Friday, August 10, 2007

Ethics and Ownership

I’ve been thinking about these ten poems I’ve written beginning with a line by W.S. Graham. I’ll have to read through them and decide what to do with them. Some may be fine as they are, some may need revised or cut, some may need to be thrown away.

But what are the ethics surrounding that first line? Say I decided to cut the W.S. Graham first line in a poem and add in a first line of my own – would it then be ethically wrong to present it as purely my own poem, considering it was inspired by a line from another poet? Or does the fact that all the lines left in the poem are my own mean that what originally inspired it becomes irrelevant?

Of course, I might keep one or two of them as they are and acknowledge that they begin with a W.S. Graham line. One or two is fine, but ten is a bit much, I think…

5 comments:

Matt Merritt said...

I think all ten would be OK if you kept them together, submitted them together and so on. They might make an interesting sequence.
I think if you add in your own first line, there's not necessarily a need to acknowledge Graham. After all, lots of poems get inspired by other pieces of writing, without them ever getting mentioned. On the other hand, it's interesting to let the reader see how it worked by acknowledging the starting point, that it's what Roddy described as a homeopathic poem.

Colin Will said...

I've had exactly the same thoughts Rob. Looking at the poems as objectively as I can, I acknowledge that I wouldn't have written them at all without the starting point of WSG's lines. Two or three of them are right outside my comfort zone, and I'm delighted with that. Whether or not they're publishable is something I'll decide later. (I can't see Lallans going for the Scottish one).

Cailleach said...

Well, guess what, I was thinking the same thing too today, only mine went along the lines of imagining editors up and down the UK and beyond going, 'Strewth! Not another bunch of W.S. Graham first line poems... bleedin' Guardian workshop... mutter, mutter, mutter' :)

Scotty said...

I was thinking the same thing myself, Rob. Of the couple of pieces that I think are worthy of keeping and revising, I wondered if I should keep the W.S. Graham first line and include a disclaimer/reference, or if I should modify the line slightly so that I could distinctly call it my own.

It might be interesting to gauge some general feelings on this at Watering Hole, maybe?

Rob said...

Looks like the jury is still out...

Matt, Colin - the issues you bring up get to the heart of the problematic question.

Barbara, I had the same thought as you - not just "more bloody first line W.S. Graham poems", but "more bloody first line W.S. Graham poems from a pool of only ten!"

Scotty, if you keep the opening line, you only need to mention the fact that it's a Graham line and you're OK. But I'd think that more than just slight modification would be necessary if you're going to remove it.

It's a tricky question and not one I'd considered when I started out.