Recently two prize-winning poets have been exposed as plagiarists, you could say serial plagiarists. Where I stand on the issue is quite simply that I regard it as theft. It’s a total breach of the trust of editors and competition judges who can recognise quality in a poem (after all, that’s why they are editors and judges) but who will be unaware that the works have been stolen from the works of earlier authors.
As an editor, I frequently publish work submitted by people I don’t know, and I take it on trust that the poems submitted are their own work (I have a statement to that effect in my Submission Guidelines for The Open Mouse). I’ve read widely, but I haven’t read everything – who has? It’s entirely possible that, inadvertently, I may have published plagiarised work. I hope I haven’t, but I could have. The plagiarists rely on such uncertainties, and the chances of discovery and unmasking are remote.
Other poets have influenced my own writing, that’s inevitable, but I wouldn’t steal their words. Every writer has such influences; we recognise them in ourselves but, normally, we learn to strike our own paths to publication and competition success.
We rely, as we must, on sharp-eyed readers, to point out where plagiarism has occurred. I can’t see any simple technological solution to the problem, although word pattern recognition software may offer possibilities in time.