I’m guilty—because I quoted Wendy Cope.
I’d wanted something apropos and light—
Now suddenly I'm feeling like a dope.
I thought a credit was sufficient—nope;
I hadn’t asked permission. Now I hope
I haven't trampled on her copyright!
I’m guilty—because I quoted Wendy Cope.
(I’d wanted something apropos and light.)
I was of two minds after reading this article in the Guardian ("You like my poems? Pay for them") by Wendy Cope--on the one hand, I can completely understand her annoyance at people quoting her poems without permission. She is one of those rarest of rare birds, a best-selling poet who makes a living off her verses. Once out there on the internet, poems become easily Googleable, and thus accessible for free. Short poems, as she notes, are particular susceptible to this kind of copying, and short funny poems are even more of a temptation. It's the kind of thing you want to share with people, which you can do now at the click of a button. And Wendy Cope is so damned quotable!
Then of course I felt bad because I realized--oops!--I was one of the perps in question. Hadn't I used her squib on A.E. Housman as the lead-off of my Housman post? In the recent Sonnetude post I had gone to some effort to track down those poets and seek their permission (only Natasha Tretheway never replied), but for some reason I had not bothered to do that with Wendy Cope. Hmmm. Why? Had I felt she had already passed into some kind of public domain of popularity? That she would be hard to track down? That the poem was already all over the internet? That she wouldn't mind? That she wouldn't notice? I hope that my poor-Wendy-Cope-imitation triolet will serve as an apology.
But... I also disagreed with some of the logic behind the article. I am sure she is legally correct. But at the same time an internet chat board or blog or list serv is not an anthology out to make money. It is a conversation. Is not dialogue impoverished without recourse to quotation? Without being well-versed? Does not such quotation, when properly credited as to its source, constitute fair use? (though I imagine that is a legal concept that varies from country to country...) Imagine what it would do to poetry dialogue on the web if we hesitated to use real life examples.
I suppose I am one of those poets she mentions who does not mind having poems passed around in the aether. But then I don't make a living off them. My theory has always been that people are more likely to buy a book the more good samples they have from it--to have it in that sensible and sensual form. The result of my enthusiastically sharing Wendy Cope poems with friends has been that they have gone out and bought her books. (Hmmm. Should I get a commission?)
I guess I would agree with Frost that the ambition is to "lodge some poems where they are not easily got rid of"--and the internet is one such place (in more ways than one--are poets now destined to be haunted by hastily-posted juvenilia?) Yet Is it not some kind of ultimate success to pass into quotation? To enter the language?
One part that I had more trouble sympathizing with was her complaint that poets should not read the work of other poets aloud at readings without permission. Is it not rather a generous act to share the work of other poets with a wider audience? To win readers and fans for them? Is it not in fact something there is far too little of, rather than too much?
The internet is changing the audiences relationship to poetry. As poetry is not by and large a money-making operation, the problem has always been access and distribution. That is no longer an obstacle. We are in fact returning to a future that looks a lot like the distant past--publishing without publishers. Different poets are reacting to this in different ways (see Bill Knott's blog), even as the music business is trying to find a way to deal with the same problem. Is it an opportunity or a loss of control? Maybe both.
In the article, Wendy Cope's partner jokes that on her tombstone she should have: "Wendy Cope. All Rights Reserved."
It made me think of another epitaph--one by the Roman poet Ennius, which goes something like, "Let no one weep for me at my funeral. Why? Alive I flit through the mouths of men."
A. E. (Alicia) Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia and has lived since 1999 in Athens, Greece. She has published three books of poetry, Archaic Smile (1999), which won the Richard Wilbur Award; Hapax (2000); and Olives (2012). Her new verse translation of Lucretius (in rhyming fourteeners!), The Nature of Things,...