When Claudia Cortese took to Twitter to accuse another writer of stealing her work, she didn’t mince words. In a thread published December 7, Cortese called out poet Lisa Low for a litany of literary sins:
Lisa Low not only plagiarized my words, images, lines but — even worse — she stole my voice, my trauma, the girl I love most in this world — the girl I spent years creating, the girl who let me pour into her all of the pain and pathology of my girlhood — & it is NOT OKAY.
It’s true that some of Low’s “Ruby” poems — those written as letters to a fictionalized version of herself — are remarkably similar to a series that appeared in Cortese’s 2016 book, Wasp Queen. But unlike the plagiarist Ailey O’Toole, whose unmasking rocked the small-press poetry community earlier this month, Low had given Cortese credit. Nearly two years earlier, she had published the Ruby poem “Letters, Part 1” in the literary journal Quarterly West as an explicit homage; the subscript below the title read, “after Claudia Cortese,” the standard way of denoting works inspired by another poet. And at the time, Cortese didn’t seem to mind.
“When it first got published I sent a link to her,” Low says when I reach her by phone. “At the time she responded positively to my poem, and I took that to mean that she appreciated the way I drew inspiration from her work.”
As it turns out, Cortese was more conflicted than that. “I remember feeling uncomfortable at how similar they were to my poems,” says Cortese in a phone interview. “But I told myself, essentially, ‘It’s okay.’ I didn’t want to be someone who wasn’t supportive of another poet.” So Cortese wrote it off as an isolated event. But in early November, one of her friends reached out to her after encountering another “Ruby” poem in the journal Waxwing. The similarities continued — and now a friend was validating her concerns.