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Words for the Taking: The Hunt for a Plagiarist Paperback – August 15, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0809327867 ISBN-10: 0809327864 Edition: reissue
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Words for the Taking author Neal Bowers takes the reader on an unusual hunt for a literary stalker. A poet and teacher by profession, Bowers became a detective out of necessity when he discovered one of his poems had been plagiarized and repeatedly published by someone calling himself David Sumner. Later, he learned Sumner had stolen more of his work and the poems of other writers as well. Here he describes his almost surreal search for the plagiarist and its surprising aftermath.

For Neal Bowers, David Sumner--a.k.a. David Jones--became an almost mythic adversary, and Bowers's quest for justice a kind of heroic quest. The character of the plagiarist is at the heart of this story: who was "David Sumner" and why did he steal another man's words? The answers to these questions prove as troubling as they are startling. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In 1991 Bowers, an obscure poet, discovers that someone is stealing his work from the pages of Poetry magazine and republishing it in smaller journals across the country. Terrified that posterity will confuse him with the thief, he writes letters to dozens of poetry journal editors, retains a lawyer, even hires a private eye. After a long search, the detective identifies the plagiarist, an ex-con and one-time school teacher from Oregon, who strikes up a correspondence with the poet, even writes a letter to Bowers's wife. Bowers finds himself lifted out of obscurity, when the New York Times reprints his American Scholar essay on the ordeal. By the finale of this book he's famous?because of a plagiarist he never met and a few stolen poems that few will likely ever read. Imagine Pale Fire as written by Kinbote, or The Trial written by K., and you'll have a sense of Bowers's weakness as a narrator: he's too aggrieved to see his story's irony. And he never explains why he is bitter at what others consider a kooky kind of flattery. Bowers's tendency to cast himself as the guardian of the Text seems misguided. In the end it's the sheer bathos of the narrator's obsession?not his (quite competent) poems or (less competent) reflections on the state of American scholarship?that lends the book its chief interest and charm.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press; reissue edition (August 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809327864
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809327867
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,609,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David Bainbridge c/o News-Sun on October 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I was fascinated by this book, especially since I worked with Bowers in his quest to catch up with his plagiarist, a quest detailed by this book. Although the editor before me published the poem, I was the editor of a small poetry magazine which had printed a plagiarized version of one of Bowers' poems. Both in our brief correspondence and in this book, Bowers' impressed me as a brave soul. Plagiarists, on the other hand, are not the pranksters they imagine themselves to be; they are the cowards of the literary world. "Words for the Taking" is a tale of courage, both in the story it tells of the tracking of a criminal, and in the example it sets of one man believing in his writing. There are many lazy, slack-off writers out there. "Words for the Taking" shows us more than any writing course could that putting effort into and believing in your writing is one of the bravest acts possible.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Neal Bowers made an interesting discovery one day - one of his poems was published under someone else's name.
With this minor irritation (one never gets rich from poetry, one's own or others), Bowers began the trek down a bizarre path to try to find out who was plagiarising his work, and why. Bowers discovered a man going by the name of David Sumner, aka David Jones, who had a habit of copying the poetry from others (not only Bowers), changing the title and a first line or two, and submitting these to poetry journals, magazines and other media outlets as his own. Exactly why was unclear - any pieces of note would undoubtedly be discovered, and few publishing successes came with any kind of monetary compensation attached.
Bowers never intended to become a detective, but the trail just kept on going. Bowers actually made contact with the person, threatened legal action, abandoned because, after all, there was no money in it beyond Sumner/Jones sent to Bowers (some $600 or so that he managed to make from the poems), copies of journals from which he'd lifted poems, a marked book that showed his submission patterns - each step of the way, Sumner/Jones claimed to be operating in good faith, but there was inevitably more to be found.
What was going on?
The more Bowers dug, the more surreal the situation became. Sumner/Jones had been a teacher in Illinois and Oregon, dismissed under terrible circumstances (molestation of children from his second-grade classrooms), jailed for the actions, and strangely, focussed his plagiarism on poetry that dealt with family issues and loss. Bowers was not the only poet plagiarised - as it turned out, Sumner/Jones was successful enough to have many publishing successes, and even had poetry readings arranged.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Joe Haldeman on February 18, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating and scary book.
WORDS FOR THE TAKING is by the poet Neal Bowers, who stumbled on one of his poems that appeared under another writer's name. After some detective work, he found out that the plagiarist, David Sumner/David Jones, had ripped off several other of his poems, and had also stolen from poets as well known as Mark Strand and Sharon Olds. Further investigation located the man, and it turned out he was also guilty of child molestation -- a second-grade teacher who was convicted of molesting 7-year-old girls left in his care.
I wonder if you have to be a writer yourself, to understand how violated the author felt. (And how terrifying it must have been to find out how completely bereft of morals the violator turned out to be).
The first instance Bowers found was "Tenth -Year Elegy," a very personal remembrance of his father. Most of the other poems stolen were about family relations, which in context is sinister.
(One must quote, for fun, the response that he got from the editor of _Poetry Forum_, with an unlikely name, Gunvor Skogsholm, the burden of which seems to have driven him to reinvent the history of poetry in his own eloquent terms: "It's my strongly felt opinion that a good poet by nature ought to possess humbleness and that he or she ought not to think to [sic] highly of him- or herself. Throughout history, those have always been the personal traits associated with a POET. If you have read any of the literary histories associated with the great names in the art of poetry, you will know this is so.")
It's a very well written book on a fascinating subject. Bowers understands that merely ordinary people might see his concern and the steps he was driven to as being excessive, and I think in that light, both he and the publisher, W.W. Norton, are to be commended for keeping a proper perspective.
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