I am shocked to learn that Graham Nunn, a good friend and mentor, has plagiarised other poets.
For more than a decade now Graham has helped create a diverse and friendly community of poets in Brisbane, one in which I’ve found a home. In the last few years, he’s also been a strong supporter of my poetry, not least by publishing me in the Brisbane New Voices series, and inviting me to read my work in public. I have been, and remain, very grateful to him for those opportunities.
I am also dismayed. At the extent of Graham’s unequivocal plagiarism–entire sections of other people’s poems. Explicit mashups aside, stealing other writers’ words is wrong. Graham’s attempt to excuse his actions–at the same time deleting poems from his site and withdrawing books from sale–is not good enough. He knows that. His own guidelines stipulate original work.
Poets, more than anyone, know that words matter. So it’s disheartening, within days of a national day of looking out for the mental health of others, to see poets on social media using words and phrases like “be afraid”, “nowhere to hide”, “sociopath”, “virus”, “hunt down”, and “executed”, and speaking of Graham in the past tense. It’s one thing to lay out someone’s sin for all to see, quite another to dehumanise and let an atmosphere of fear and loathing develop in what is a very small pond. Such an atmosphere won’t reduce plagiarism, just as being “tough on crime” only creates new problems. The light of full exposure, and the personal and professional consequences of that light, along with the wider discussion about plagiarism, will do the job.
Plagiarism is a serious transgression, but not, as some are saying, an unforgivable one, and it doesn’t magically negate everything Graham’s ever done, or will do. I’d hate to be stuck on an island with anyone who believed that. Strange how we seem to allow more complexity in fictional characters than real people. I’m hopeful that my friend will apologise properly–for his sake, the sake of the poets he’s stolen from, and the sake of the Brisbane community that he’s played an important role in establishing.
The Brisbane poetry community is much bigger than any one person. That’s why, as usual on the last Saturday of the month, I’ll be heading to SpeedPoets to catch up with good people and listen to words of power.