From bad to verse
A prize-winning poem in a prestigious West Country literary competition has caused a storm – because it bears a striking resemblance to an earlier work.
London-based poet Christian Ward won the Hope Bourne poetry prize, created in memory of the reclusive writer and artist who died in 2010. Now his work, The Deer, has been published in the Exmoor Society's quarterly Exmoor Review.
However, Mr Ward's winning entry is strikingly similar to an earlier work by Helen Mort, written while she was poet in residence at Wordsworth's Dove Cottage in 2010-11. Apart from a handful of words, the poems are the same, word for word.
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The Exmoor Society chairman Rachel Thomas said: "Our attention has been drawn to the remarkable resemblance between the two poems. This is sensitive and we are making further enquiries."
Richard Westcott, who edits the society's magazine and who organised the poetry competition, was even more forthcoming. "This has been a deeply unpleasant experience – traumatic on so many different levels," he said. "I've been running this competition for three years – it is a nice little competition designed to use Exmoor as a source for inspiration. My daughter is a poet and, through her good offices, I was able to bring in some London writers of some standing as judges. They've been mortified by what has happened, as was I. I felt I'd been betrayed and also that I'd dumped the judges in it.
"Helen Mort took the news very well – but you can imagine the range of emotions she felt. It's a form of theft and it is very personal."
One of the West Country's best known poets, James Crowden, said: "What Christian Ward has done is outrageous. Maybe Christian Ward should be put in the stocks in Dulverton and pilloried, and a large supply of rotten eggs and tomatoes gathered together. In fact, because the poem is about deer on Exmoor, he really should be tried and punished as if he was a deer poacher which, in ancient times, carried a very severe penalty indeed."
At the time of writing Mr Ward had yet to respond to requests for comments.
His website declares him to be a "32-year-old London born poet" with a creative writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London.
And the website also still lists his Hope Bourne Award as being one of a clutch of achievements – although the judges of that award are now said to be analysing Mr Ward's previous winning poems with much interest.