Canadian Poet Laureate Pierre DesRuisseaux was one of his country’s most celebrated scribes, but it appears the late poet went to the grave with a career-shattering secret. According to poetry sleuth Ira Lightman, DesRuisseaux plagiarized the works of Tupac “2Pac” Shakur, Maya Angelou, and several others.
DesRuisseaux’s plagiarism was exposed by way of Lightman’s typical hunt for poetry thieves. As reported by The Guardian, Lightman was tipped off by a user on the Facebook group Plagiarism Alerts who noted the French-speaking poet ripped off the works of Angelou, Shakur, Ted Kooser and dozens more.
The Guardian writes:
Lightman clicked the link. It led to a Canadian government webpage where a poem had been chosen to honour the memory of Pierre DesRuisseaux, Canada’s fourth parliamentary poet laureate, who died in early 2016. The poem, it said, had been translated from DesRuisseaux’s French original. Lightman read the opening lines: “You can wipe me from the pages of history/with your twisted falsehoods/you can drag me through the mud/but like the wind, I rise.” The poem was called I Rise. Next, Lightman looked up the Maya Angelou. “You may write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies/You may trod me in the very dirt/But still, like dust, I’ll rise.” The poem was called Still I Rise.
Meanwhile, what of the Canadian mystery? Could former laureate DesRuisseaux really have blatantly plagiarised all those canonical poets? It seemed too mad to be true. When Lightman got hold of DesRuisseaux’s book Tranches De Vie, he found even more apparent thefts. Two days of sleuthing found 30 out of 47 poems that were heavily based on the work of others. There were two more by Angelou, an Anna Akhmatova, a Federico García Lorca, a Ted Kooser. There was even a Tupac Shakur. When Lightman told me he’d failed to find any problems in other DesRuisseaux books he’d got hold of, I recalled his “golden rule”, that plagiarists never do it only once. It seemed to me that Tranches De Vie must have been an attempt to honour the greats by producing intertextual reinterpretations of their finest moments.
Lightman initially stopped short of calling DesRuisseaux’s writing plagiarism in tone, but couldn’t help uncover the several instances he found. It can be assumed that DesRuisseaux’s writings being mostly in French would skip by English-reading poetry fans, or perhaps they were homages. With DesRuisseaux passing in 2016 and not able to defend himself, the world may never know his true intention.