Dear Foetry Forum people,
I've just been made aware of the discussion occasioned by my poem "A Love Story" in Hunger Mountain Review. The comments reminded me of what Oscar Wilde said:"There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." In other words, as the subject of the stanza you quoted just put it while looking over my shoulder as I typed, "Isn't it good to know that people are reading poetry!"
A poet writing a poem is not a student writing a term paper. Poets and singers alike have always borrowed lines from other poems and other songs; it's called allusion. I refer you to "The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot. Eliot quotes without attribution "The chair she sat in, like a burnished throne" from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, follows that up with "When lovely woman stoops to folly" from Oliver Goldsmith, etc., etc.
When Bob Dylan sings
Don't the sun look good going down over the trees?
Don't the brakeman look good flagging down the Double E?
And don't my gal look fine when she's comin' after me?
is he plagiarizing John Lee Hooker?
When Leonard Cohen in "A Thousand Kisses Deep" from his Album Ten New Songs, sings, also without attribution,
"And maybe I have miles to drive
and promises to keep"
do we suppose he is plagiarizing the ending of Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"? My answer would be, no. He is alluding to the poem, borrowing from it, referring to it. Both poetry and song are full of this sort of thing. Sarah Waters' terrific novel Fingersmith, similarly borrows, alludes to, pays tribute to Dickens' Oliver Twist.
I happen to be listening to Gillian Welch's Time the Revelator as I type this rainy Irish morning. I suppose I agree with her lines,
Everything is free now,
that's what they say.
Everything I ever done,
gonna give it away.
I used her lines from "Barroom Girls" because they beautifully fit the life of the character I was writing about. When I listen to her on Time the Revelator, I do not suppose she is plagiarizing an old blues song when she sings "My baby took the Katy, left me a mule to ride," though I have heard that song a hundred times—nor that she is plagiarizing other old songs when she sings about "Jack o' Diamonds" and says "Lord me die with my hammer in my hand" from "John Henry," nor do I feel she should footnote James Brown when she sings "The Grand Ole Opry's got a brand new bag." That's how this business works. Examples abound, both in poetry and in song.
If you would like to read my poem "One Morning a Rose Blooms" in the summer, 2006 Southern Review, also on www.versedaily.org/2006/morningblooms.shtml
, you can tell me whether you think I'm plagiarizing a Christmas carol when I close my poem with the line "Noel noel noel."
Happy November to you. I have enjoyed participating in this discussion, and I hope what I have said will help you to see poetry in a broader way.