Thirteen years ago, Professor Jerrold H. Zar composed a brilliant poem called Candidate for a Pullet Surprise (say the title aloud, and you'll get the joke). Here's the first verse:
Since then, thousands of readers around the world have chuckled over the poem and emailed it to their friends. It's probably read more often than any of Shakespeare's poems, yet the author is virtually unknown.
The poem is a favourite on the internet. Scores of websites have copied the original words, or posted versions amended by various wits and halfwits. Some have retitled it as Owed to a Spell Checker or Spellbound. Many webmasters have added the words Author unknown, or Anon. One says Sauce unknown. It's a classic example of intellectual property being stolen on the Internet.
Here is the complete, official version, published with the author's kind permission:
Last week, Zar told us, "My poem continues to travel around the Internet, sometimes with attribution (and permission) and sometimes without.
"In addition, several authors have asked to include it in books they were preparing (on writing, editing, and the like)."
Zar's experience closely resembles that of another gifted comic poet, Gene Ziegler, the overlooked author of a "stolen" poem that's now best known as If Dr. Seuss Were a Technical Writer. In a remarkable string of coincidences, both poems were written in 1994, both authors were professors at US universities, and both their names begin with Z.
Back in 1994, Professor Gene Ziegler, an educator at New York's Cornell University who later became Dean of the American Graduate School of Management, an online business school in Nashville Tennessee, wrote a long and witty poem containing these ludicrous lilting lines:
He says he composed it in an hour, after his four-year-old grandson and the boy's older brother had "significantly rearranged" the resources on his Macintosh.
"This poem has probably received more attention and circulation than anything I have ever written," he said.
"It was originally a gift to internet friends and was passed from person to person, and posted on newsgroups and web sites in several countries. It has since been published in NetGuide Magazine, March 95, and in the Seattle Times, August 13, 1995, and has generated more than 1000 fan messages and requests to post.
"Unfortunately, the internet being what it is, some scoundrel whose editing skills exceeded his or her ethical standards edited the poem, reduced it by half, removed my name, and recirculated it under the title If Dr. Seuss were a Technical Writer, attributed to the ever prolific 'Anonymous.'"
Dr. Zseuss, "the real Dr. Seuss impersonator" (Ziegler's alter ego) responded with "Hang the Information Highwayman!", a poetic appeal for respect for another's written words. It should be brought to the notice of all webmasters.
Writing programs and teachers' groups around the world often quote the two poems to teach internet publishing ethics.
Ziegler told us: "The original poem has been set to music twice, once by a rapper and in the second case made into a Gilbert & Sullivan-like opera by a music teacher in Bangkok, who had his students sing it at graduation.
"It's been made into a brass plaque and sold in a gift shop in Dallas, recited on an Australian talk show and for the closing moments of a Vancouver TV show, Data's Cafe."
A search of the internet shows that despite all that publicity, Ziegler has good reason to feel cranky and forgotten. When we googled his memorable phrase "socket packet pocket" we found about 11,500 references. We checked out some of the websites. In nearly every case, the original poem has been cut in half, and posted without the author's name.
He says on his webpage: