Letters: Poets who borrow

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The Independent Culture
Sir: I thought swiping (excuse me, borrowing) ideas was the sort of think that only went on in the cut-and-thrust world of advertising, not genteel poetry circles. In advertising it is often said that there is no such thing as an original idea. The practice of "doing a pastiche" has got to the point where you're watching a familiar commercial but find it impossible to determine which product is being advertised until the brand appears in the final three seconds.

Rarer than hen's teeth is an original idea or a new art form. And, it seems to me, that is what Roger McGough spotted when he read his student's poem "In Case of Fire". You have to ask if Mr McGough actually pointed that out to his student. Did he take her to one side and say, "Do you realise, Jenny, that you've got a real gem of an idea here?" Or did he, on recognising a diamond in the rough, take it, polish it and pocket the proceeds? Being her tutor, shouldn't he have helped her to develop the idea rather than doing it for his own benefit? It's fine to say that it's an accepted thing in poetry for ideas to be borrowed, but if the borrower makes money from it and the originator does not, the morality of the practice should be questioned.

If Mr McGough wants to be fair to his former student he should continue to give credit to Jenny Lewis not only when the poem is printed but also each time it's read, by beginning with the word "ferlew".


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