Publisher pulls books after late Canadian poet laureate accused of plagiarism

The publisher of a former poet laureate accused of plagiarizing the works of well known English-language authors says the late Pierre DesRuisseaux's health may have played a role.

Bancroft, Ont., poet uncovered similarities between works of Pierre DesRuisseaux, Maya Angelou

Former Canadian parliamentary poet Pierre DesRuisseaux (centre) has been accused of plagiarizing from poet Maya Angelou (left) and rapper Tupac Shakur (right) (Steve Exum/Getty Images, Parliament of Canada, Mike Segar/Reuters)

The publisher of a former poet laureate accused of plagiarizing the works of well known English-language authors says the late writer's health may have had something to do with uncredited work that appears to be in a book since taken off the shelves.

Pierre DesRuisseaux, who died last year, was the parliamentary poet laureate between 2009 and 2011. Known for his writing about Quebec culture, he won a Governor General's Award for French-language poetry in 1989.

But DesRuisseaux's Tranches de vie, a book of French-language poetry published in 2013, drew the attention of U.K.-based poetry sleuth Ira Lightman.

Lightman went public in The Guardian newspaper over the weekend alleging the book lifted works from various authors — including Maya Angelou, Dylan Thomas and even late rap artist Tupac Shakur.

Montreal-based publisher Éditions du Noroît said Monday that only between 50 and 100 copies of the book were sold and that it has now been removed from shelves.

Pierre Belanger, who runs the publishing house, said the late Quebec writer, poet, journalist, publisher and translator suffered from a degenerative brain disorder in his final years and may have been confused when he submitted work he believed was original.

Lightman said DesRuisseaux's other books don't follow a similar pattern of borrowing from other works. He said doesn't want to besmirch a lifetime of work, but adds an acknowledgment of the uncredited work was necessary.

'Just mind-boggling' says Ontario poet

Kathy Figueroa, a Bancroft, Ont., poet, was the one who tipped off Lightman about potential plagiarism in DesRuisseaux's work.

Bancroft,. Ont., poet and editor Kathy Figueroa said she was incredulous the English translation of DesRuisseaux's poem so closely resembled Maya Angelou's Still I Rise. (Supplied)

Figueroa read an English translation of his poem J'avance on the parliamentary website and noticed a striking resemblance to Maya Angelou's Still I Rise.

"My very first reaction was one of shock. And then I felt incredulous that he would do such a thing," Figueroa told Alan Neal, host of CBC Radio's All in a Day.

"I immediately looked up the Maya Angelou poem on the internet to make sure my hunch or observation was accurate."

Figueroa said she contacted the office of the poet laureate when she first saw the poem on the parliamentary website, and said it has since been taken down.

She also posted her finding on a Facebook page Lightman follows, and he uncovered another 20 or so examples from the book of poems.

Figueroa said she couldn't believe how many examples Lightman uncovered.

"It was just mind-boggling, the audacity of someone to do something like that it," she said. "It was almost unbelievable."

With files from CBC's All in a Day, As it Happens, and the Canadian Press