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C J Allen withdraws from Forward Prize
23.09.13 | Benedicte Page
Poet C J Allen has withdrawn from the Forward Prize shortlist after admitting to plagiarism in some of his earlier work.
His poem "Explaining the Plot of Blade Runner to My Mother Who Has Alzheimer's" had been shortlisted in the Best Single Poem category.
Allen told the Forward Arts Foundation: "I accept that I did plagiarise certain poems (although it was genuinely not my intention to deceive), and . . . I am withdrawing from the competition because of the intolerable strain of the recent, negative publicity surrounding this. However I continue to maintain that the poem submitted to the Forward Prizes is original."
On a blog post on the Carcanet website, poet Matthew Welton said that poems included in Allen's At the Oblivion Tea Rooms, published by Birmingham poetry publisher Nine Arches, were "versions of my own poems with a few changes made". Nine Arches withdrew Allen's book from print shortly after a complaint was made, Welton added.
Susannah Herbert, director of the Forward Arts Foundation, told The Bookseller that the Forward Prize judges had been divided over Allen's withdrawal, with Jeanette Winterson in favour of keeping him on the shortlist but others feeling differently. She said: "The situation is not ideal but I'm keen that the conversation about poetry becomes more intelligent and more diverse. To have a really good talk about what plagiarism is and what it means strikes me as as not a bad thing. There's a poem by George Herbert that is very similar to one by Philip Sidney – it's not such a new thing but one hadn't the internet then.
"The poem entered for the Forward Prizes is clean. It's a vexed question – if you plagiarise a earlier poem, are you always then a plagiarist, can you never be trusted? Should we judge the poet or the poem?"
Herbert added that the first printing of annual anthology The Forward Book of Poetry would include C J Allen's shortlisted poem. "Until we sell out that printing he remains, so it's a bit of a collector's edition," she said.
The £1,000 award for Best Single Poem will now be contested by the remaining shortlisted candidates: Patience Agbabi, Nick Mackinnon, Rosie Sheppard and Hugo Williams. The winner will be announced on 1st October, alongside the winners of the Best Collection (£10,000) and Best First Collection (£5,000) prizes.