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Words for the Taking: The Hunt for a Plagiarist

1 rating: 4.0
A book by Professor Neal Bowers PhD

InWords for the Takingauthor Neal Bowers takes the reader on an unusual hunt for a literary stalker. A poet and teacher by profession, Bowers became a detective out of necessity when he discovered one of his poems had been plagiarized and repeatedly … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: Professor Neal Bowers PhD
Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
1 review about Words for the Taking: The Hunt for a Plagiarist

Wow. A fascinating read!

  • Jul 21, 2010
Neal Bowers is a poet. He's also a professor of English at Iowa State. And he's been plagiarized.

I loved Neal Bowers' writing in Words for the Taking. He describes the feelings that pour into poetry, the not-quite-sure-what-it-means but it's mine, the pieces of self that hide between the lines. He even gives an example of one of his poems, except the credited author is someone else. The first lines are changed. The line-breaks aren't quite the same. But on the next page is Neal Bowers' poem, and this isn't just an accidental similarity. The words, almost a page of words, are almost all identical.

As a mathematician I wonder when I read online complaints about plagiarism. Sometimes it's just a sentence, even a six-word sentence, that someone's claiming has been plagiarized. I wonder if the author was taking a challenge - include these words in your story perhaps, or write what this sentence inspires. I try to imagine how the statistics would look, and how easy it would be to find some sentences that look alike.

As a writer I'm sometimes afraid to publish what I've written. What if I've accidentally plagiarized a thought, some distantly remembered reading resurfacing in my mind, masquerading as my own.

But a whole poem?

Neal Bowers' poem was most certainly plagiarized, and he writes how it felt to imagine someone else laying claim to his thoughts, violating his memories, insinuating himself into his secret feelings. Women responded to the news with threats of violence; how they would break the kneecaps of the plagiarist if they found him. Men were more likely to say, well, no one got hurt, and you can always write another poem. I wonder why, as does the author.

Soon the author is following clues, finding more poems, more false identities, all tied to the same thief of words who, it seems, must have lived not so many miles from me. There's the lawyer with dollar signs suddenly waking in his eyes, the private detective, doggedly persistent, refusing to be fobbed off. There's boxes of papers, fake apologies, cheap tricks and cheap checks, until the story, still fact, not fiction, takes its darker turn, and I still can't stop reading.

Words for the Taking is beautifully written, fascinating for a wannabe writer, a reader of poetry, a lover of mysteries, or just a student of human nature. I really enjoyed it.

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