Apologetic poet Christian Ward fails to return prize cash
The poet who won an Exmoor literary prize with a work that was almost entirely written by someone else has now written to the competition's organisers to "apologise deeply" – but has so far failed to pay back the prize money.
Rachel Thomas, chairman of the Exmoor Society, which runs the annual Hope Bourne poetry competition, has told the Western Morning News: "We have only just heard back from Christian Ward after we wrote to him in December asking for clarification – and in his letter he apologises deeply, saying he hadn't meant to send us what he says was a draft.
"We've only received his letter yesterday (Tuesday) and I've just had the contents read to me – but he says it was a mistake on his part and he also encloses a letter which he'd like us to send on to Helen Mort."
As the WMN revealed a week ago, the competition's winning poem, The Deer, had actually been penned by Ms Mort back in 2010.
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The version submitted by Mr Ward was almost entirely identical save for a couple of place names and one gender change.
WMN readers and many poets across the region have been asking if the Exmoor Society has demanded a return of its prize money and also if a new winner will be chosen.
"The £50 prize money has not been paid back – and we need to follow Mr Ward's communication with a letter asking what he intends to do about it," said Mrs Thomas. "As you can understand, we have to be very careful how we handle all of this legally and the whole issue must be taken to our full executive before we decide what further steps to take."
The Exmoor Society undoubtedly feels the need to be cautious in such matters – which is more than can be said of the internet, where talk of Mr Ward's transgression has gone global after the WMN first broke the story. Many websites and blogs have used extreme language when discussing the subject of plagiarism – one American site called The Snarkist even proclaims a desire for physical violence against those who "steal" poetry.
But most damning of all from 32-year-old Christian Ward's perspective is not only the fact that he admitted to the WMN that he may have "unwittingly" plagiarised in one case before – but that now a third transgression has come to light.
It has now been established that a work by American poet Paisley Rekdal called "Bats" was "appropriated" by Mr Ward.
Having learned of the case, the American has said she feels "a heady mix of anger, resentment, amusement and bewilderment, even a touch of embarrassment as well".
"You took my poem. You took all its language, changed only the tense, and added ten words," Ms Rekdal said in an open letter to Mr Ward. "Ten words, out of a poem containing 125. And then you muddied the line breaks, and you put your name on it, and you published it as your own."