Let's say today inspiration hit you as it never had before and you have just finished writing a poem you are proud of like nothing else you have ever written until now.
Let's say you are also a voracious reader, and your knowledge of literature in general and poetry in particular spans thousands of years, and that you haven't neglected to reread the important works as well as the obscure ones, encompassing dozens of different cultures. You are such a fanatic you've gone so far as to learn some French, Dutch, Russian, and Spanish so you can read your favorite authors in the language they wrote and thus enjoy every little nuance, so that rhymes and alliterations won't be lost to you in graceless translation...
Let's say that after reading the poem you've just penned you don't see the fingerprints of your favorite writers, you don't hear their voices. After careful inspection, there seems to be nothing that reminds you of the works that made the biggest impressions on you when you were young and impressionable. Likewise your musings return no results, but by now every failure to find a source for your inspiration has the unintended effect of puffing you up. You catch yourself grinning and soon enough you begin to worry about the crippling effects to your ego if you were too quick to congratulate yourself, only to have some faceless heckler (nerdier than thyself) call out your brazen imitation soon after making it public in the worldwide forum of the internet... couldn't withstand the humiliation. You decide to reach out to your academic friends --if anybody knows it will be them--, and quickly send out your immortal poem in a dozen emails. You bite at your fingernails and chew at the meat until it bleeds. You drink decaf coffee. You wish you had a smoking habit so you could chainsmoke this wait away but there exists no solace for you. Even if you were to drink, more than one beer would get you drunk because you are that big of a pussy --and you call yourself a writer?
The arms of the clock continue their leaps locked in their endless circle, located in somebody else's living room. This you don't see because you own a digital clock. You wake up earlier than usual because your bladder can't hold to decaf coffee any longer, and as you drag your loafers to the restroom you imagine yourself a victim of insomnia and fantasize about its horrors. You release a steady stream of piss into the toilet bowl and feel sorry about yourself, tortured with sleep deprivation and half-mad with nervous maladies like the best poète maudits. By the time the water in the bowl has been flushed away, you feel much better and you are ready to face the email replies. One after the other the answer is the same: the poem is not derivative. At first, the slight bulge in your pajama crotch embarrasses you... what the hell! You tell yourself you've earned it, and before you know it you've taken it for a walk around the apartment and into the kitchen, giggling like a kid every time you look down and catch a glimpse, going about making a toast with jam.
With breakfast over and you done stroking your ego the time has come to share your groundbreaking new poem. Yes, "new." But not just new for me, now for literature. New to the world, to university professors and school teachers alike, to their students, to their student's parents on their way to work, to the bus drivers carrying them like an expecting woman carrying her child in her womb, a child who will be born in a world where nothing is new because everything has already been invented but his parents will reminisce about simpler times when not everything was old and regurgitated, and they will then tell their child about the time they heard of this new poem (how they remember like it was yesterday...), it was all over the news, yes it made for a lot of talk, that poem did. It made one proud of being American. Everything else may be outsourced but great original poetry still grows in this fertile land of opportunistic freedom. God bless America. And let the bald eagle poop on our enemies and peck their eyes off their sockets, godamn terrorists, stay the fuck outta---
In the aftermath
Let's say You becomes He...
And out it went. The poem. The reaction resembled tsunami waves of nothing. Surprise gave way to disappointment, which in turn led to bitter resentment, which simmered covered until it festered violent outbursts of spite and hatred. He would routinely sit at the edge of his chair with his head buried between his shoulders and proceed to type with two stiff forefingers --machine-gun style-- lengthy letters made entirely of insults, adverbs, and adjectives, directed at every living soul for having turned their backs on his genius. Some say his mind was so far gone he mistakenly bought a half ounce bag of regular espresso coffee ground, which would explain the stomach cramps he claimed kept him doubled up on his floor, screaming in agony. He became a recluse and blamed a Queer Jew conspiracy for turning his friends against him (in reality his friends tired of his 3am calls to rant about conspiracies and blocked his number). The last time he left his house he is said to have walked into the nearest liquor store and bought a six-pack of Pabst, Marlboro Reds, and Twizzlers. At some point that same night he called one of his friends and left a voicemail saying something along the lines, "I am now ready to shed my skin and become a real writer. I think I now have what it takes. All this time I've been looking in libraries --I was looking in the wrong place. Everything a writer needs he can find in a liquor store."
What exactly went down the next 72hs is uncertain. The coroner report states his blood alcohol content was thrice above the legal limit, so if we believe he only made one beer run then he must have been one big hairy pussy. Precise details are close to impossible to gather since his apartment went down in a fire, which the firemen believe was accidental; he must have passed out while smoking using a styrofoam cup for an ashtray. There remains one last puzzling mystery in his tragic demise that has so far remained unexplained. A footnote to his autopsy reports the presence of four complete, undigested, unchewed, Twizzlers found lodged inside his rectum. The coroner report lists the cause as "Death by misadventure." Unfortunately, the coroner was unavailable for comments at the moment of writing this article. I hoped to gain some insight into the matter by engaging him in conversation but maybe it's better this way. Some things are better left alone and some secrets better remain secret.
Let's say you are still wondering, What about his original poem. Well, to begin with, it wasn't as original as he thought it was. In fact, it wasn't original at all. How could it be since he wrote it in English? He didn't develop the language, did he? He didn't arbitrarily make up its definitions either. There isn't one person who can take credit for that, not even Merriam-Webster. Neither did he come up with language as an abstract idea. His poem could be communicated and understood by others because the readers already know what each word meant, instinctively understood signified and signifier, what happened when you put certain words next to others and when your structure a sentence in a given way. You can't claim as original something that is made up entirely of raw materials available in the public domain. Society fed him on a diet of words, he chewed some longer than others, regurgitated, then spit them right back into society --nothing new there. Sure, we could argue that no other person has picked those particular words among many with similar connotations, then placed them in such order, finished the work when he did. That is no guarantee that somebody else won't. It's probable.
It's probable I've been working at this nonstop for too long and now I am burned out and sleepy. I hear somebody calling me... I'm not alone in the dead of night, it seems I have a comrade in arms. Graveyard shifters of the world unite and take over, you are not alone. Nobody is ever alone as long as there are others.