Poetry News

The Guardian Introduces the Mysterious Poetry Sleuth, Ira Lightman

By Harriet Staff
Ira Lightman

At The Guardian, Will Storr introduces readers to Ira Lightman, a poet and literature afficionado who is on a mission to call out poetry plagiarists. Lightman's practice is, predictably, interconnected with the Internet. Storr: "It was an insult on Facebook that triggered Lightman’s first investigation." From there: 

It was around 8am on a January morning in 2013 when he came across a tense discussion concerning a poet named Christian Ward, who’d had the Exmoor Society’s Hope Bourne prize removed because of his winning entry’s similarities to another poem, Deer by Helen Mort. “There was bucketloads of speculation,” Lightman says. We’re in his lounge, the litter of his creative life scattered about us: a ukulele, an enormous dictionary, posters with verse and his name printed at the bottom. He sits, suited and crane-like, on the sofa. “Everyone was arguing about it: maybe it was an accident, maybe the judges weren’t poetry people and don’t understand intertextuality.” Lightman was erring on the side of cock-up. Only the previous day, he’d come across a poem of his own that he had no memory of writing. Perhaps Ward had found Deer in his files, assumed it was his, given it a polish and submitted it. “I could just about accept that,” he says. “You can be very prolific and amnesiac.” He remembers joining the debate as a “peacemaker”. But then a commenter called Sadie Fisher said something that annoyed him.

While the Mort poem was available online, nobody on the Facebook group had actually seen Ward’s, she pointed out. “Sadie Fisher was saying, ‘You guys are all hacks. A proper journalist would look into it and say, ‘Is this a spoof story? Have they got the facts wrong?’”

Lightman felt piqued. “I’ve always been interested in journalism,” he says. “My grandfather was a subeditor for an Edinburgh paper. So I thought, I’m going to find out.” He phoned Bridgwater library and asked if they had the Exmoor Society quarterly that published the winners. “They said no, but Porlock might, and they’re opening in 10 minutes.” An anxious 10 minutes passed. “I rang Porlock and they said, ‘We’ve got it.’ I said, ‘OK’, heart beating.” As the librarian fetched the journal, Lightman Googled the Mort poem. When she came back to the phone, he asked her to read it out, ready to scribble it down so he could compare them. That turned out to be unnecessary. “It was totally identical, except for about 5%.”

Read more at The Guardian.

Originally Published: September 11th, 2017