So I left my copy of the yellow issue of Fairy Tale Review somewhere and now, when I want to use it, can't find it. Inside there was a fabulous poem called "Cinder" (I think I'm remembering correctly) which was so clever and I wanted to write it out and steal from it. I had even written inside the cover that I wanted to do so. Now that I can't find my copy, I wonder what someone glancing around inside might wonder about that. About stealing from it. If they think poets are all a bunch of thieves. How do you tell people about T.S. Eliot's injunction that good poets borrow, great poets steal? What I take that to mean, from my own poetry experience, is that I steal the character of Ophelia and run away with her and take her to a river and devise my own story. Or that I discover a new form, like Natasha Trethewey's Myth poem, and want to use that form for my own poems. Or take words from a poem or bird book and riff off of them.
So I'm curious: Is that what you take Eliot to mean? How do you steal in your poetry?
I'm also wondering about this because a new press, in their submission guidelines states that no plagiarism will be tolerated and that "all quotes will be checked for copyright issues." (I feel I should quote them!) Of course, one should document one's borrowings, but for some reason this seems, I don't know, obvious and therefore unnecessary to state so in their guidelines. That it should be understood. Is plagiarism as much a problem in poetry as it is in college comp classes these days?
by Martin Steingesser
We're in the bookstore stealing poems,
lifting the best lines--
You cop one from Williams,
I stick my hand into Pound.
No one's looking...
I throw you a line from The Cantos--
It disappears in your ear like spaghetti.
We stuff ourselves with Crane,
cummings, Lowell, Voznesensky--
Neruda, Rilke, Yeats!
The goods dissolve in our brain.
Now we move from the shelves with caution.
The cashier's watching. Can she tell?
Fat! We've overeaten.
You giggle. End-rhymes leak at your lips like bubbles.
I clap a hand on your mouth.
You are holding my ears
as we fall out the door.
©1977, Martin Steingesser, all rights reserved