Thanks to the landmark efforts of British poet and plagiarism sleuth Ira Lightman (as profiled in this Guardian piece), many of the works of former Canadian poet laureate Pierre DesRuisseaux have been found to have been lifted from other sources, with absolutely no attribution or credit to the original artists. Lightman found that over 30 poems from DesRuisseaux’s 2013 collection Tranches de vie bear blatant resemblances to other poems by figures like Dylan Thomas, Maya Angelou, Louis MacNeice and yep,Tupac Shakur. In the ongoing conversation around appropriation and erasing contributions from people of colour, plagiarizing Tupac and Maya freakin’ Angelou, of all people, is incredibly audacious, not to mention disrespectful.
The unmistakeable plagiarism managed to remain undetected for so long because DesRuisseaux would translate the lifted passages into French, and then pass them off as his own work.
Quite correctly, he must have noted that the potential crossover between French-Canadian poetry fans and Tupac listeners was likely negligible, if existent at all.
Take, for example, this portion of a translated poem of DesRuisseaux’s, “When I’m Alone”:
Sometimes when I’m alone I cry
Because I’m alone.
The tears I cry are bitter and burning.
They flow with life, they do not need reason.
And compare/contrast with Tupac’s “Sometimes I Cry”:
Sometimes when I’m alone
I cry because I’m on my own
The tears I cry are bitter and warm
They flow with life but take no form
In case that’s not blatant enough for you, take DesRuisseaux’s riff on Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”, for his poem “J’Avance” (“I Rise”):
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.
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.
DesRuisseaux died early last year, after a distinguished career that included winning the 1989 Governor General’s Award and being Canada’s fourth poet laureate, between 2009-2011.