Plagiarizing Someone Else's Work Should Not be Tolerated in the Literary Community

Former Canadian Poet Laureate accused of stealing from Tupac, Maya Angelou

Rosa Ojeda

When former Poet Laureate Pierre DesRuisseaux passed away in January of last year, he left behind a legacy as one of Canada’s greatest French-language poets in the modern era.

That legacy has now been called into question.

DesRuisseaux, who served as the Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2011, was recently accused of stealing lines from several famous poems, including Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” and Tupac’s “Sometimes I Cry”. The plagiarism was discovered when fellow poet Ira Lightman followed a lead from Facebook group Plagiarism Alerts by translating DesRuisseaux’s poems in his book Tranches De Vie into English.

DesRuisseaux’s career was filled with remarkable achievements. He published 14 books of his own work and in 1989 won the Governor General’s Award for French-language poetry. However, this allegation will taint his reputation.
The truth is, DesRuisseaux plagiarized famous works without consent from the original artists. No matter how amazing a writer is, plagiarism should not be tolerated or ignored. Whether it be accidentally or purposefully, he stole work that was not his.

Some would argue differently, however. DesRuisseaux did produce many original works of literature and was well loved as a French poet. A few people have made the point that DesRuisseaux’s works focussed on intertextuality, the relationship between texts. Similar structures or language will often be used to mirror or influence other work. A writer playing with intertextuality does not need to cite the original work as if it were a term paper.

However, most forms of intertextuality will acknowledge the original source in some way. This can include referencing the original work in the title or body of the new work. It can also be as simple as the author crediting the original work in a written or spoken statement.

While it is true that intertextuality played a key role DesRuisseaux’s writing, he did not credit the original work when lifting lines for his poems. He presented the verses as if they were entirely his own, which by its very definition is plagiarism.

Ever since I became a part of the writing community at KPU, I have learned that one of the most important things a writer can have is their own voice. When writing from one’s personal and unique perspective, it is best to not only celebrate our differences, but to also connect us on a human level.

When a writer plagiarizes, their voice is lost. The personal connection with their reader is lost. All credibility as a writer is lost, no matter how many accomplishments they hold.

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