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Food for thought
Posted by: marian2 (
Date: July 21, 2003 07:35AM

An American professor of English Literature ( I won't say who for the moment) wrote in a book I read recently 'Poetry has less to do with original creation than with reassembling familiar language into something new.' Given that we all start off with the same alphabet and that most of us have roughly the same vocabulary (excepting Edward Lear, Dylan Thomas, Lewis Carroll et al) how far would others agree with this? Depending on how you take it, it could licence the sort of plagiarism that 'improves' other people's poetry and takes the credit for it ( many versions of the same work by 'anon' and/or by several disputed authors appear on the internet - some a lot better than others, and poetry learnt by rote often accidentally evolves over time into something the reciter finds more comfortable to say and which others may find more comfortable to hear - ironing out the stumbly bits or even embarrasing bits*) . However, relatively modern poetry seems to me to try to find a new angle, new metaphors etc, whereas some older stuff, Victorian and before goes over very similar ground trying to improve the presentation of what are essentially the same ideas, while making them different enough to claim them as originals.

I think there's room for all of this, but was still rather shocked by the quote posted above.

*Copyright also worries me as it prevents this type of what I regard as useful evolution and also I'm never sure where it stops - if I make up a joke and post it you pass it on, have you broken my copyright? If someone tells the same joke in different words, have they - what if they thought it up independently? That sort of thing. How do you know what is your idea/work and what you've 'stolen/adopted etc'? I know you can patent an idea, or exercise copyright on a piece of written work, but where does one start and the other stop and what about translations. Does the existence of tightly controlled copyright become counter productive, because people can't pass on information about things they like without breaking the law, so the author's potential audience is restricted.

I'm not looking for answers, really, just opinions.

Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Jack? (
Date: July 21, 2003 10:01AM


It seems that with the advent of the 'net', fewer people really give a hoot about intellectual property rights. The rationalization seems to be 'If it's there, and it's free, I'll take it, use it, and alter it as I see fit. No harm done.'
It's going to be a tricky business until somebody gets a grasp on how to control it. A little while back, I submitted a piece called 'King of the Wind'.
It was a harmless piece of fluff, hoping to be amusing. I had no idea the title was used on a direct-to-video movie a few years ago. Now if I ever come up with anything that MAY be original, I google it first, to avoid the possibility of inadvertantly stepping on toes. I was very pleased no one had thought of '... a hole in God's pocket.' (maybe the ONLY original thing I've ever submitted!)

Good topic. I'll stay tuned.


Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Linda (
Date: July 21, 2003 02:35PM

I thought I read a children's book many years ago called King of the Wind, about an early race horse. But I may be misremembering, it was a long time ago.

Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Chesil (
Date: July 21, 2003 04:22PM

I suppose that, on the extreme, the professor is right. How many poems are really about something entirely new that has never been written of before? Does the world really need a new love poem? Apparently yes. New ways of describing a sunset or dawn? Yes. New ways of describing inner feelings? Yes. Does it matter that so many are saying much the same thing as thousands upon thousands of other poems? Not at all.

I think many MFA classes here espouse a view that there are only so many plots to a book. I have heard various from three to seven, but in any event very limited. I can see that might be true. Does it mean that we should need no more than seven books on our bookshelves? No. we want to see the different ways in which these same basic plots are written and described. The same is true of poetry, I and probably many many more don't tire of reading new poems that are essentially similar to many others.

Ultimately isn't this the same for all forms of communication? How many conversations are essentially about the same thing with just a few details altered. The game last night, the kids, the neighbors, what's for dinner but does this mean we shouldn't bother conversing in the hope of something startlingly interesting arising? Of course not. The Giants may have been whupped, we may learn a new thing in child rearing, Mrs Jones may have taken a new lover and our partner may offer to cook dinner for the change.

As to copyright, I think a poet or author deserves to profit from their work, if they wish to, without others redistributing their work without permission. They don't have to keep the copyright, they can make their work freely available if they want to. It's appropriate and its the law. Where I think the law needs changing is the length of time a work should remain in copyright after the death of the author. Copyright law should not be constantly amended to benefit the Disney corporation, but should recognise appropriate rights for the public domain.

Re: Food for thought
Posted by: -Les- (
Date: July 21, 2003 05:25PM

Is there anything new under the sun?


Just as a monkey at a keyboard could not recreate the works of Shakespeare,
neither could we. But Shakespeare could take stories well-known by men of his time and tell them in a way which could never be duplicated.

Within each man/woman lies the spark of creativity which makes old ideas new and new ideas plausible in the minds of a reader. To the artist there are infinite ways to combine the words we all know into a poem or story which
will capture the reader's attention.

Copyrights are a very important item now more than ever, but I agree with Chesil that the time of expiration should be limited.


Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Charlotte Sometimes (
Date: July 21, 2003 07:28PM

I 've read this topic and all the answers above.I agree with Chesil and Les.No matter how ''used'' the ideas may seem, two people can never give exactly the same thing.They can never produce exactly the same work.Two personalities are never the same no matter how much they are alike.And what is ''original creation'' after all? Does it really exist? I don't think so.The great issues in people's lives are love and death.Have we overcome yet these two ''ennemies''? No.Then how could we write about something else?
As for the copyrights, I agree with you.It is a very complicated matter and, personally, I believe that, at least in my country, the law doesn't really ''protect'' the original work of a writer.There are cases where this work gets ''buried'' for many years for nothing.I have a personal experience dealing with the work of a poet who died in 1944.I'm a student-searcher and his heirs deny any access to his work (not only to me but to anyone else as well).They even managed to withdraw (I don't know if I'm using the proper verb but I hope you understand what I mean) a collection of his poems from the bookstores.

Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Pam Adams (
Date: July 21, 2003 08:42PM

Yes, you did- it was by Marguerite Henry.

Jack- titles aren't copyrightable, so unless your poem used this work's plot, you're probably okay.


Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Jack? (
Date: July 21, 2003 09:29PM


I wasn't sweating the copyright. It's just that it sounded good (and original) at the time.
I was disappointed to learn that it was not.
Now everybody better keep their mitts off '... hole in God's pocket.' !


Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: July 22, 2003 02:58PM

"Poetry has less to do with original creation than with reassembling familiar language into something new."
--an American professor of English Literature


Every form of CREATION -- every form that human beings can do, that is -- involves reassembling existing material: words, notes, molecules.

The question is: Does this particular creation (poem, song, painting) effectively assemble the material into something that can give another human being (reader, listener, viewer) an experience that transcends that basic material.

If an assemblage of notes gives you a thrill... if an arrangement of poems gives you a heartache... if an arrangement of paint on canvas takes your breath away... THAT is what's "new."


Marian2, you deliberately withheld the name of the "American professor of English Literature" who provoked your posting.

I hazard a guess: initals HB?

Are you going to tell?

Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: July 22, 2003 03:13PM

After posting (just above) I checked out the new queries on QUOTE-UNQUOTE and there was this one:

"Writers give back her virginity to the whore of language."

If you know who said that, please post!

Regardless -- THAT'S WHAT I MEANT!!!

Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Chesil (
Date: July 22, 2003 03:15PM

But isn't he saying exactly the same as you?

It is an arcane way of saying it, but he still indicates that something new comes out of the process.

There really isn't anything different in what he (or you) is saying than what Ezra Pound urged in his "make it new" advice.

It is the way of saying it that is new and thus creates the thrill and not the inspiration, be it love or death or nature or despair or hope or story telling.

Marian-NYC wrote:

"Poetry has less to do with original creation than with
reassembling familiar language into something new."
--an American professor of English Literature

If an assemblage of notes gives you a thrill... if an
arrangement of poems gives you a heartache... if an arrangement
of paint on canvas takes your breath away... THAT is what's

Re: Food for thought
Posted by: -Les- (
Date: July 22, 2003 03:46PM

Searching for Marian NYC's quotation, I found this one by Henry Miller which I think might be relevant to this discussion:

The artist does not tinker with the universe, he recreates it
out of his own experience and understanding of life.
- Henry Miller

Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Pam Adams (
Date: July 22, 2003 04:39PM

You'll always have the B&O Boys!


Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Hugh Clary (
Date: July 22, 2003 05:12PM

Scientific Method

Know ye,
Nothing is certain.
All is fog and mystery.
Using scientific method,
Being true to the game,
We can determine,
Roughly who gets stomped,
By the elephant.

First: observe your world.
You must see it fresh,
In the light of what we already know
For almost certain,
But with eyes too new
To have forced the World
Into their image.
You must,
In short,
Be objective
And true to what is.
Not what you wish to be.

Second: comment thereon.
Your comment might be as simple
As a note that skies
Are rarely brown
Outside New Jersey
Or Bracknell.
It might be fifty pages
Worth of lifestory of a single bird.
It might be mathematics
So deep and learned
That few others ever alive
Could follow it.
Your comment, your description,
Your theory, axiom, blinding inspiration,
Or ten hundredweight of coredump,
Is not real.
It is a painting,
Approximating part
Of what is real.

Third: Predict the future.
Once the world has been modelled,
At least in part,
You should extend your painting,
Stretch your story,
Push your theory
Outside the bounds of what you know,
Into the dark, glorious circle
Of our joyous ignorance.
You must say something new.
You must, at the very least,
Say something known
In a new way.
And make it easier for us to grasp.
You might think to produce yellow crystals,
Or to merge a bird with a bison,
Or to see, in the ever-open third eye of your mind,
Tomorrow's rain.
You must prognosticate.

Fourth: Test your vision.
The real world is where Science starts.
It is where Science ends.
It is all that Science can be.
You are painting,
In languages all of Man can learn,
A picture of everything that exists,
Everything the cosmos ever contained.
You are testing this vision
Against the only critic that matters;
Reality itself.
There will be differences.
Your chemics might form only reddish goo,
Your birdson might never fly,
The rain might be early.
This is where Science,
And only Science,

Fifthly: Amend the theory.
In the light of new experience,
In the aftershock of failure,
Or the delerium of getting wet,
In your own, private, predicted
You take your vision
Back to the beginning.
You observe the world,
The Worlds,
The manifold complexities of everything,
And, while gasping at the beauty,
Of a mind that can enjoy such things
You start all over again.

In Sum: Improve the Human Condition.
And why do this?
Why work for years,
Attempting to understand,
The double image in Iceland Spar?
Or the intimate workings of bacteria?
Or how pain happens?
Or gravity?
Or the properties of lasers
Passing through spacetime
Just this side of being solidified
By magnetism?
Apart from sheer curiosity?
Sometimes, the spinoffs are quite useful.
Things like antiseptics,

The game is fun.
When you play it properly,
Respect the rules,
And forget all the cheats,
Like faerie, gods and goblin queens.
It is a good game.
One we can all play.
And it can only enhance the beauty
Of our rainbowed worlds.

The scientific method,
Is the only game in town,
For Real Men.
-- John McCoy

Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: July 23, 2003 12:35PM



Sort of.

Not necessarily, but I don't want to make an issue of it.


'Poetry has less to do with original creation than with reassembling familiar language into something new.'

"Reproduction has less to do with original creating than with reassembling existing genetic material into someone new." ???

"Music has less to do with original creating than with reassembling existing wavelengths into someone new." ???

As Descartes said to the waiter who asked him if he wanted a second cup of coffee: "I think not."

Re: Food for thought
Posted by: dennis (
Date: July 23, 2003 01:41PM

My opinions then: Copy rights protect intellectual property. There are
some who would do away with all property rights-I doubt those so
inclined, produce much original work. Creative people generally
appreciate the creators right to his work-and profits which may follow.
This follows, just as a person who owns property would weigh in
against the cry of the homeless who might desire to confiscate it.

Professors are not necessarily correct in their assessments. Mahler
once said to Brahms, while standing on a bridge over the danube,
"all the great music themes have been used". Brahms said "look
here comes the last wave." just so, we all use english and Iambic
feet but this doesn't make a monkey's random typing, poetry.

Perhaps professionals should hold to a higher standard. I often
despair that the trends are toward free verse, which is free of metre,
free of meaning, free of rythym, and free of value. This doesn't mean
that creative efforts cannot be original, valuable, in-tune, and

So many people write and so many-not well. If we aspire to
a standard of excellence, there is a possibility that we may produce
excellent work. Yes in English-the same old words. Yes a lot
of the same old ideas-but newly thought and newly presented.

As for fear of copy rights- I've never seen dead poets complain.
I've never heard the issue brought to bear as a restraint on
new work. I feel that subject is pertinent to the classroom and
lazy students-for the most part. best dlc

Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Pam Adams (
Date: July 23, 2003 02:36PM

Lovely! Of course, Whitman might not agree, he had enough trouble with the learned astronomer, let alone any other scientists.


Re: Food for thought
Posted by: marian2 (
Date: July 24, 2003 04:47AM

Thanks all for your contributions to a very interesting discussion. As usual it didn't cover the ground I expected at all.

It wasn't HB, Marian, it was Don Foster in Author Unknown p255 - in the section covering the authoriship of 'The Night Before Christmas' It buttresses the argument that you can attribute people's anonymous or unattributed work partly by recognising in it the influences of authors they have studied and admired (ideas, vocabulary etc) , as well as from their known writings. The flavour I got, though was that in former times - from Elizabethan right up to the Victorian age when writing poetry was one of a gentleman's attributes (like embroidery and music for the ladies ) for most, (and a profession for relatively few unfortunates who had to earn their bread, or geniuses who devoted their lives to it) what you did was take a poem someone else had written and write your own on the same theme almost as a modification, using 'poetic vocabulary' - like writing a crime novel or love story to a formula for popular appeal, and people had crazes for writing varius sorts of poetry for a bit,and then went on to something else, or simply struggled through that bit (like maths at school)and dropped it with hearfelt relief when older . Most of such stuff doesn't survive in the public domain. That's the sort of poet sent up so brilliantly by Gilbert and Sullivan's Bunthorne in Patience. I think this also explains the problems people have with Queen Elizabeth's poem on another thread. She wasn't writing poetry because she was a poet, she was writing poetry because that was what an educated gentleman did, together with learning Latin to a high standard, history etc. (They wouldn't let her do the male physical training - swordsmanship etc) Her cousin Mary did the girlie things (embroidery and ill-advised romances, and got her power that way). Elizabeth did all the kingly male things that were permissible, chiefly in education in preparation for ruling. So you couldn't really expect her poetry have a natural flair - it was a necessary accomplishment, and she did pretty well considering that.

Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Marian-NYC (
Date: July 24, 2003 04:12PM

Good point about Queen Elizabeth (the first) making a point of doing what "an educated gentleman did" in her times.

Also a good (implicit) point: that in Elizabethen England, poetry was NOT considered a "girly thing."

There's a long passage in TOM JONES where Fielding lays out his own rules of plagiarism. In brief, he says: The classics belong to EVERYBODY. The work of living/recent authors belongs to THEM and stealing is stealing.

Read the whole thing at:
[] />
Search for:


Chapter i -- Showing what is to be deemed plagiarism in a modern
author, and what is to be considered as lawful prize.

Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Talia (216.117.99.---)
Date: July 29, 2003 03:53PM

We have only one story, all novels, all poetry are built on the never-ending contest within ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new, fresh young face, while virtue is as venerable nothing else in the world is. John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Elliot (
Date: August 01, 2003 01:47PM

Certainly, the more material, poetry, stories, novels, sitcoms, talk shows, movies there are the more difficult it gets to come up with something new.
Like how many great love poems can there be? At a certain point it's "Enough already!" Even if something new and great is done, it gets lost in the slush pile - the trees/forest dilema.

It is 'tripple whammy'; not only harder to come up with something new, it is harder to find, and with life's flack, harder to concentrate on it.


Re: Food for thought
Posted by: lg (
Date: January 10, 2005 02:13AM

Bump, for Lennon.


Re: Food for thought
Posted by: LRye (
Date: January 10, 2005 11:21AM

At a conference here, a well-known Detroit poet was asked what poets should do to protect their work without having to hire an attorney.
His answer was given in jest, but not really. This is not an exact quote
but he said something to the effect of, "You can always do that mailing a certified letter to yourself with the poem or poems and never open it unless you need to prove something, but personally, since I haven't ever made any significant money from my poetry, I'm honored if someone wants to steal a poem of mine . . . of course if one was turned into a miniseries and made millions of dollars, I might be a bit upset then but . . ."

I thought his response was kinda clever, funny and so true,


Re: Food for thought
Posted by: Just Jack (
Date: January 10, 2005 01:02PM


I was unaware that there was a well-known Detroit poet (tell me it's NOT Mitch Albom).

If he wouldn't mind the exposure, who is it?


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