Poet Christian Ward, exposed as a plagiarist after his prizewinning work for the Exmoor Society was found to be an almost word-for-word copy of another writer's work, has confessed in an extraordinary statement sent to the Western Morning News.
London-based Mr Ward, 32, was awarded the Hope Bourne poetry prize for his work The Deer at Exmoor. But after his efforts were published in the Exmoor Review, striking similarities to Helen Mort's poem, The Deer, written when she was poet-in-residence at Wordsworth's Dove Cottage in Cumbria in 2010, became obvious.
Only a handful of words, including replacing "father" for "mother" in the first line, "river Exe" for "Ullapool" further on and changing the reference to a kingfisher south of Rannoch Moor to a peregrine falcon on Bossington Beach, were changed.
Exmoor Society chairman Rachel Thomas told the WMN, when the similarities came to light, that they were "making further enquiries". Richard Westcott, editor of the society's quarterly review, said the organisers of the competition felt betrayed.
After the story broke, Ms Mort described her feelings online. She wrote: "I'm just bemused and angry. I'd be really interested to talk to whoever is responsible for the plagiarism, Christian Ward or otherwise, and find out what on earth the motivation was.
"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. I definitely have a few things to say to the plagiarist, though I doubt I'll get the opportunity to do so."
It remains unclear how the Exmoor Society plans to deal with the issue and whether or not they intend to award the Hope Bourne prize to another poet. Mr Ward's online poetry archive appeared to have been cleared yesterday. Visitors were told "no posts found".
Statement from Christian Ward:
I read with interest the article printed in the Western Morning News on Saturday 5th January concerning allegations of plagiarism in the Exmoor Society’s Hope Bourne competition. I would like to offer my side of the story and clear things up.
On 21st December 2012, the Exmoor Society sent me a letter informing me that my poem The Deer at Exmoor [which won the 2011 Hope Bourne Prize] was “remarkably similar” to Helen Mort’s The Deer. It was before Christmas so I was unable to respond straight away.
I expected this to be a straightforward matter to be resolved internally by the society and was not expecting an article to even be written. Some of the quotes took me by surprise. I was disgusted, in particular, by James Crowden’s comment that I be put in the stocks and suffer something even worse.
On to my side: I was working on a poem about my childhood experiences in Exmoor and was careless. I 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.
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.
Furthermore, I have begun to examine my 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. Already I have discovered a 2009 poem called The Neighbour is 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.