Professor defends his copying students’ poemsMa Gwang-su, the author of a controversial novel “Happy Sarah” that was once banned for obscenity, is causing another dispute over plagiarizing the poems of his students.
Mr. Ma, 58, a writer, poet and professor of literature at Yonsei University, was recently found to have plagiarized a student’s poem that was published in a campus newspaper 20 years ago when he taught at Hongik University. He included it in his latest book of poetry, “Yahadi Yalaseong.”
It was later found that the professor had plagiarized another poem, “Violin,” which was written by another woman who gave it to him to review.
He denied both incidents, but later admitted he had “borrowed” excerpts from the works on the agreement of the writers. Mr. Ma officially apologized to readers in both cases. Yonsei is reviewing his official reprimand.
In his poem, Mr. Ma copied almost the entire paragraph of a poem his student had written without citation, using the same title “On Words.” He also apologized about the unauthorized use of the work “Violin.”
The following is an interview with the author.
Q. Can you explain about this controversy?
A. I feel terrible, and I apologize to my readers. I must have gone mad. I was recently diagnosed with manic depression. I must have lost a sense of judgment.
Is that your explanation?
The latest poetry book particularly had a lot of parody works. Perhaps I might have been confused about boundaries.
You took an entire paragraph from the work of Kim I-won (Ma’s student from Hongik University).
I could acknowledge that, but I had a different thought then. I found a poem by my former student that she wrote some 20 years ago in a college newspaper while I was moving two years ago. She didn’t debut as a poet, and I felt the poem was too good to be buried so I included it in my book.
Still it’s hard to say this is innocent plagiarism.
I didn’t even think of it as a problem until Kim approached me last November. I told her then that I had included her poem in my book. If she had raised an issue about plagiarism then, I would done something. But I feel a bit betrayed that she spread the news of what I did without letting me know. I didn’t think until that moment that I was plagiarizing or stealing her work. I must have been crazy.
Aside from your health issue, what distracted your judgment about “Violin,” a work you took from a 40-year old housewife?
That’s a slightly different case. That was a work of a student, whom I taught through e-mail. It was a good piece, so I asked her permission to use it in my book after some editing. She agreed, so I went with it.
by Sohn Min-ho