Sunday, July 29, 2007

An odd predicament

A week ago, I was reading the miniscule book review section of The Chronicle and there was a review of a poetry book by Ellen Bass. There are so few reviews of poetry in the local paper, that I usually feel obligated to read them, at least cursorarily. I didn't have much time, as the poetry group was coming and I had much cleaning to do. But though I read the review quickly, my eyes zeroed in on two lines -- quoted not from Bass, but from Mary Oliver: "There is only one question:// how to love this world."

Actually, the review misquoted it as "the" world, but I googled it and found it was from a poem called "Spring". I don't recall ever seeing this poem. It's not, to my mind, very earthshaking, though it's a good enough poem. The thing is, these are exactly two lines that appear in a poem of mine: "Copernican Revolution." Though that poem has gone through many overhauls including the recent addition of a stanza, the original poem, which very much centers around those lines, was from the late eighties. The Oliver poem -- at least the book it was published in -- is from 1992. My poem is unpublished -- though it's in my well-circulated manuscript. I sure don't think Mary Oliver copied those lines from me -- but neither do I remember ever reading that poem or that book or even much Mary Oliver.

So has this ever happened to you? What would you do? Should I remove the poem from my manuscript? Here's the last stanza of "Copernican Revolution":

There’s only one question:
how to love this world, how to find
the will to serve it—
each morning, the new baby skin of light.


Christopher Hennessy said...

I say keep it. You're being completely ethical and upfront about it, which shows you want to do what's right. But it's not that unique of a line that Oliver and only Oliver could have come up with it. Of course, because it's not that unique, perhaps that makes for a good opportunity to tweak the line a bit. Just a thought.

Great question, by the way.

Radish King said...

Keep it. It's yours. Mozart wrote some phrases that were exactly the same phrases that Bach wrote before that music of Bach's was even discovered.

Besides. She may have glimpsed you writing in a cafe somewhere and stole it from you.

Diane K. Martin said...

Thanks, Christopher and Rebecca for your input on this. I guess it's a moot point until/if someone wants to publish the book, at which time I will tell the publisher about the problem They might or might not care.

greg rappleye said...

Keep it; without question or second thought.

You wrote it and it is yours.

A great line, too!