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« "That grand old Irish / Italian tradition" [by Moira Egan] | Main | "Mad Men": The 4:20 Express [by David Lehman] »

April 21, 2022


I am dismayed, too. Perhaps if he had clearly indicated that it was a found poem, after a letter, but he did not seem to do that, so it is plagiarism, pure and simple, in my humble opinion.

Would Kafka mind? Kafka did not have the highest opinion of his fellow humans. He might have shrugged it off. On the other hand, he was a perfectionist, a stickler, at his job and in his writing. This comes across quite plainly in his letters. He might have been appalled.

Of course, Carver wrote brilliant stories and wonderful poems, too.

Very dismaying, and it reminds one that Carver's editor Gordon Lish deserves a great deal of credit for the success of the author's stories.

First of all, it's a really weak poem -- and I'm a Raymond Carver fan -- and so whoever was the poetry editor at The New Yorker at the time -- should be given a slap on the wrist -- with an Apple watch -- from nine to five. If it was the great Howard Moss, perhaps someone somewhere ought to prune the tree hovering his graveside.

Second, nearly every line from this "poem" is drawn from Kafka's letter. If one considers the authors who've written 400-page books wherein a number of lines from a few paragraphs strike the thought police as DNA-incriminating evidence, how could this not be plagiarism?

Stacey, thank you for this article. I think that "from a letter" makes it OK, though I would add something to the end notes saying it is largely quoted, a found poem. I disagree with the notion that Lish deserves "a great deal of credit." Some credit, for sure. But if you read the two versions of "A Small, Good Thing" you may prefer the original as having more emotional richness.

Found poem. Sloppy attribution. The Big Boys did things like that, and still do.

But, even you did not catch a typo when you set up this blog entry. "You no longer thing [sic] about the straining/of the engine..." (in the poem) Experience doesn't matter in today's online writing, and neither does accuracy--if I were to point out such a small error on Facebook, I'd get trashed. I may even get trashed here. And meanwhile, the horrors about which Kafka wrote are just outside our windows. Again.

Excellent and troubling article, engendering very thoughtful comments."From a letter" doesn't quite acquit the writer (and it appeared belatedly; far many more readers would have encountered the version in "The New Yorker"). This is not a found poem. It is rather an entry in a commonplace book, and that's not intended as a put down. The commonplace book, as Auden did it, and Lord David Cecil, is an undervalued genre.

In my own writng I love sampling, echoing, alluding, lifting, etc., and have ever since I read "The Waste Land" in college and took to heart TSE's "immature poets imitate, mature poets steal." But "Kafka's Watch" does not merely sneak in a sentence or two; the whole thing is an unacknowledged theft.

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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