Bowers's enthralling manhunt for a pseudonymous poem-thief is a multifaceted investigation into art and originality....


WORDS FOR THE TAKING: The Hunt for a Plagiarist

Bowers's enthralling manhunt for a pseudonymous poem-thief is a multifaceted investigation into art and originality. Although the New York Times, the Times of London, and other media have publicized Bowers's battle with an unknown plagiarist, his own account taps both the personal experience of literary theft and the cultural questions it poses. The hunt begins in January 1992, when a fellow poet notifies Bowers (English/Iowa State Univ.) that one of his poems, with minor alterations, has appeared in the Mankato Poetry Review but is attributed to a ""David Sumner."" Bowers and his wife investigate and eventually discover that poems by Mark Strand, Sharon Olds, Marcia Hurlow, and Robert Gibb are among 57 works printed under Sumner's alias in 46 publications. Sumner has repeatedly used two of Bowers's poems (they have appeared 20 times in 19 different literary magazines). Both poems are deeply intimate, drawn from Bowers's own life, and he is as wounded by their mangled appropriation as he is baffled by his campus colleagues' indifference. The initial inquiry does not turn up much more than embarrassed and often uncooperative editors and the name David Jones, a.k.a. David Sumner, with an address in Oregon. Assisted by a slightly bemused lawyer and a meticulously diligent private detective, Bowers and his wife at first attempt only to stop Jones's submissions and force him to admit guilt, but Jones proves to be a cunningly evasive and ultimately sinister character. Even though Bowers can never pin down Jones or his antisocial motives, he discovers that an alarming but revealing incident of child-molesting ended his nemesis's teaching career. Bowers finishes with a final, creepy twist: Someone with David Sumner's m.o. but calling himself ""Paul G. Schmidt"" has been trying to submit plagiarized short stories to literary magazines. Partly a page-turning detective story, partly a modern defense of poetry, Bowers's brief book does poetic justice to a literary crime.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1997


Page Count: 128

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1996

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