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This report is taken from PN Review 121, Volume 24 Number 5, May - June 1998.

'We have our own history still' David Hayes

A charge of plagiarism adds spice to any literary row. In a world where revolutions in communication intersect with an explosion of creativity, it is likely that the practice is easier than ever, and perhaps more tempting, if the chances of detection are correspondingly reduced. The enormous energies devoted by Neal Bowers to hunting the elusive ex-teacher who had insinuated his poetry into several small magazines, anatomise a bizarre modern dilemma.

Last May, the Independent on Sunday carried a story about a St Austell poetry reading in which one Alan Kent had declaimed an 'impassioned' poem about the sad contrast between Cornwall's past and present. In the poem, 'seasonal Truro waitresses' are overheard 'talking earnestly / about Neighbours / or Mel Gibson', while Cornish hero Flamank is 'just out of the window'. In concluding lament, 'my country, for lack of will / has gone to hell'. The source of these lines was familiar - a poem by Derick Thomson (Ruaraidh MacThòmais in Gaelic) in his fine collection Smeur an Dòchais / Bramble of Hope (1991) - where the waitresses are Glaswegian, the conversation is about Starsky and Hutch, and the hero is Wallace.

The evidence of one news item was inconclusive; after all, Kent could have acknowledged his poetic debts at the reading, and there was no indication of any printed matter. My letter to the editor therefore referred merely to a 'straight lift' from Thomson, and emphasised that the latter 'deserves at least honest ...


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