#Copyright flutterbies

There are butterflies in my stomach. What does that mean? Am I worried about something, or scared that an event is approaching about which I have little control? Yes, and no. SUPPOSE WE is approaching lift off and it nearly got away from me, its author. This working title for a spaceship is quirky enough but stuck as I and the BSFA Orbit 7 critique group became familiar with its four human crew and a wayward AI that called itself CAN because… well, many reasons but one was that it came out of a can. Butterflies? Get on with it.

When I was 10 a teacher made my class learn a 60-word, 10-line poem about a butterfly. It was Flying Crooked by Robert Graves. Here it is by kind permission of its copyright holders Carcanet Press Ltd and as seen in The Complete Poems v.1 Robert Graves programme: poetry. 1995

Flying Crooked

The butterfly, the cabbage white,
(His honest idiocy of flight)
Will never now, it is too late,
Master the art of flying straight,
Yet has – who knows so well as I? –
A just sense of how not to fly:
He lurches here and here by guess
And God and hope and hopelessness.
Even the aerobatic swift
Has not his flying crooked gift.

Robert Graves 

(Probably written in 1931 unless someone knows better.)

I was already into writing SUPPOSE WE when a butterfly – a Scarce Swallowtail – landed on my laptop. It was at the remote writing retreat, Limnisa, on the Methana peninsular of Greece. There are hundreds of butterflies drinking in the nectar, like other insects, of the many aromatic flowers on site. That butterfly flew into my story, but as an alien creature. The narrator, Gaston, names it Papillon (well, he’s French) but it is not actually a butterfly as he discovers at the end.

Flying Crooked is such a clever poem. It flows erratically like a butterfly, lurching here and here in its random, predator-avoiding flight. Maybe it is more than that. Random movement might get through certain airflow more efficiently if gathering information—scents is the aim. Flying in a straight line wouldn’t take in the aromas from surrounding plants as much as a meandering path. Maybe that’s what Papillon is doing in my SUPPOSE WE. Apparently wandering but really…

Naturally, I want to include lines from the poem in the novella. Maybe the whole poem to set the tone. Apparently Robert Graves was a little narked (as he often was with his agents and publishers, especially over I, Claudius) at people poking fun at his poem. In a 1933 letter he says that people “fail to understand that the cabbage-white’s seemingly erratic flight provides a metaphor for all original and constructive thought.” – from Poetry Friday site. Hang on, copyright for poems, lyrics etc are with the author’s estate until 70 years after their death. Graves didn’t leave us until 1985.

I knew that the maximum penalty in the Magistrates Court for copyright infringement is 6 months jail and £50,000 – gulp. More if it went to the Crown Court. See http://libanswers.anglia.ac.uk/copyright/faq/78776

So I found the Robert Graves estate website and they directed me to the Circana Press Ltd who handles copyright.

Their licence application form asks for the title of the publication from which I obtained the poem. I wanted to enter: the brain of my teacher in 1957! Haha. I looked at all the poetry books on my shelves and those in Chester library. None of them had Flying Crooked. It’s rare to find in print. Plenty of websites but that’s not what was needed. Even books of the nation’s favourite poems didn’t contain it. Finally, I found a couple that the library had to order in, including The Complete Poems v.1 Robert Graves programme: poetry. 1995 Carcanet Press

The form also needed to know how many printed copies there will be. I had to guess here, based on the sales of my previous science fiction novels. Not an exact science with print-on-demand publishing these days! Naturally, LL-Publications and I hope to sell millions of copies but in reality it will be hundreds. If by a flying crooked miracle sales go into orbit, I’ll have to return to Carcanet and pay more than the £95 + VAT I’ve paid so far, for an extension to my licence to use the poem in the book.

Don’t get me wrong. I benefit via the ACLS (Authors’ Licencing and Collecting Society) from where people photocopy or quote my own works – although why they do, I’m not sure. I think it’s great that authors should receive a modicum of recognition and money long after they originally composed it, and that a legacy of that goes to their children and grandchildren. I smirk at the thought of my paltry royalties continuing after a lorry gets my bike with me on it, and helps my wife and descendants to buy a vegan icecream. I believe both of Graves’ wives have passed on but some of their children survive to benefit from my licence payments for their father’s genius.

As for this blog. I believe I can quote the poem legally under the ‘fair use’ purpose because it is for critique and quote. I don’t make any money from this blog. See fair use guidelines in UK law here https://www.bl.uk/business-and-ip-centre/articles/fair-use-copyright-explained

Note these lines:

He lurches here and here by guess
And God and hope and hopelessness.

Note this behaviour of butterflies isn’t limited to Cabbage Whites nor even to butterflies! Nor does a butterfly guess, nor is it hopeless, but the prosody (or rhythm) of the verse forces us to think of their apparently random flights. Also, perhaps butterflies think it is advantageous to let predators believe it is hopeless. Love the ‘who knows so well as I’ for having a ‘sense of how not to fly’. At least not without being inside a thin aluminium tube.

Copyright applies to images too. SUPPOSE WE is set on a planet with a lilac sky and purple vegetation – on the whole – and I wanted the butterfly to feature. I was going to paint one such myself, but found a fantastic image in the stock art files. Jim Brown at LL-Publications said yes they can work with it and agreed with its magnificence for the project and paid for its licence. What do you think?

The moral of this copyright story is to check if your quotes are within the author’s limitation for copyright and if you possess a strong urge to use it, get a licence.

It’s now out as an ebook (also as Kindle Unlimited so free for those) and paperback on Amazon. Get it here.

Other Nelder News

My insane collection of 25 short stories on an incremental theme is described by Prof Stanley Salmon as kafkaesque. Stories such as a pothole that doubles in size daily, and doesn’t stop! A man wakes up on the ceiling.


My Maltese islands’ based historical fantasy continues to sell: When pirates abducted 5000 from Gozo in 1551 revenge was inevitable even though it took 500 years for me to give it to them.

VENGEANCE ISLAND  is Free on KindleUnlimited and cheaper than a rum and coke otherwise  here

Run, hide! alien apocalypse.
Infectious amnesia pandemic. KindleUnlimited
and paperback.

ARIA: LEFT LUGGAGE smarturl.it/1fexhs

Geoff’s UK Amazon author page http://www.amazon.co.uk/Geoff-Nelder/e/B002BMB2XY

And for US readers http://www.amazon.com/Geoff-Nelder/e/B002BMB2XY

Twitter @geoffnelder

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AriaTrilogy





  1. david nicholls

    I love the poem,Graves explanation,” METAPHOR FOR ALL ORIGINAL AND CONSTRUCTIVE THOUGHT”, strikes me as near perfect,for anyone who indulges in either of these two areas of human endeavor,or anyone whose life plan has been thrown off course.Thank you for direction to the poem.

  2. Chris Lewis

    I like the Concept. A parallel with youth, “sniffing for nectar” in our teeneage years and carving an erratic path doing it. A butterfly as an alien? Hell yes! The chosen image from a stock photo is great. Covers are important – like that thing when you meet a person for the first time. People do judge books by thier covers.

  3. J.K. Rooke

    “original and constructive thought.” Yes it does seem that people who live by dogma walk in straight lines only. They even call it” the straight and narrow.” “Narrow minded!” Strange how words describe abstractions, and the same words are right to some people and wrong to others.

  4. vonmenschzumensch

    What’s up to every body, it’s my first go to see of this weblog; this
    webpage consists of remarkable and really good material designed for readers.


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