I am indebted to Simon Berry who emailed me on the topic of plagiarism and borrowing material to reuse and re-mix. Simon asks: ‘As old writers (who by definition must have read and absorbed more) are we more prone to this?’ He calls these unconscious usages ‘burrowings’. In the introduction to his poetry collection A Mask for Grieving he writes:
‘There is also the other p-word that hangs over anyone involved in writing or composing: accusations of plagiarism. My view is that originality is greatly overrated and the chance of unconsciously using a phrase or a line already out there is a very real risk that must be faced by anyone finding a creative voice. In music it used to be seen as a compliment by one composer to another (nowadays much film music, composed by subtle adaptation of existing scores, is hailed as original).
However, I go further and acknowledge that in some cases I have ‘burrowed’ a phrase or may have created a line in my own work from a mix of ‘originals’. Burrowing is where a fragment of a poem enters the subconscious (usually without any effort at memorisation) and then pops out again when the creative mind is at work.’