Christian Ward's poem 'The Deer at Exmoor' found to be almost identical to poem by Helen Mort
The poet Christian Ward has said that he had "no intention of deliberately plagiarising" the work of another writer after it was discovered that his prize-winning entry to a poetry competition was lifted "almost word-for-word" from a poem by Helen Mort.
Ward's poem "The Deer at Exmoor" won the Exmoor Society's Hope Bourne poetry prize, but organisers later discovered that it was virtually identical to an earlier work by Mort, "Deer". The similarities were revealed by the Western Morning News last week, with Ward said by the paper to have replaced "only a handful of words", switching "father" for "mother" in the first line, the "river Exe" for Ullapool and transforming Mort's description of "the kingfisher / that darned the river south of Rannoch Moor" to a peregrine falcon on Bossington Beach.
On learning of the similarities, Mort – whose collection Division Street will be published later this year by Chatto & Windus – wrote on Twitter: "Thanks for the backhanded compliment, Mr Ward, but I think you'll find thieving poetry is bad karma. At the very least." She later wrote on a blog about the issue: "Contrary to a few suggestions I've seen online in comments that I should be 'flattered' by this somehow, I'm just bemused and angry … This poem was quite a personal one and the idea that someone would deliberately copy it for a competition is something I find really upsetting", adding "I'd also like to tell the plagiarising poet that 'at the River Exe' and the peregrine falcon line don't scan properly within the rhythm of the stanza, in my humble opinion …!"
Ward has now issued a statement to the Western Morning News about the "allegations of plagiarism" in the competition. He said he was "working on a poem about my childhood experiences in Exmoor and was careless", and that he "used Helen Mort's poem as a model for my own but rushed and ended up submitting a draft that wasn't entirely my own work".
"I had no intention of deliberately plagiarising her work. That is the truth," wrote Ward in his statement. "I am sorry this has happened and am making amends. This incident is all my fault and I fully accept the consequences of my actions. I apologise to the Exmoor Society, Helen Mort, the poetry community and to the readers of the WMN."
The poet, who described himself as a 31-year-old London poet in a (currently deleted) Write Out Loud profile, said he was now examining his published poems "to make sure there are no similar mistakes".
"I want to be as honest as I can with the poetry community and I know it will take some time to regain their trust," he wrote. "Already I have discovered a 2009 poem called The Neighbouris very similar to Tim Dooley's After Neruda and admit that a mistake has been made. I am still digging and want a fresh start. I am deeply sorry and look forward to regaining your trust in me."