Remembrance Day Poem ‘ripped off’ history book

Sir Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate, has been accused of ripping off work by a military historian for a Remembrance Sunday poem.

Ben Shephard said Motion’s poem An Equal Voice had used 17 passages from his book A War of Nerves, which documented the effects of shell shock on soldiers.

Mr. Motion, who said his poem “stitched together” accounts from “a variety of sources”, dismissed Mr. Shephard’s claim of plagiarism by saying he was working in a long tradition of “found poetry” that dated back to Shakespeare.

Mr. Shephard, who produced the acclaimed television series The World at War, told The Times that “the ‘voices from a variety of sources’ were not ‘found’ by Motion, but by myself.”

He continued: “Of the 152 lines in An Equal Voice, all but 16 are taken directly from A War of Nerves. There is a word for this. It begins with ‘p’ and it isn’t poetry.”

“The entire first stanza,” Mr. Shephard said to illustrate his point “is taken almost unaltered from a letter written by the American psychiatrist Thomas W. Salmon in 1917”.

But Mr. Motion responded by ridiculing the plagiarism claim as “ridiculous”.

He said: “He has got completely the wrong end of the stick. To blow off about it like he has done completely misunderstands what found poetry is. It has a long pedigree, which he seems not to be aware of.”

He cited Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra, which he said borrowed extensively from Life of Mark Anthony by Sir Thomas North.

He also explicitly stated in his introduction to the poem, which was printed in The Guardian on Saturday, that he had used lines from Mr. Shephard’s book.

He concluded: “I have done absolutely nothing that is underhand.”

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