Here we are, three days later still trying to make sense of the shitstorm unleashed by the statement from The Missing Slate. That one of the poets many of us saw as showing a promising future in our small poetry pond has been rampantly cutting and pasting the hard work of fellow poets has been devastating.
The allegations that Redscar McOdindo K’Oyuga has been plagiarising the work of other poets and profiting from it has huge implications. Reputations are at stake. His entire body of work is now being questioned. Those of us who have published him and awarded him for work that now we aren’t sure is his are questioning how we could have been so duped. There are the poets whose work was in competition with his in the various prizes – those poets have lost out on opportunities and rewards (financial and otherwise) because of him. And Poetry Potion has just paid for printed copies of its tenth quarterly with poems we believed were Redscar’s.
After The Missing Slate released their statement, and it began making rounds, I had to do my own investigations. It was incredibly distressing to find that the poet in question had already taken down his blog as well as set his social media accounts to private. In seeking to get clarity on this matter, I have had to rely on plagiarism checkers and comparing notes with other affected organisations. Attempts to get in touch with Redscar have been futile. He has only responded to say that he would not engage in plagiarism knowingly and that this was all a misunderstanding. Further attempts to get him to address the allegations strongly, clearly and provide evidence to prove he hasn’t plagiarised all these poets have led to nothing but silence.
At Poetry Potion, we are sitting with new copies of our tenth print quarterly – Poetry Potion 10: This Woman Is. Printed copies arrived on Monday afternoon. For this edition we wanted:
…poems that are about and are for women. We want to celebrate and uplift. We don’t want to pander to or patronise. We want to provoke honest reflection and not stereotype or generalise. We want poetry we haven’t seen before. (Call For Submissions: Poetry Potion 10. 15 July 2016)
Now, here we are with a poet who is being accused of stealing from women poets. Indeed, one of the poems has been traced to a website by a woman poet. This is a poem speaking about hair. Specifically growing up having to relax your hair and then finally deciding to go natural. An experience so that is outside of our dear Redscar’s experience yet a perceptive and empathetic poet would be able to write.
A part of me feels like I should’ve known, these poems were too good to be true. Yet, to say that would mean to dismiss a poet’s ability to write about more than just themselves. We know that the best of poets aren’t just writing about themselves. Poets draw from so many sources in order to create work that resonates, work that isn’t just about their own personal world. A good poet can take a personal poem and make it everyone’s personal poem.
Whenever a poet submits work to Poetry Potion we ask them to certify that they are submitting their own original work. And we now realise that there has been a contravention of copyright laws as well as mutual trust and the expectation for everyone to conduct themselves in good faith.
It is unfortunate that Redscar has gone into the wind, that he hasn’t stood up to say more than “it is a misunderstanding”. I would’ve loved for it to be a misunderstanding. Are we sitting with a serial plagiarist or a poet who is greatly plagiarised? I don’t have answers to this question yet. But everything that has come up points to what seems to be obvious.
So where do we go from here? We have contacted the poets affected and are discussing a way forward with them. There are 30 poets in this edition who are now affected because of these allegations so out of respect for them I have to hold the release of this edition. Poems plagiarised online are easy to take down but in print it’s another story and it’s not easy to decide to pulp the copies printed. So we are working out what to do.
Poetry Potion does not condone or support plagiarism. Using the work of others without due attribution or the necessary permissions is unethical and unacceptable. Poetry Potion and Black Letter Media emphatically distances itself from this sort of behaviour and would like to pledge our solidarity with poets, writers and all creatives who have been violated in this way.
Poetry Potion is committed to continuing to be an open platform for new poets to share their work and for poetry lovers to discover new work. We are committed to respecting poets who work hard at their craft and to rooting out unethical behaviour that seeks to undermine committed and dedicated creatives.
Bear with us as we make the necessary changes to our processes.
duduzile zamantungwa mabaso
founding editor, Poetry Potion
Black Letter Media | affirm afrika. always.