Canadian Poet Laureate Accused of Plagiarizing Tupac Shakur and Maya Angelou

Getty Images

According to a report in The National Post, Canadian poet laureate Pierre DesRuisseaux is being accused of plagiarizing work by Tupac Shakur, Maya Angelou, Dylan Thomas, and others in his Tranches de vie book from 2013.

British poet and poetry detective Ira Lightman reportedly uncovered the potential plagiarism in the famous book, with Shakur’s words from his “Sometimes I Cry” poem being used by the artist for a poem of the same title.

Sometimes I Cry (Tupac Shakur)
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

When I’m Alone (Pierre DesRuisseaux)
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.

DesRuisseaux received the Governor General’s Award for French poetry and was named a parliamentary poet laureate, before his death in January 2016. His work became the subject of scrutiny last year when poet Kathy Figueroa noticed similarities between an English translation of DesRuisseaux’s “J’avance,” and Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” (the French-English translation of the phrase “J’avance” is “I rise.”)

Figueroa posted about the similarities in a Facebook group called “Plagiarism Alerts,” which caught the attention of Lightman who begin translating DesRuisseaux’s poetry and searching for similar stanzas.

“It looks to me like a book of deliberate translations,” Lightman explains. “And yet there’s no crediting.”

He explains how there has been a trend of foreign writers taking the words of others by translating their work into languages many may not notice.

“When you get an English plagiarist, they tend to borrow from an American poet,” he said. “They’re taking from another country and their target audience… has not read it.”

Éditions du Noroît, DesRuisseaux’s publisher, is no longer selling Tranches de vie after Lightman emailed them with his concerns in 2016.