By Karen Breytenbach
South African poet Melanie Grobler has relinquished the Eugýne Marais literature prize and offered to pay back the prize money after it emerged that she had presented an unacknowledged translation of a poem by Canadian author Anne Michaels as her own work.
Although her poem Stad (Die Waterbreker, 2004) reads as an almost direct translation of Michaels's There Is No City That Does Not Dream (Skin Divers, 1999), without any reference to Michaels, Grobler denies allegations of plagiarism.
She told the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, who gave her the prestigious award, that the resemblance was due to "pure negligence" and the "absorption that takes place naturally when one is an avid reader".
Marilyn Biederman, director of rights and contracts at McClelland & Stewart publishers in Toronto, on Thursday said she was not prepared to comment without more information.
"We represent Michaels both in Canada and where she is published abroad. At the moment we are looking at what course to take. We understand that the SA author had rescinded her prize, which also has bearing on how we will deal with the matter."
Loftus Marais, a young poet studying at Stellenbosch University, blew the whistle on Grobler on the website litnet.co.za, creating heated debate over Grobler.
Grobler initially refused to give up the prize, but later said in a statement she would take full responsibility for the harm she had caused by failing to credit Michaels, whom she said was one of her favourite poets.
Chief executive of the academy Jacques van de Elst said an investigation into the matter would no longer be necessary, although a report would be compiled about the incident.
It was also decided against passing on this year's prize to another poet.
In letters to the award's chief sponsors, Absa bank and Rapport newspaper, Van de Elst expressed disappointment at the turn of events and said Grobler had offered to pay back her prize money of R11 000.
"It is the first time in the academy's history that such a thing has happened. We firmly believe the poet had no cruel intentions.
"Besides a literature commission that assumes original work is presented, it is very difficult in an ocean of literature to identify alleged cribbing from a remote literature such as the Canadian," he wrote to both Absa sponsorships director Angela Bruwer and Rapport editor Tim du Plessis.
He also requested that this year's prize money be saved for next year's winner.
Van de Elst said the academy's council would discuss the matter at a September 23 meeting and would probably decide to scrap the author's name from their awards list of over a hundred years.
The volume of poetry containing the contentious poem is still for sale in book shops, but Tafelberg Publishers has since August 3 placed an embargo on any more stock going to retailers.