Here is the review by William Logan in the (aptly named) Tourniquet Review that accuses Jill Bialosky of plagiarism in her new memoir Poetry Will Save Your Life. I don’t know Jill Bialosky or William Logan but they are both well known in the literary community. Bialosky is an editor known not only for her books of poetry, essays and fiction, but for her generosity in launching the careers of other writers. Logan is a professor who writes poetry but is best known as a critic who takes pride in writing “negative” reviews. “Logan… dislikes most contemporary poetry and likes letting that be known,” according to Slate. He seems to specialize in take-downs of women poets. If you read this review, you can see that it is (as promised) negative–actually, quite nasty.
Bialosky’s book is a memoir in which she uses poems to tell her life story. It’s an interesting form for a memoir. According to the New York Times, it “pairs… a poem…with a short narrative about the…significance of the poem in [her] life.” Logan belittles the book’s poetic insights, which seems to miss the point that her book isn’t a poetry analysis, it’s a memoir. But that’s not why his review is getting so many hits. His damning accusation is that Bialosky is a plagiarist, proven by the fact that she picked up facts about poets (birthdates, schooling, etc) from Wikipedia, without attribution. I agree that she should have cited the source for these pickups. But really, how many ways are there to say that “Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on November 13, 1850?”
Bialosky was sloppy, surprising for an editor of her stature. And where was the copyeditor? Oh, right, who needs them anymore. Still, whether or not Bialosky originally phrased bios, doesn’t seem reason to dismiss the book which isn’t about the lives of poets. It’s a story about her own life. She makes this point in a follow-up article in the Times in which she also promises to correct errors in future editions. And really, what more do we want from her?
Bialosky’s last memoir, about her sister’s suicide, knocked my socks off. I didn’t know she had a new book until I heard about this kerfuffle. Now I can’t wait to buy it. Other fans of her writing may react the same way. Which would mean that a review in a little-known journal, written to skewer a book may result in dramatically increasing its readership. Another example of the unpredictable power that digital wields in publishing these days.