes of one you began working on the week before (or at least that you’d thought about working on the week before). Or, even worse: you are thumbing through a book of poems and see a poem very reminiscent of one that you just submitted to that favorite journal. How does this happen? Is it some sort of “unconscious plagiarism”—in which you read or hear, and tuck away in a remote corner of your mind, some concept or line or trope from another’s work and then unwittingly regurgitate it in one of your own works? Or, at any given point in time, is there something in the “ether” impelling people who don’t know one another to write poems about, say, blue pomegranates? A friend who writes nonfiction tells me that publishers describe a phenomenon much like this: receiving several book proposals within weeks of each other, on basically the same topic—presumably not because of anything unseemly having happened (like writers stealing one anothers’ ideas) but just because a particular topic is “in the air.”
I was in a bookstore not a week ago and, while searching through a book of contemporary poetry for a particular poem that I wanted to show to a friend, came across another poem in the book that reminded me very much of one I had just spent several months working on. I had read the collection four years ago, though I had no recollection of ever having read the poem in question. But perhaps, unconsciously, I stored some of that poem in my mind. Or perhaps, because there really are no new ideas under the sun, I had simply become enamored of a particular subject because it seemed ripe for poetic exploration, and because of its richness as a subject, someone else had chosen to explore it before I did. I don’t know which is the case; most likely it’s not simply one or the other. I’m also not sure of the fate of my poem. Of course I understand that all artists are influenced by those who come before them, and it was T. S. Eliot who said, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” The difference between “steal” and “plagiarize”? I’ll leave that topic for another day.
Our Winter Issue continues its collaboration with Poet’s Bookshelf, edited by Peter Davis. Gerald Locklin, our talented Featured Poet, shares with us a series of ekphrastic poems, poems written in response to visual art. We hope you take the time to enjoy both his selection of new work and his recommendations from Poet’s Bookshelf.
Finally, many thanks to featured artist Lorraine Capparell, whose vivid watercolors, coupled with poems from writers across the country, provide us a much needed antidote to winter’s grey.
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