Not Novel, Yet Original by Michael Mingo

“[A]ssume that two poets, each ignorant of the other, compose identical poems. Neither work is novel, yet both are original and, hence, copyrightable.”
                                                              –Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s majority opinion in
                                                               Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co.

I have no proof, but I’m sure
that someone—let’s say it’s you—
is thinking exactly what I’m thinking:
“This kitchen table wood grain
arches and swirls like fingerprints,
subtly different from any other table.”

.

From this epiphany, I swing
the pen between my fingers
faster, faster. I hope to shake
the stanzas loose, but I’m stuck
on a line-break, a word-choice.
You must be twice as close
to that sixth or seventh revision,
a clearly superior showing.

.

The rules make us race. The idea
is worth nothing; the first
to finish wins the prize,
a time-limited monopoly
we’ll cash for resume credit.

.

Knowing that you are writing
the very same poem, trying
to describe the wood grain print
in your own words, proves
our inspiration was false.


Michael Mingo will be attending the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars in the fall of 2015. His poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in 3Elements Review, Cross Review, and Jersey Devil Press.