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Copycat poet's apology after admitting prize-winning entry was plagiarised

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 14, 2013

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The winner of a prestigious poetry competition is set to be stripped of the title – after he admitted his prize-winning entry was plagiarised.

Christian Ward, 32, won the Hope Bourne poetry prize for his haunting poem, The Deer at Exmoor.

But his fellow competitors noticed it had similarities to an earlier work called The Deer by respected poet Helen Mort, 27.

Ward has now written an open confession, claiming he had been “careless” and had “no intention of deliberately plagiarising her work”.

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He also admitted to a second act of plagiarism in 2009 after re-examining his previously-published works in light of his recent “mistake”.

In a letter to the Western Daily Press’ sister paper, the Western Morning News, which ran a story questioning the validity of his win, he wrote: “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 and the poetry community.”

He added that he had begun to examine other poems he had written and had already come across at least one other that could have been plagiarised.

The Hope Bourne poetry prize is organised by the Exmoor Society in Somerset and the winning entry is published in the quarterly Exmoor Review.

Ward’s poem is identical to Ms Mort’s, which she wrote while she was poet in residence at Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in 2010-11.

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.

Rachel Thomas, Exmoor Society chairman, said 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.

He said: “This has been a deeply unpleasant experience – traumatic on so many different levels.

“I’ve been running this competition for three years – it is a nice little competition designed to use Exmoor as a source for inspiration. My daughter is a poet and, through her good offices, I was able to bring in some London writers of some standing as judges.

“They’ve been mortified by what has happened, as was I. I felt I’d been betrayed and also that I’d dumped the judges in it.

“Helen Mort took the news very well – but you can imagine the range of emotions she felt. It’s a form of theft and it is very personal.”

Ms Mort vented her feelings online after she found out the news.

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.”

It is still unclear how the Exmoor Society plans to deal with the issue and whether they intend to award the Hope Bourne prize to another poet.

London-based Mr Ward’s online poetry archive appeared to have been cleared yesterday. Visitors were told “no posts found”.

The Hope Bourne poetry prize was established by the Exmoor Society in memory of the late author and painter.

It offers three cash prizes for works that must be “original” and “inspired by Exmoor”.

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