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Tome On The Range

David R. Morgan: Addicted To Plagiarism
Bobby Parker , June 16th, 2013 13:38

Bobby Parker speaks to David Morgan - perhaps the most prolific poetry plagiarist of all time - about his work (and "his work"), looking to understand but left feeling a little like the hapless Clarice Starling

‘I’m a big fan of Joe Orton, the playwright. Have you heard of him?’ David Morgan sounded relaxed. Not what I expected considering the flurry of borderline psychotic messages he had sent me since his plagiarism had been exposed. In these messages he apologised profusely. In fact, David Morgan said Sorry so much that it was beginning to irritate me. It struck me as childish repetition, and eventually lost all value. He had told me, via online messages, that he couldn’t stop being sick. He couldn’t sleep. I told David I would help him try to make amends. I was genuinely concerned, worried that he might do something stupid. He recently reviewed one of my books, and always had kind things to say about my work. Though I must admit, his gushing enthusiasm for my own poetry came across as slightly unhinged - David Morgan is definitely somebody I would never give my address to.

However, I felt I owed it to him, and the poetry community at large, to see if I could help, and in doing so perhaps sort some of this mess out. I convinced him to immediately contact poets, editors and magazines, admit to what he had done and to pay back any money that he had wrongfully accepted (such as the £200 Firebird Poetry Prize he received when he came third place in 2012).

‘Thank you, Bobby.’ he said. ‘You are amazing, I am so grateful for your help,’ David repeated these words a lot too – in fact, I struggled to associate David’s obsessive messages to this voice on the phone, the voice of a relatively successful writer (he makes a living) who has taught, and continues to teach, in schools, prisons and hospitals, and has even written for television. It is the voice of someone in a position of authority, but the messages he sent me read like fragments from the tear-smudged diary of a confused teenager. I started to wonder whether he was having me on...

‘Wasn’t Joe Orton murdered by his lover?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he sighed. ‘His boyfriend bashed his brains out with a hammer, then took an overdose and killed himself.’ I grabbed some paper and a pen and drew a big black question mark. Throughout the hour-long phone conversation I unconsciously went over that question mark until the nib tore through the paper, scarring my windowsill. ‘I can relate to Joe Orton,’ David said, his soft voice reminding me of a doctor, or a priest. Calm, sensitive, in control. ‘He was a prankster...’

*

I first heard David Morgan was being accused of plagiarism when I logged in to Facebook one morning a few weeks ago. Within the hour most of the poets on my newsfeed were discussing it. By the end of the day some people were talking about him as if he had broken into people’s homes and strangled their kittens.

David was in touch right away, and after messaging each other back and forth for the first couple of days, I asked if he would let me interview him. He agreed, but said he was fragile and stressed. So I emailed him five questions the first day, and when I received his reply, I sent the rest.

Though I was tempted to edit David’s answers, I have left them as they are. It seems important to leave them as they are. He told me he suffers from Dyslexia, and didn’t learn how to read until he was seven years old.

Are there any publications out there that are 100% yours?

David Morgan: My children’s books are all mine, BLOOMING CATS, BOUDICCA, INFO RIDER, and Fairfield work: THE WINDMILL & THE GRAINS (based on my two years work on the Long Stay Men’s Ward and Locked Women’s Ward at Fairfield Psychiatric Hospital.) As well as the report and work from my time as Writer In Residence at Littlehey Prison. It is only the adult poetry that has the virus in it, though to a considerably lesser extent until the trauma of the last few years.

Are you going to contact editors of magazines and publishers to let them know, and to apologise? As this is going to affect them and potentially their reputation. I think this would be a good idea. If so, how are you going to do it and where will you start?

DM: I have already started and am contacting by email and/or post. Though an apology might be like blowing out the candles on the birthday cake as the house is burning.

You briefly had a book out with Knives Forks and Spoons. Alec Newman said, and I quote, ‘David Morgan caused me to have a nervous breakdown, and I ended up in psychiatric care … 3 months of sustained harassment against my volunteers, my family and myself, concluding with the publication of the threateningly titled ‘Newman in a Box’.’

DM: I had no idea Alex felt like this and I am so, so sorry. The emailing was simply part of my anxiety and I really, really apologise for this. I never emailed Alex’s family as far as I know. If I did, then I am Very sorry indeed. It must have seemed like cyber stalking. I never meant it to be. The Newman in a box NEW MAN NEWMAN was a reference to Cardinal Newman School where I was teaching at the time and had decided to leave to start afresh after 21 years. Hence New Man Newman. It had no reference to Alex at all, it never even occurred to me ( though perhaps it should have !) and I feel mortified that he felt it did. Oh god, I am the least threatening person, simply a bloody fool ! Sorry, sorry, sorry.

In the past you have posted a lot of “your work” online, in Facebook groups, submitting to magazines, sending a lot of emails to editors who feel you are “bombarding them”, sometimes without even an introductory letter of submission. Do you think this is appropriate? Do you think that people find your actions over the top and obsessive?

DM: I think again, this is part of my obsessive anxiety and addictive personality. It will never happen again. It is never appropriate and shows a complete lack of professionalism and invasion of private space. Enormously at variance with acceptable behaviour. My insecurities make me worried when I don’t hear from people and then I get trapped in a cycle of apprehension where not hearing takes on a profound meaning which I seek to address by not waiting, but emailing over again. Fruit loop. As unnatural as a carrot in a pancake. I am totally to blame for this.

How long have you been plagiarising? Were your film scripts plagiarised?

DM: For some time, but it comes in cycles, during profound stress. As said, the past few years have been so awful, with marriage breakdown, house loss and splitting up of my children; ultimately a breakdown. However, I did not plagiarise my film scripts: WHERE’S MELISSA ? / BIRTHDAZE. They were written in the ‘80’s with the Anglian TV producers remit and structured and work shopped with the actors concerned. WHERE’S MELISSA ? was screened, but BIRTHDAZE was filmed but postponed ( then never shown) due to scheduling. My children’s books also are my own, although I did have editorial help and guidance.

I was given a question to ask you, and feel it is a valid one. Here it is: ‘I guess most would like to know about how he alters and adds? In some cases, he’s amalgamated two or three poems from different sources ... And what did he feel like to get £200 for the Firebird comp?’ I suppose people want to know about the process. Despite how they feel towards plagiarism, we are all just as fascinated by the process, and the thinking behind it. Do you consider there to be a craft involved, even if it’s just scissors and glue, if you know what I mean.

DM: It’s like a shopping trip where you come home with all your energy- expended bags only to find the most important bag is missing. That bag is truth. I am never clear in my mind when doing this, then I guess I have an idea and a theme and try to work it out. Then work suggests different directions and I jigsaw rapidly in quite a frenzied thought process. It’s like sowing bits of valuable material together to make a coat that fits me, but borrowed from the coats of others. The £200 felt the same as publication ; a buzz followed by doubt and self-loathing. It certainly didn’t make me happy. But then none of this has. It’s a skin that doesn’t fit, that constricts and ultimately suffocates.. “If snakes can shed their skins,” mused Dali once, “why can’t rainbows shed theirs ?” This is a skin that has stuck to me too long. I am really trying to shed it.

Could you please tell me what you think of the poetry community in general, especially the British poetry community? Do you like it, do you hate it, what good and bad experiences have you had, and do you think these experiences contributed to your actions?

DM: I think that the British Poetry Community is vibrant and brilliantly inventive. I do like it and the people in it. I have had good, supportive experiences and harsh responses. A complete mixture, as varied as the personalities of the people involved, blowing kisses and sharpening claws. The creativity dazzles and makes meaning from the chaos of our existence. I have always felt this chaos pressing in on me; thumping and thumping like the heart’s dark dynamo. My actions come from within me and have no political purpose or social comment on the current poetry scene. The only person I am rebelling again is me.

*

When David called me I wasn’t prepared. I was halfway through writing a list of things to ask him. It was not an awkward conversation, and I made him feel at ease right away by telling him that I understand addiction. I understand anxiety, and stress, and depression. But still, there is no excuse for what he has done. I certainly don’t think mental health problems should be regarded as an excuse.

I asked him about his life and although he told me quite a lot, he didn’t go into detail, just bits and pieces. Raised by elderly parents, his mother was forty-four when she gave birth to him. He was a lonely child and spent a lot of time living in his own head, his own fantasy world. He went to Leicester University. His first publication was a science fiction story when he was fourteen.

His plagiarising began in his late twenties. He is now fifty-eight. ‘So that makes you perhaps the most prolific poetry plagiarist on record,’ I said. I found myself saying that a lot. As if it meant something. ‘Yes... I suppose so,’ he said, dragging out his voice like pulling a damp sleeping bag from a faulty tent. I jokingly told my wife that I sometimes felt like Jodie Foster in ‘The Silence of The Lambs’ interviewing Hannibal Lector. Being toyed with. Obviously this is a massive exaggeration, but there was some truth to it: I did feel like he was toying with me. I also felt sorry for him.

When David told me how much money he made from his children’s books I was shocked. It was a lot of money, five figure advances. Since he had already admitted to being a fantasist, living in his own imagination, drinking heavily and lying for so many years, I had already decided that pretty much everything he told me was probably bullshit. But he was convincing.

I genuinely thought, This guy is not a villain. I even told people on Facebook that I didn’t think he was a villain. How would you feel if it was one of your poems he had stolen? someone asked me on Facebook. I wanted to say I wouldn’t give a flying fuck. But I didn’t. I kept my opinion close to my chest, where it dissolved, leaving me with an odd feeling that David Morgan was lying to me but he was also telling the truth, that he wasn’t a bad person but he did do bad things. I asked him if he was lying to me and he said NO. I asked him what he was going to do now and he said give up writing for a while, get his head together, sort his life out.

He said he would call me again, after I had spoken with Alison Flood from The Guardian. He didn’t call. I asked again and he promised he would call. He didn’t.

I’m looking at my phone right now, waiting for it to light up so I can ask him a few more things. So I can offer evidence that he has been lying to me about a lot of things, but what’s the point. The damage is done.

David R. Morgan has rightfully been stripped of his identity as a writer, now all he has left is his family. I think he should be left alone to be a father, a grandfather, a man whose deceitful crutch has been kicked from under him by those of us who consider his actions unacceptable. I don’t think he will stop writing and appropriating others’ work as his own. I don’t think he can. In the same way I cannot be 100% sure I will never again do the things I have given up in favour of a more positive path.

David might pop up somewhere, under another name, using other people’s work, as he has done for almost thirty years. And if this makes poets and editors anxious, good. It should make them anxious. Look how easy it is! Look at how long he got away with it! I’m sure you’ve heard rumours of ‘the bigger fish’, poets and editors in high places yet to be exposed, safe in their towers of prestige. And if you haven’t heard of these bigger fish, you will. I hope you will. Poetry is as rotten as anything else, it’s just that the bullshit comes disguised as art, and for those of us who believe art is sacred, the stink often goes undetected.

Afterword

I was still hoping to speak with David one last time before I finished this piece. He promised to call me on Saturday. He didn’t, of course.

Sunday evening I received a message with another excuse for why he could not call me. Fair enough, I thought. I already said I don’t think there’s much more to add to all this. But his message was interesting and unusual enough to justify a few more words. His messages to me up to that point always ended with a kiss or two. But now the kisses had been replaced with question marks.

He apologised again, made promises again, and he thanked me again. Then he signed off:

Bless you. I will be in contact soon...

David ??

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