I read a poem at an open mic a couple of months back. I was quite pleased with it. Only recently did I realise the central image was almost the same as another poet’s work who I had seen a couple of months before. Without realising it, I had completely ripped them off.
So I looked back at my writing, only to find the problem was more widespread than I thought. Other poems were similar to existing pieces from other poets. One had the same subject matter and even style as a poem I heard months ago. In each case, when I wrote it I thought I was being completely original. Of course, I felt very guilty and will probably remove them from future sets.
In a podcast I recently listened to 1 , David Mitchell described inspiration as coming from the compost heap- everything you have read and experienced broken down over time. I like this way of thinking of inspiration because it highlights how ideas are not unique but made up of other ideas, how they grow from fragments.
These poems I had seen people perform had broken down enough that I had forgotten their origin, but not enough to change the original idea beyond what they had done. So the only solution is to be honest, check the origins of my work, then throw it back into the compost heap. Hopefully, these words will rot down more over time and emerge as something different. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and making new work, drawn from deeper down.