December 7, 2018

A Pushcart Prize nominated poet is suspected of plagiarism


Following mounting allegations of plagiarism that surfaced on Twitter this past weekend, Pushcart Prize-nominated poet Ailey O’Toole‘s forthcoming book has been cancelled, and many of the publications that previously published her work have removed the poems from their site. For the Guardian, Alison Flood reports that O’Toole’s poem, “Gun Metal” came under fire when fellow poet Rachel McKibbens tweeted that several parts of the poem read suspiciously similar to one of her own poems.

Photo via Álvaro Serrano/Unsplash

McKibbens was even contacted by O’Toole, following her prize nomination and notified by the poet of her ‘paraphrasing’ of McKibbens’s work.  “McKibbens said she was contacted by O’Toole that day to inform her that she had ‘paraphrased a stanza’ from three strikes,” writes Flood, “and that, ‘over time, the origin of the stanza slipped my mind … I hope you can understand it was not my intention to pass your work off as my own and I am deeply ashamed of this mistake.'”

For Jezebel, Emily Alford juxtaposes the two poems:

McKibbens’s poetry collection, blud, is an autobiographical look at the poet’s life and uses vivid imagery to recount a painful childhood. O’Toole lifted one of those images, that of spitting teeth into the sink, in her own poem without crediting McKibbens.

McKibbens’s lines read: “Hell-spangled girl / spitting teeth into the sink, / I’d trace the broken / landscape of my body / & find God / within myself.”

Here is O’Toole’s version: “Ramshackle / girl spitting teeth / in the sink. I trace the / foreign topography of / my body, find God / in my skin.”

According to Flood and other sources, McKibbens isn’t the only emerging poet whose work has been found in O’Toole’s own poems. “After McKibbens spoke out,” writes Flood, “other poets came forward with examples of their work appearing in O’Toole’s verse. Wanda Deglane alleged that O’Toole had ‘borrowed‘ lines from some of her poetry after Deglane had shown her one of her manuscripts, while Christina Stoddard, Brenna Twohy and Hieu Minh Nguyen all identified appropriated lines, including one in Twohy’s poem January that appears in “Gun Metal”: “Look into my mouth. this endless angry thing. you have no idea how much I can consume.”

Flood spoke to the president of the Pushcart prizes, Bill Henderson, who said: “We will of course not reprint any poem that is plagiarised. We receive over 8,000 nominations a year and are very careful to check each of our 70-plus winners before going to press in May. This will be our practice in this alleged case … For 43 years, the Pushcart prize has been plagiarism-free, and a wonderful recognition for all our poets and the small presses that publish them.”




Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.