Ossian Thomas Chatterton Spectrism Ern Malley Andreas Karavis Araki Yasusada The APR Poems Addendum: Kent Johnson Speaks
Originally I was going to do a simple essay on the 7-8/96 issue of the American Poetry Review. In that essay a special pullout section- ‘Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada’- of the magazine (often dubbed ‘the People magazine of Poetry’) included a number of pieces of doggerel by a Japanese poet who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Right away I rolled my eyes because the only possible reason for this shit’s publication was the author’s ‘supposed’ suffering- if not that it was some sort of put-on. Then, again, I thought- Academics have no sense of humor. By the next issue my initial assessment was confirmed, as suffering was not the only thing ‘supposed’ about poet Araki Yasusada. While the 7-8/96 issue featured a whole pullout section, the 9-10/96 issue included a brief ‘retraction’, tucked away on the penultimate page 47:
‘To our Readers:
the publication of “Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks of Araki
Yasusada” in our July/August issue. Neither “Araki Yasusada”, nor
the three names identified as translators, “Tosa Motokiyu”, “Okura
Kyojin”, and “Ojiu Norinaga” are actual persons. The facts in the
note “Introducing Araki Yasusada”, as well as the portrait of
“Yasusada” are a hoax.
The American Poetry Review’
But, what was there to apologize about? What, exactly, was so regretful? If the editors thought the poems were so terrific, who cares their provenance- right? Or was it more likely that they stumbled over themselves in a rush to print the words of a survivor of 1 of America’s assorted crimes against humanity? & why would an American publication- 1 which touts its nationality in its title, no less- publish a foreigner- even in translation? Was it AY’s supposed ‘avant-gardism’? His supposedly losing his family at Hiroshima? Critics seized upon factoids- such as references to scubadiving in a 1925 poem (when the word dates from the 1940s & Jacques Cousteau’s invention of it) that should have alerted the journal's editors. But when this Kent Johnson emerged as the hoaxer APR opted for hypocritical & self-righteous indignation, declaring itself the victim of a criminal act. Immediately I loved the fact that APR- & subsequently I found out some other magalogs- had finally been exposed to the masses as having no literary standards for inclusion in their publications- & moreso their asinine reaction. But after a brief flurry the whole thing disappeared. Within a year most claimed to be oblivious to its ever happening. I recall asking ‘name’ poets who visited the Twin Cities to shill their paltry wares, of their opinions of the hoax & the subsequent cover up. Silence was the reply, as nothing was ever mentioned of the affair again. I have learned that this is Standard Operating Procedure for such embarrassed parties. But, that so little was made of it in other publications hinted that there was a ‘code of silence’ amongst literary mags (similar to such codes in police departments) which amounted to- ‘we won’t dwell on your lack of literary standards if you don’t point out ours’. Quickly, the hoax was swept under the Academic rug. What this essay will take on is not the hoax itself, & some of its predecessor poetic hoaxes, but rather the actual fraud of literary standards proffered by assorted mags as rationales for their unremitting publications of reams of doggerel. Let me start by pointing out a major difference between a hoax & a fraud. Here’s Merriam-Webster’s crack at it:
+ Main Entry: 1hoax Pronunciation: 'hOks, Function: transitive verb, Etymology: probably contraction of hocus, Date: circa 1796: to trick into believing or accepting as genuine something false and often preposterous, synonym see DUPE- hoax·er noun
+ Main Entry: fraud Pronunciation: 'frod, Function: noun Etymology: Middle English fraude, from Middle French, from Latin fraud-, fraus, Date: 14th century 1 a : DECEIT, TRICKERY; specifically : intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right b : an act of deceiving or misrepresenting : TRICK 2 a : a person who is not what he or she pretends to be : IMPOSTOR; also : one who defrauds : CHEAT b : one that is not what it seems or is represented to be, synonym see DECEPTION, IMPOSTURE
the difference is that a hoax has as its main reason fun or mischief-
only the uneducated in a certain field should be able to
be duped. Hoaxes are generally positive things which have good intent-
they hope to expose the poor thinking or hypocritical attitudes foisted
upon the public by usually self-appointed arbiters of taste. Hoaxes
occur often in Poetry & Art- lost works by a Shakespeare, Rodin,
Vermeer, or Mozart, are rediscovered- only to be revealed as such by
stylistic or forensic analyses. For artistic hoaxes to work the copied
Master needs to be unavailable for comment- usually by being dead or
never existing. Fraud is different- its intent is malign, to pervert or
deceive. Frauds are almost always negative things with negative intent-
& the duped can be experts in their field. This is why
Johnson’s Yasusada hoax was such a good thing, as it exposed to even
the most naïve & stolid that APR, & almost all other poetry
magazines have spent years perpetrating the fraud of artistic
excellence as a factor in publication in their magazines. In
short, 1 of the basic differences between a hoaxer & a fraud is
this: a hoaxer tries to pass off their work as another’s, while a
fraud tries to pass off another’s work as theirs. I.e.- a plagiarist
is a fraud- not a hoaxer. But the real problem lies with the frauds, not
hoaxes. & the frauds are most evident in the cronyism & blatant
asskissing which rear their ugly mugs. I realize many of you will no
doubt not want to acknowledge these many & myriad truths as to the
wicked natures of the artworld, but since they are so plentiful &
their chroniclers so few, I feel obliged to arm earnest readers &
art lovers as to the minefields of hoaxes & frauds that await them.
But both hoaxes & frauds are astonishingly easy to foist upon the public these days- why? The very ease of distribution/publication & lack of standards with which contemporary art- & especially poetry- now flourishes, especially on the Internet. As example: when a praised Abstract Expressionist painting or such turns out to be done by a child or parrot with a brush, some critics still defend its ‘quality’. Dogged are those with their hand stuck in the cookie jar. All sorts of laughable excuses are foisted. Common sense tells us that if a neophyte, or non-expert, can replicate a given artwork in a similar or lesser amount of time than an artiste, then we are really not dealing with high or great art to begin with. Note, also, how most literary hoaxes are also done of ‘translations’, because that is- of itself- a tricky feat to start with, & all artists can more easily borrow from the other’s backyard rather than their own- be that other in time or distance- or both. Being ‘ahead’ of the audience hoaxers [& just some plain old bad artists] can more easily present the merely exotic as art. Since so few poets challenge boundaries this leads to a natural ‘desire for change’. This desire is the gaping maw down which hoaxers shove their yangs, as critics are notorious for latching on to the ‘different’- whether true or just claimed- as they relentlessly aspire & need to ‘be ahead’ of their flock, so to speak. & art- especially the visual- still has a cult of Truth, which leads to Art Events which cross media boundaries. These have more of an impact in the day-to-day lives of people- albeit still minimal & not near what artists dream of. & of course artists dream wetly of this; Andre Breton said: ‘Surrealism attempted to provoke, from an intellectual and moral point of view, an attack of conscience, of the most general and serious kind.’ This is the trite & banal sort of sentiment which leads artists & poets away from trying to write a ‘good’ or ‘great’ poem (terms based on literary standards) to trying to write an ‘important’ poem (a social term). & the poet's (or artist’s) genre classification of their work is a hint about the way the viewer might (or to the controlling need of the insecure artist- need!) approach the work, & the opening for hoaxers to expose such poor thought. What is put forth in defense of an artwork, by an artist, may be (deliberately) unhelpful or provocative. We needn't trust what artists say about their work. But all hoaxers & frauds play off the human desire to trust what artists (& all humans) say about their work (or themselves). Yet, suspected science hoaxers are viciously attacked by their counterparts- in often ad hominem ways; but suspected art hoaxers are only attacked by non-artists- critics or usually disinterested observers who deign to the art world only to bolster their cynicism over the Fall Of The Western Empire. Perhaps this is because Science flows more linearly- 1 paradigm almost necessarily supplants another, while in Art, different paradigms can co-exist- if grumblingly. We will see some of this play out as we chronicle poetry hoaxes. But, hoaxers are really nothing to worry about. They are usually only sincere, talentless ‘losers’ in creativity who have gambled & lost in the endless posterity sweepstakes- they aim merely to take a few other undeserving ‘winners’ down with them. The fact that who determines the losers from the winners has always been fairly arbitrary only heightens the desire to prove what frauds the winners & their supporters are- thus hoaxes & hoaxers are the direct (almost logically preordained) counterforce to fraudulency. It's worth comparing the intellectual pursuits used to deal with the assorted hoaxers. As said, science deals with hoaxes rapidly. Art tends to hiss quickly, then look away & deny it ever was.
In this essay I won’t even attempt to get into such gray areas as the Brontë sisters’ heteronyms, nor such things as Ezra Pound’s faux Oriental ‘interpretations’, nor Kenneth Rexroth’s ‘translated’ Marichiko feminine persona. So, with that all in mind let’s tackle 1 of the greatest frauds ever- in any human endeavor: that of an artistic meritocracy! But before we take on & re-expose that fraud, let us backtrack & take a gander at some of poetry’s finest ‘moments’- & Academia’s ‘worst’. Here, now, a brief chronology & critique of some of poetry’s most famous hoaxes up to & beyond APR’s shameful behavior during the Araki Yasusada affair.
James MacPherson was a minor poet born in Ruthven, Badenoch,
Scotland on October 27th, 1736, & attended Aberdeen &
Edinburgh Universities before a stint as a teacher. In 1758 he moved to
Edinburgh where he worked as a tutor. Gaelicness & nationalism were
in vogue with the ‘discovery’ of Welsh bardic poetry a few years
earlier. Excitement was evidenced when a Gaelic ballad published in the Scots
Magazine in 1756 swept through the countryside. This immediate
& blind acceptance of anything ancient & of the Isles
probably was the thing that spurred JM to use such to his advantage. In
1760 he published ‘Fragments of ancient poetry’,
which gave his people a rare glimpse of a rugged, ancient land swarming
with timeless warriors obsessed with violence, vengeance, & past
conquests. Into this, enter JM: when
1st published JM said the manuscripts were translations of an ancient
Gaelic manuscript which was a copy of an original work written by a
near-mythical character- Ossian; but the alleged original
manuscript never appeared. These ‘translations’ gave him a success
his own poetry had not gotten. He claimed that the ‘fragments’
represented larger lost works. JM published his main ‘translations’,
Fingal and Temora: these being epic poems by
that ancient warrior-poet. The success of these works was incredible.
Many printings swept Europe in many languages. For a while ‘Ossian’
rivaled Homer, Virgil, Dante, & Milton as a yore-teller. But
controversy quickly ensued; critics accused JM of forgery & deceit.
The debate got political & continued through JM’s life, &
still, to this day, affects people's attitudes towards JM- & all
Gaelic poetry not Robert Burns! The truth was there were no 3rd
century Gaelic epics preserved by 18th century poets. There
were a few oral ballads in which epic characters (Fionn & Oisin)
warred & generally destroyed- & such reminiscences of this are
twined through JM’s poems. But he saw himself as ‘reconstituting
epics’ from mere fragmentary remains. JM viewed himself (at least
publicly) as a sort of medium for ancient poetasters to ply their trade.
Yet the poetry was undoubtedly his own, & his rebuttals
disingenuous. Opinions vary as to JM’s literary standing, not because
the poems themselves were mediocre (they are!), but
because an Academic distaste for hoaxers works against him. But JM’s
influence on European literature (from Romanticism to Victorian Gothica)
was strong. JM, however, took little part in the controversy after it
broke- except for his battle with the Harold Bloom of his day, Dr.
Samuel Johnson. This blood feud was 1 of the classics of the artist/critic
confrontation. Both men were passionate, personal, &
vituperative in expressing their own views, & the controversy
rumbled on over the next century & more. In 1764 JM left for a job
in Florida. 2 years later he returned to England, & lived in
considerable affluence as a historian, lobbyist & propagandist. He
died in 1796 & was buried in Westminster Abbey. Writers like William
Blake, Henry Thoreau, George Byron, Walter Scott, Elizabeth Barrett
Browning, & Matthew Arnold praised &/or imitated JM/Ossian. Many
of his supporters claim research has shown JM’s work is based on
genuine Gaelic traditions: Fingal is Fionn Mac Cumhaill; Temora is Tara;
Cuthulinn is Cú Chulainn, Dar-Thula is Deirdre of the Sorrows;
Ros-cranna is Gráinne, & Dermid is Diarmuid Ó Duibhne, etc. But
much is JM’s own tale: like the tragic love story of Fingal &
Agandecca. & the footnotes by JM are the dead giveaway as to the
whole contretemps’ reality as a hoax- a giveaway we shall see repeat
itself in nearly all such hoaxes.
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at a typical stanza- this from Fingal:
From the Preface
nought is Odin to the maid unkind.
Her form scarce equals her exalted mind;
Awe leads her sacred steps where'er they move,
And mankind worship, where they dare not love.
But, mix'd with softness, was the virgin's pride,
Her heart had feeling, which her eyes deny'd.
Her bright tears started at another's woes,
While transient darkness on her soul arose.
Here we see 1 of the hallmarks of hoaxes: poor quality. Yet the
lack of a real studied criticism let these mediocre verses go. So much
for the wails for the ‘Good Old Days’ of great poetry criticism.
Qualitatively the work is dull & clichéd- certainly no Sir
Gawain & the Green Knight. But, it was its supposed
historicity which encouraged raves- that a ‘savage’ could
write at all, much less passably, seems to have been the literary test.
No doubt the age-old British distaste for lesser classes had a part to
do with their embrace of this (groan) noble savage. Count
the clichés along with me- please: exalted mind, sacred steps, dare
not love, virgin’s pride, heart/feeling, tears, & darkness/soul.
But, even then the real scandal should have been that, as in most
hoaxes, this tripe was not significantly worse, & in some
instances better, than the general doggerel of its day. This lack of
literary standards is not a new flaw. As we press on be mindful of how
often we see this motif repeat. JM was notable, but merely a precursor
of more modern poetic hoaxes. His predecessors are most likely forever
lost to the mists of Anon.
Chatterton/Brother Thomas Rowley
Not long after the Ossian ‘scandal’ another poetic
‘discovery’ was to reverberate through the strata of British
literata: the teenaged poet Thomas Chatterton hit the scene, &
though he never gained real fame in his lifetime outside his hometown of
Bristol, he has posthumously taken his place amongst the notable poetic
hoaxers of all-time. He was born near St Mary Redcliffe, in 1752, 3
months after the death of his impoverished schoolmaster father. In his early teen years TC claimed to have ‘discovered’ ancient
verses by a medieval monk named Thomas Rowley in the muniment room of
the church, where his uncle was sexton. He claimed they were copies of
15th-century manuscripts at the Church of St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol.
(It is amazing, considering how often ‘discoveries’ turn out to be
hoaxes that the intelligentsia are not tipped off to such by the very
use of the term ‘discovery’!) The poems were hailed as a literary
find to be treasured & many scholars, writers, & antiquaries
were duped. It soon came to light that TC had written the poems,
himself, from the age of 12 on. In 1769 he sent several of these poems
to a Horace Walpole, who was enthused about them- & longed to take
the youth under his wing. But, when Walpole found out about it was all a
hoax, he summarily returned the poems & ended their friendship. TC
was crushed & a ‘marked man’ in the poetic halls. Dispirited, he
left for London in 1770 to find his fame & fortune; but he committed
suicide there at the age of 17- in 1770- when he found his talents
unrecognized, & himself out of money. His self-delusions over the
grand reception of the hoax proved too much for the insecure child to
handle. Poison was his choice of suicide. Critics seem to
acknowledge TC was a
genius (note how critics often hail the hoaxed work while damning
the hoaxer- the work was so good, what could I as mere mortal do?
seems to be the retort!) & adept imitator, as he used 15th
century vocabulary very well. But detractors counter that his rhythms
& approach to poetry were quite modern- at least what was considered
‘modern’ in the Pre-Modern Poetry of the day. The Rowley Poems
were then recognized as modern poems written in a 15th
century style, but the occasional vigor & beauty of poems like Mynstrelles
Songe & Bristowe Tragedie revealed TC's potential to
perhaps have been a literary giant, had he not done himself in, &
recovered from the critical savaging. This gifted, rebellious, but
ultimately unfulfilled, boy became a hero to the Romantic &
Pre-Raphaelite crowds, several of whom- Keats & Coleridge- wrote
poems about him. Let us examine a typical stanza from 1 of TC’s Rowley
from Aella, A Tragycal
Comme, wythe acorne-coppe and thorne,
Drayne mie hartys blodde awaie;
Lyfe and all yttes goode I scorne,
Daunce bie nete, or feaste by daie.
Mie love ys dedde,
Gon to hys death-bedde,
Al under the wyllowe tree.
Even accepting that he was trying to ape a monken point of view,
this poem is a typical bad stanza- even in the 18th, or 15th,
centuries such tropes as heart’s blood, night/day
contrast, a dead love, the death bed, & a dying
under a tree, are not original. Also, TC’s syntax & mimicry is
not nearly as good as contemporaneous critics thought. To anyone versed
in English poetry of the century or so prior to Chaucer the stanza reeks
of forgery. Perhaps TC’s success was that nowadays we have alot more
information & genuine manuscripts from that era? Nonetheless, his
immaturity shines through even all the fakery. As with the Ossian mess,
it seems the real culprit & fraud was not TC, but the critics of the
day who valued the ‘historicity’ of the poems over their quality.
The motif keeps on aspinning.
Bynner & Arthur Ficke/Spectrism
In 1916, poets Witter Bynner & Arthur Ficke invented Spectrism
& its main poets- Emanuel Morgan & Anne Knish. Their intent was
to mock the pretensions of those who flocked to the avant-garde, but the
critical & monetary receptions accorded their ‘movement’ was so
overwhelmingly positive that they immediately became so carried away
with enthusiasm for their ‘baby’ that the duo could barely contain
their joy at the success of their hoax. But it was this very desire to
brag about & claim credit for the hoax which led to its exposure. 1
wonders how long the school might have lasted without its
‘self-outing’? Yet, predictably, alot of critics said the Spectric
poems were better than those WB & AF claimed as their ‘serious
poems’. WB countered: ‘Once in a while we think so ourselves.’
Others, trying to explain why critics appreciated the deliberately
(& truly) bad poetry, said the duo had freed their poetic muse
from the ‘conscious censor’ & unintentionally made good poems,
adding, ‘by conventional standards their serious verse is good - good
but conscious, while their burlesques are the gleeful outpourings
of their unrestrained, boyish selves.’
But such post-rationalizations paled with some of the antics that went on before the hoax fell apart. AF, while serving in France during World War I, was asked by an army general his opinion of Spectrism. AF replied that he thought it all a hoax. The general deliriously congratulated him on his literary acumen. AF asked, ‘But, Sir, how do you know?’ The general claimed ‘Because I- myself- am Anne Knish!’ AF recalled the joy he felt over the unwitting participation of his superior in the spirit, if not the substance, of the hoax. In another almost surreal example of the hoax’s influence, a politician- Thomas Raymond- a Republican nominee for mayor of Newark, New Jersey, ‘decided to avoid political issues and to limit his campaigning to readings of Spectra and Walter Pater’. After his election victory he read the poems of ‘Anne Knish’ at his inaugural party. In yet another example Edgar Lee Masters- Pulitzer Prize winning poetic mediocrity for Spoon River Anthology- wrote to ‘Emanuel Morgan’ in praise of Spectra: ‘You have an idea in the sense that places do have an essence, everything has a noumena back of its appearance and it is this that poetry should discover... Spectrism if you must name it is at the core of things....’ AF & WB rolled dice- best 3 of 5- to determine who got to keep the letter (WB won!), & were so rapt by the hoax’s ‘success that they had the letter certified by a notary public. But, perhaps, the best example of how pervasive an influence the hoax was is illustrated by this tale: some college students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who did not realize the Spectral movement was itself a parody of other schools of poetry, created a parody of Spectrism called ‘Ultra-Violetism’, whose poets, ‘Manual Organ’ & ‘Nanne Pish’ wrote nonsense poems for the January 1917 Wisconsin Literary Magazine. & in another example of how even after a hoax is exposed there are some people who choose to believe the exposure of a hoax is itself a hoax & that the ‘real’ hoax is the truth, we have Carl Sandburg’s statement that ‘Spectra is a piece of creative art.’ CS meant both the hoax & what was produced for it. Even the father of modern poetic banality, William Carlos Williams, stated, ‘I was completely taken in by the hoax and while not subscribing in every case to the excellence of the poems admired them as a whole quite sincerely.’ Again, the critics proved how utterly bereft & fraudulent they were. To his credit, WCW at least stuck to his guns with his original opinion- alot more than most duped critics- of Spectrism or any other hoax- have done.
Let us now examine 2 typical Spectric poems by AF & WB:
Anne Knish/Arthur Ficke
“He’s the remnant of a
suit that has been drowned;
That's what decided me,” said Clarice.
"And so I married him.
I really wanted a merman;
And this slimy quality in him
No one forbade the banns.
Ergo- will you love me?"
Emanuel Morgan/Witter Bynner
Beside the brink of dream
I had put out my willow-roots and leaves
As by a stream
Too narrow for the invading greaves
Of Rome in her trireme...
Then you came - like a scream
AF’s poem starts with a nice metaphor that has become almost
clichéd in the decades since, but it goes nowhere narratively, save for
its rebuke of feminine shallowness. This is a bit better of a poem- but
still not excellent by any stretch. The drift away from cliché is
heightened by the nonsensical wordplay & rimes: greaves being Roman
shin armor, a trireme a three deep rowing seat & beeves being the
plural for beef. But, still, approached seriously it is remarkable how
seriously these hoaxes were taken- & even WORSE- how their
supporters quickly turned tail when the hoax was exposed. Their
rationales were dependent, therefore, on something not in the art
itself- correct? But, fear not- the Northern Hemisphere is not
alone in the realm of poetic hoaxing. Let’s head south next!
McAuley & Harold Stewart/Ern Malley
the most successful poetic hoaxes of the 20th century was
perpetrated by 2 soldiers of the Victoria Barracks in Melbourne,
Australia. The genesis came to the duo on a dull Saturday afternoon in
October 1943. Lieutenant James McAuley & Corporal Harold Stewart,
were Sydney poets with a shared disdain toward Modernist poetry. Their
greatest hatred was toward the surrealist pap championed by Adelaide genius/poet
Max Harris, the arrogant 22 year old editor of Angry Penguins, a
journal devoted to the spread of Modernist Poetry. JM & HS made up
the collected poems of Ernest Lalor Malley; in imitation of the
Modernist poets they hated; including MH, Dylan Thomas, Henry Treece,
& others. They rapidly wrote the 16 poems that constitute Ern
Malley’s tragic lifework in a single day. They stole lines at
random from books & papers on their desks- including military
reports, Shakespeare’s Collected Plays, a Bartlett’s Book of
Great Quotations, & mixed in false allusions, misquotations, &
dropped confused and inconsistent hints at a meaning in
place of coherence. In short, they deliberately crafted very bad poems.
They called their poet Malley because mal in French means bad. He
was Ernest because they were not. They added a high-sounding
‘preface and statement’, a tragic biography, &
created a surviving suburban sister- Ethel; which was a real good touch,
for it was ‘Ethel’ who sent EM’s posthumous magnum opus, The
Darkening Ecliptic, to the dimwitted MH, along with a cover letter
dripping with disdain & disavowal of her brother’s bohemian
deviances, as well her own professed ignorance of poetry. Ethel claimed
EM was born in England in 1918, taken to Australia after their dad’s
death 2 years later, & left in her care after their mom died when he
was 15. He dropped out of school, & worked as a garage mechanic in
Sydney; later as an insurance salesman & watch repairman in
Melbourne. In 1943 he returned to Sydney, where he died of Graves’
Disease. Ethel’s letter seemed the final touch to ‘authenticate’
EM’s sorry tale. The utter simplicity of her story inspired MH to
re-construct the poignant life-story of a poet who made even the
Romantics’ lives seem dour & dull. ‘The weeks before he died
were terrible’, Ethel wrote, ‘Sometimes he would be all right
and he would talk to me. From things he said I gathered he had been fond
of a girl in Melbourne, but had some sort of difference with her. I
didn’t want to ask him too much because he was nervy and irritable.
The crisis came suddenly, and he passed away on Friday the 23rd of July.
As he wished, he was cremated at Rookwood.’ EM was an
avant-gardist’s Ninja Fantasy Babe: his poems were filled with
fatalism & the belief that true poetic greatness would be his if he
could only live another 5 years. JM & HS made EM death occur at 25-
the same as their hero, Keats. In fact, in Colloquy with John Keats EM
writes: ‘Like you I sought
at first for Beauty/And then, in disgust, returned/As did you to the
locus of sensation/And not till then did my voice build crenellated
towers/Of an enteric substance in the air.’
of these lines were common in the EM oeuvre. But the duo lightened
things up by scattering hints of EM’s nonexistence in some poems. But
MH was a sucker for EM’s tale, as well were as his patrons,
including painter Sidney Nolan, who was the most lauded Australian
painter of his generation. The dull duo made the next issue of Angry
Penguins a paean to the hoaxing duo’s hero. Then the shit really
hit the fan with the hoax’s exposure in the press in June 1944.
Everywhere down under the reaction was the same: high hilarity at the
expense of Angry Penguins, & the exposure of MH’s
fraudulent critical standards by the duo’s hoax, which was, as Michael
Heyward pointed out in The Ern Malley Affair, a decisive act of
literary criticism, & a brilliant parody in the service of fierce
polemic. If, as JM and HS said, EM’s poems were indeed doggerel, then
EM’s boosters had proven themselves both stupid & corrupt. Heyward
was correct- as parody the poems work- but as poems- no. But the hoax
was just the beginning: the South Australian police impounded the issue
of Angry Penguins devoted to The Darkening Ecliptic on the
grounds that EM’s poems were obscene; a Keystone Kops-like turn that
further humiliated the boobish MH. But it was the court case in
September which took the proverbial cake- & iced forever the notion
of critical standards down under: featured was the unintendedly
hilarious testimony from a jackass police detective, named Vogelsang,
who didn’t know the meaning of some of the words he thought were
indecent. The magazine & MH got off, but the reputations of neither
would ever recover. But, amazingly, not even this cured MH of his fraud-
he would not cease in his apotheosis of EM- convinced that the JM’s
& HS’s claim of a hoax was itself the real hoax-
ugh, we’ve been there, done that, haven’t we? To his credit- I
guess- MH maintained a belief in EM’s supernal genius. (Need I even
comment?) Then something bizarre occurred; poet Herbert Read gave
support from England. It seemed to him that the hoaxers had been
‘hoisted on their own petard’. Read’s sophistic reasoning was that
the duo arrived at genuine art by spurious means. (We’ve been down
this road as well, haven’t we?) In time others have come to share this
opinion, & the tide in Australia has turned decisively in their
favor. The new Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry in 1992
included all of EM’s poems. But Australia was not the only place the
Malley phenomenon hit hard. Nor was such stupidity relegated to the
United Kingdom. Lifelong American poetic mediocrity Kenneth Koch printed
2 EM poems in the ‘collaborations’ issue of Locus Solus, in
1961. At Columbia University in 1968, KK introduced his writing students
to EM’s poetry, suggesting that the hoaxer’s antics were worth
imitating for legitimate poetic ends.1976 saw another American- John
Ashbery- ask his MFA students at Brooklyn College to compare EM’s
‘Sweet William’ to one of Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns. Which
did they think was the genuine article? Lost in the comparison
was the fact of Hill’s mediocrity as a poet, rather than EM’s
genius. But this does not deter an Academic determined to be stupid. In
truth, intentions are irrelevant to results; but EM is a
bad example of this. The lesson- as we shall soon learn- is that even
when bad poets & critics are correct in what they say
in a general sense, they lack the means to effectively show why
their point is correct in a specific sense. Indeed it has been Read,
Koch, Ashbery & their ilk whose petards have felt the clamp &
Both JM & HS later distanced themselves from the mess, & declared that they still believed the poems were bad- despite their championing by international critics & poetasters alike. It was as if EM was a seductive tar baby the stolidly Academic could not get enough of. The creation of EM escaped the control of his creators & still remains at odds with the satirical intentions of JM & HS. I guess it’s a fitting reward that even the hoaxer’s intent is eventually rendered meaningless. As with the Spectrist duo, JM’s & HS’s ‘genuine’ poetry would suffer by critical comparison- rightly or wrongly. EM’s ‘final’ poem Petit Testament ends with these lines: ‘I/Who have lived in the shadow that each act/Casts on the next act now emerge/As loyal as the thistle that in session/Puffs its full seed upon the indicative air./I have split the infinitive. Beyond is anything.’ This obvious satire still goes over the heads of the Read/Koch/Ashbery crowd. But any close reading of the poems of EM reveals this is both bad- & intendedly bad- poetry. Let’s look at Durer: Innsbruck, 1495:
I had often, cowled in the slumberous heavy air,
Closed my inanimate lids to find it real,
As I knew it would be, the colourful spires
And painted roofs, the high snows glimpsed at the back,
All reversed in the quiet reflecting waters
Not knowing then that Durer perceived it too.
Now I find that once more I have shrunk
To an interloper, robber of dead men's dream,
I had read in books that art is not easy
But no one warned that the mind repeats
In its ignorance the vision of others. I am still
The black swan of trespass on alien waters.
That apologists could ever read this & attach the modifier ‘good’ to it is ridiculous. Cliché-watch: slumberous heavy air (despite the nice usage of slumber), closing lids, high snows, quiet & reflecting waters!, art’s unease, the vision, black swan (an EM fave!), & trespass. Of course, defenders would say: ‘Well, you picked his worst poem!’ well, no- just a known & defended poem. Note, also, the near total lack of music. That the clichés are so over-the-top & used together in such familiar ways should suggest parody, at the very least. But, no. Armed with Ethel’s teary letter, pathos has replaced bathos which replaced the original satire. Ugh! But, for the fun of it, let’s take a crack at another aforementioned EM ‘classic’!:
I have avoided your
wide English eyes:
But now I am whirled in their vortex.
My blood becomes a Damaged Man
Most like your Albion;
And I must go with stone feet
Down the staircase of flesh
To where in a shuddering embrace
My toppling opposites commit
The obscene, the unforgivable rape.
One moment of
daylight let me have
Like a white arm thrust
Out of the dark and self-denying wave
And in the one moment I
Shall irremediably attest
How (though with sobs, and torn cries bleeding)
My white swan of quietness lies
Sanctified on my black swan's breast.
Perhaps a touch better than the 1st EM poem- but still
bad- let’s see: a whirling vortex (tautology alert!), blood, Albion (a
name for Britain before the 12th century & often used in
bad Romantic poetry- another clue missed?), stone’s contrast
with flesh, shuddering embrace, rape, etc. & that’s only
stanza 1! I won’t even bother with the manifest crap in stanza 2- but
note the return of the black swan! Again, that any poet of any ability
could rationalize this as good poetry- wow….! Obviously, it was the
story behind the poems that held the power the poems, themselves,
lacked. That MH stood by his original conviction over the poetry’s
excellence gets him kudos for at least being an honest & honorable
critic. But his critical skills suck ass. Same might be said in lesser
degrees of Read, Koch, & Ashbery. But the others who decried this
hoax after its exposure- just as in all the other cases- well, I guess
Purgatory has a reason after all.
Before we get to the ‘biggest’ & most covered-up hoax of recent vintage- only ½ a decade or so- let’s leapfrog to an even more recent hoax, back in the ‘better’ hemisphere. Then we will get our implements sharpened for the detestable fraud(s) that is/(are) the American Poetry Review.
This hoax takes place in Canada in 2000. The Greek embassy in
Montreal hosted a coming-out party for a legendary (this word
often accompanies hoaxes- as well other bad artworks/artists)
‘Greek’ poet’s new book: Saracen
Island: The Poetry of Andreas Karavis. A
man claiming to be AK showed up, looked & sounded the part. He spoke
in Greek & wore a fisherman's cap. Was he the reclusive poet or an
impostor? & did AK even exist? Canadian literati were divided &
a columnist for The Globe and Mail- Matthew Hays- wrote a
sensationalized story headlined KARAVIS:
GREEK GOD OF POETRY OR LITERARY HOAX? The answer turned out to be
the latter. Supposed translator David Solway, a poet/essayist admitted
to an online magazine- Lingua Franca- that he invented the
fabulous Greek poet, & that the man who pretended to be AK was
merely DS’s dentist. The
hoax began in 10/99 when Books in Canada ran a story on ‘Karavis’,
calling him a Modern Homer. (Please note the way-over-the-top
comparisons of relative unknowns to the immortals- another hoax hallmark
often unspotted.) Along with poems the mag featured an interview with
the hermitic poet; a photo of a bearded, capped, smirking old man; &
an essay by Solway on the ‘Master’. AK was born in 1932 on Crete,
then moved to Sérifos, then Lipsi. He sold his poems with fish, even
gave them away- a trope of poverty & big-heartedness that is often
repeated in tales of ‘discovered’ poets; almost all of whom turn out
to be hoaxes. AK’s fortune & reputation ‘grew’ to national
proportions, yet despite his accolades, AK chose the Howard Hughes way
of life. Only after a years-long manhunt did DS meet AK
‘face-to-face’ in 1991. The 2 became quick friends &
collaborators. DS then confessed he hoaxed Books in Canada; yet
some of its readers were more astute. The next issue saw a letter to
the editor from a Fred Reed- a claimed Greek scholar who took issue with
DS- not over AK's existence nor poetic excellence- but over biographical
data. FR claimed AK falsified his ancestry & made his fortune as a
smuggler. FR then dropped a bombshell: AK's 1st verses, were but pirate
translations of poems by the Hydra Mafia- a group of
expatriate Canucks. FR even suggested AK appropriated the early poems of
DS! DS had gained an ally- witting or not! But FR was only the 1st-
a certain Yiorgos Chouliaris, the Greek embassy’s press attaché,
wrote a letter commending DS for his ‘extremely imaginative efforts’
on AK's behalf. Why would Chouliaris play this game? ‘I thought it
appropriate to honor a Canadian writer who went to such roundabout
lengths to validate his lifelong involvement with Greece.’ When DS saw
the letter, he contacted YC, who agreed to continue the hoax. As with
McAuley & Stewart’s Ern Malley hoax, this 1 grew beyond its
creator & his cohorts. Reports circulated that conferences on AK
were planned at the University of Thessaloniki in Greece & the
University of Coimbra in Portugal. At a party, DS met a writer who
claimed to have admired AK's work for many years, & another who
claimed AK was a far more worthy possible Nobelist than noted Greek
poets George Seferis & Odysseus Elytis. DS even got 2 postcards in
Greek from AK- postmarked from Greece, the 1st berating him for
disseminating his photo, & the 2nd a forgiving 1. To this day DS has
no idea who sent the postcards. DS then published the book Saracen
Island- about 80 pages of poetry, & 20 of commentary &
biography. The biggest revelation was that AK hates Rainer Maria
Rilke’s poetry with a venom. DS then published An Andreas Karavis
Companion, a critical treatise of Karavisiana. An
‘excerpt’ from a Lipsi tourist brochure reads, Adding more to the
charms of fabled Lipsi there is existing here the great poet Andreas
Karavis, & an account of a conversation with AK about gender
politics, & photo of Andrea Dworkin that brought AK to his knees
with laughter. DS told Lingua Franca, he came to a juncture- ‘both
impasse and crossroads....The tone, stance, and poetic attitudes that
had marked my work for a decade were, I felt, exhausted and in need of
replacement. Such a 'new' language cannot be summoned by fiat; it must
flow from a new set of postulates and a new quality of experience.... So
I invented Karavis to serve as alter ego and heteronym, provided him
with a life history, and situated him as a sort of renegade and loner in
the polemical context of contemporary Greek poetry.’ The term
‘heteronym’ recalls the schizoid Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa,
whom DS views as hero- if not mentor. But DS denies the hoax was a mere
prank. ‘Karavis is not a hoax in the usual sense of the term. My
intent is not deflationary in the tradition of Harold Stewart and James
McCauley's Ern Malley or Kent Johnson's Hiroshima poet Araki Yasusada.’
he said, alluding to the aforementioned hoaxes which nailed the
fraudulent hypocrisy, gullibility, & artistic bankruptcy of the
power structure in poetry. DS also denies lineage to the earlier,
aforementioned Ossian & Chatterton hoaxes. ‘I am not interested
in perpetuating a deception but in creating a style’, DS
protested. Peter Davison, poetry editor/shill at the Atlantic Monthly
said ‘Why is it so important that another name was used? What
should matter, it seems to me, is whether the poems contain vitality,
identity as poems.’ Of course, by the time the Atlantic got
ahold of DS’s poems the cat was loose & wailing at the moon- wanna
bet PD would be singing a different tune had he not known? DS also
claims the hoax was perpetrated to expose some of the deficiencies he
sees with Canuck sensibilities: ‘Canadians are not a very exciting
people. Like rubes at a carnival, they need to be poked, challenged,
gulled, bedazzled, so that the collective jaw drops in something other
than an insufficiently stifled yawn.’
Now, DS is famed- not for his ‘own’ poems, but for AK’s
poetry. Rachel Hadas, a Greek-American poet thinks the poems are very
good, but obviously not translations- kind of sounds like the rationale
of a former sucker, doesn’t it? Aside from attaché YC, Greeks-
however- were not amused; after all, they are the pillars upon which all
Western literature is constructed. In December, 1999 To Vima, an
Athens newspaper, chided DS & FR for deceiving Canadians. Yet,
unbelievably- the article included a boyhood photo of AK! Still, the
degree the Canadian press & literati aided & abetted the hoax is
worth noting- perhaps they are a bit less uptight than their American
counterparts- as well as what DS surmised?
Regardless, let us take on a couple of AK’s poems.
When the wind started
a week ago, two weeks, a month perhaps,
we did all the usual things --
nailed the window shutters tight,
planed the grooves and flanges
of the door planks,
placed chimney pots upon the roof tiles.
Now the very shape
or in dried-up watercourse.
I record everything
with the doggedness of the tamarisk tree,
with the memory of the heavy stone,
to keep what is left
from blowing away
in this endless, anonymous wind
disingenuity extends to his claim that he intended AK to be a heteronym-
not hoax. Otherwise his poetic acumen is as bad as the previously
mentioned rationalizers. The allusions to classic Greek tropes has no
substance in this snippet because DS gives us totally anonymous verse-
there is nothing here but a raft of bland, styleless poetry & clichés-
although less than some of the other poems we’ve witnessed.
Nonetheless we are infected by bare earth, dust, stones, caves by
the sea, heavy stone, & anonymous wind. Ugh…. Here is
‘Morning’- another AK ‘classic’:
The black olive
shakes the cup of the morning glory
like a fisherman swirling his cognac glass
to catch the early sun
spinning in the baby's bassinet
means no harm
and will not hurt him.
While not a particularly good poem, this does illustrate a slight
difference between AK &, say, the Spectrists. This poem is serious,
& has some nice imagery. But it really says nothing new, nor in any
new ways. If DS’s aim was to create a ‘poetic mediocrity’, I guess
he succeeded. But this hoax turned out to be the most fun- as far as the
antics which attended the publication of the poems & snowballed to
astounding proportions- even as the work, itself, is interminably dull
& without spark. But, the same things- & worse- could be said
about the most glaring proof of the Academic fraudulence in America- at
least poetically. Unfortunately, the APR/Araki Yasusada hoax had
none of the good humor the Andreas Karavis hoax did, & even inspired
wild accusations of criminality, & a pretty effective coverup. Plus,
of all the hoaxes, the AY hoax featured the worst poetry & most
galling defenses. Let us return to America for this most disturbing
fraud- exposed by a very- & surprisingly-
The most successful poetry hoax of the post-World War 2 years started in the early 1990s when a disaffected poet/professor/lecturer named Kent Johnson, 40-something-year-old professor of English & Spanish at Highland Community College in Freeport, Illinois, decided to wreak his vengeance upon the Academic world which had previously spurned & spat upon his own poetry. Just as the Ern Malley hoaxers were fed up with Modernism, KJ had tired of the relentless Politically Correct ‘poetry’ that was being foisted upon the semi-literate masses as art. The poetry of witness & suffering galled the defiant KJ. The aesthetic deserts that occupied poetry- both Nuyoricanism & Languagist crap- left little room for someone who had firm ideas that art needed to be in art. So KJ concocted a guilty white liberal’s wettest dream yet- that of a tragic survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Enter ‘Araki Yasusada’, whose poems started being published in notedly effete PC mags like Aerial, First Intensity, Stand, Grand Street & Conjunctions. Raves piled up from dim-witted editors & critics: the poems were vivid & surreal. As with the Malley hoax a biography of tragic (& moreso than EM- EPIC) proportions was ready-made: AY had lost most of his family in the bombing. Witness (no pun):
was born in 1907 in the city of Kyoto, where he lived until 1921, when
his family moved to Hiroshima. He attended Hiroshima University
sporadically between 1925 and 1928, with the intent of receiving a
degree in Western Literature. Due, however, to his father's illness, he
was forced, in the interests of the family, to undertake full-time
employment with the postal service and withdraw from his formal studies.
In 1930 he married his only wife Nomura, with whom he had two daughters
and a son. In 1936, Yasusada was conscripted into the Japanese Imperial
Army and worked as a clerk in the Hiroshima division of the Military
Postal Service. His wife and youngest daughter Chieko, died instantly in
the atomic blast on August 6. His daughter Akiko survived, yet perished
less than four years later from radiation sickness. His son, Yasunari,
an infant at the time, was with relatives outside the city.
Yasusada died in 1972 after a long struggle with cancer.
This poet & his writings were a find hailed as witty, experimental
& offered a link between the Japanese sensibility & Western Left
Wing poetics which fetishized all things Eastern. Excerpts from the
scribblings dropped terms & names as renga & Roland
Barthes. Lines like ‘When I hold by tongue inside a written
sentence/it blisters’ were hailed as different from the
sentimentality of many poets who were enthralled with the Hiroshima
bombing- even as its very imagery (a silenced tongue & blisters)
suggested possible parody. But so swept up in the ‘emerging’ story
were Western intellectuals that these hints crept right by them. Tidbits
like AY’s activity in avant-garde groups of the pre-WW2 period: Soun
[Layered Clouds] & the ‘experimental’ renga circle Kai
[Oars] boosted AY’s credentials to the left in Academia. KJ
hooked in the ‘radical’ outsider element with this gem: in the 60s
AY ‘discovered’ Jack Spicer- yes, the noted wannabe East Coast
beatnik & doggerelist! A 1967 letter to his renga pal Akutagawa
Fusei, included in APR, gets ecstatic over Barthes's Empire of
Signs, & Holocaust survivor & ‘witness’ Surrealist poet
Paul Celan. Unlike the Karavis case, but like most hoaxes, AY was not
available- he had died of cancer in 1972, his works being
‘discovered’ by his son in 1980 (shades of EM?). Fortunately, for
the Left, AY was not only a poet- but a diarist: this being a 2-for-1
boner no self-respecting ‘Liberal’ MFA holder would not fellate! His
notebooks- 14 of which contained dozens of poems, drafts, English class
assignments, diary entries, drawings, letters, & recordings of Zen
ruminations- were being translated & scheduled for publication by Wesleyan
University Press. Then, rumors began to spread of a possible hoax.
The same manuscripts submitted to poetry journals were showing up on the
desks of critics & academics like Marjorie Perloff. To selected
critics KJ admitted AY was nothing but an invented persona, the creation
of someone intent on keeping his/its origins a secret. The
Internet rumor mill raged about the deception. As the hoax leaked out,
editors who published AY’s doggerel- laden with maudlin (Spielbergian?)
footnotes on the death of AY's daughter from radiation poisoning- were
out for someone’s blood. That such hoaxes might occur in a rubed-out
nation like Australia was 1 thing- but America?
Conveniently ignoring the Spectrist hoax Academics fulminated that a hoax like this had never happened before- at least in the USA. After the 7-8/96 American Poetry Review’s supplemental pullout section featured this poet of tragic pedigree, they were especially vulnerable. KJ had set up Academia perfectly, & their subsequent self-righteous pomp only aided their quick downfall & quicker hush-up campaign. Yet the episode produced as many embarrassed editors as chuckling critics, who pounced upon not only the hoax, but the obvious fraud that literary magazines had constructed over the past few decades- with APR leading the way. Literary historians trumpeted AY's acceptance as proof American Poetry had been hoodwinked & hijacked by political idealogues, whose depthless understanding & knee-jerk fellatio of the Orientalist avant-garde was laughable. Postmodernists smugly saw it as a rebuke to those stragglers who keep trying to roll back the rock from the tomb of the author. Ironically, 1 of AY’s biggest boosters was Postmodernist poster boy Ron Silliman- more on that later. Critics of the ‘poetry of witness’ school- a movement championing work created in & about of war & suffering (see Forché, Carolyn; Milosz, Czeslaw; phonies-at-large; etc.)- were absolutely thrilled by the way the hoax writings exposed poetry editors (& their shills) as suckers for any writing by the Victimized Other.
But, who was behind it all? was the query. KJ, the source for the submissions, follow-up letters, & exegeses surrounding AY, suddenly changed the rules, again- he backtracked from earlier admissions of the hoax. That he had published several poems of his own that were written in the voice of a Hiroshima survivor- & were similar to the AY doggerel- lent a disingenuity to his denials. KJ also lectured on AY, Wallace Stevens & Robert Creeley in a 1992 visit to Bowling Green. KJ decided that the question of AY's real identity should remain forever in flux, a ‘hyperauthorship’ of Pessoan pedigree. KJ submitted to a number of interviews about the hoax- only to deny its ‘reality’ as a hoax. In the years since he has faded into oblivion- with the active aid of vengeful poetastric editors gleefully entombing him. The editors’ resentment, & fascination, led an anonymous few of them to tell the online mag Lingua Franca that KJ told them who the real author was. Yet, each of the answers was different to a different editor. KJ had decided to go the tired & predictable Postmodern route with not just poetry- but hoax poetry! It was a ‘hoax within a hoax’. There was no AY. There was no Tosa Motokiyu. It was all red herrings, & it was all bad. That the gullible bent their knees over & again makes this hoax almost comically successful. Even beyond AY, KJ had fancied himself a Proteus who could not be stopped! The editors, after forgiving (to a degree) the initial hoax, were now really out for KJ’s scalp! Here’s a typical KJ explanation for the origins of the work: AY was really Tosa Motokiyu, 1 of AY’s credited translators- along with Okura Kyojin, & Ojiu Norinaga- all 3 ‘noted poets’ from Hiroshima. Rumors abounded as to co-conspirators: Javier Alvarez, an unknown Mexican folk singer was accused. But Motokiyu was another pseudonym for a writer who purportedly died of cancer in the mid-1990s, & was a college roommate of KJ’s & JA’s in Milwaukee. Motokiyu created the poems in an attempt to ‘imagine another life in the most sincere way he knew how....only by remaining hidden could he accomplish that.’- note the repetition of this rationale veining throughout these hoaxes! Now the game was that Motokiyu wrote 95% of the poems, & wanted to remain forever unidentified. KJ admitted the rest was his own reworked earlier poetry. Regardless, defenders of the doggerel stuck by their guns. AY’s ‘corrosive’ imagery- we’ll dissect those claims in a bit!- mix with slapstick & eroticism- so is a typical defense. Yet the footnotes in American Poetry Review were parodic. Grand Street's prose piece ‘From The Diary of Rita Hayworth’, in which even AY ‘adopts’ a persona, is a contortion of personality- the perfect poison for the effete Left Wingers who approached the poems with knees bent & throats oiled for a deep plunge.
Reactions were brutal against AY & KJ. The 1st to embarrass himself, even moreso than by publishing the doggerel in the 1st place, was APR co-editor/boob Arthur Vogelsang, who hung himself out to dry with this profoundly moronic statement: ‘This is essentially a criminal act!’, he spat. Incredibly, American Poetry Review & Stand demanded return of their author's payment, & KJ was whom the requests were addressed to. That the work they still defended as ‘brilliant’ was unchanged seems to have been lost in the foggy rationale. Instead, these recreant acts revealed that to Academics provenance of art trumps excellence of art in almost all editors’ minds. When Wesleyan learned of the hoax they dropped the notebooks manuscript with all dispatch. Wesleyan Press poetry editor Suzanna Tamminin claimed to absolutely love the poems when she received them, but she then rejected the ‘notebooks’ manuscript, citing concerns about ‘ethical issues’. No elaboration was offered (of course!)- a typical defense of those caught with their hands in the cookie jar: silence! KJ even offered to frame the writings- stating that he had in fact written them, only to backtrack again & state that an ailing Motokiyu requested he take credit, to prod Wesleyan's acceptance & help him disappear more deeply into the crowd of figures...that populate the fictional world he made. (We’ve heard this stuff before- no?) ‘There was, as well, a personal feeling of being humiliated,’ said ST. ‘But then again, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It does speak to the power of the writing.’ Whoa boy!, not only does ST reveal herself a PC Elitist- but a poetic ignorant, as we shall soon reveal with the horrible poetry itself. What amazes is how utterly ignorant of their own massive part in their undoings these people played! Still another boob, Lee Chapman, editor of a Hiroshima issue of First Intensity, in 1995, said she was livid & regards what was done as ugly and selfish. ‘It struck me as particularly conceited and cynical to be pushing made-up material relating to the horror of Hiroshima, when real survivors and their families are still around to remember what happened to them.’ Note the emphasis on the political, not poetical content. LC feels art must serve an ameliorative process, or it isn’t art. We’ve seen the nonsense that leads to. But when pushed, LC defiantly said she still found the poems remarkable, but resented the way they were interwoven with ‘heart-rending annotations' about AY’s tragedy. Note the trend- in effect, the dummies are blaming the ‘brilliance’ of the art for trashing their common sense & judgment, & leading them astray into ‘enjoyment’ when they should have been somber over the political import of the art itself. Yet another dolt (forgive the coming rhyme), John Solt, a professor of Japanese culture at Amherst College railed, ‘This is just Japanized crap. It plays into the American idea of what is interesting about Japanese culture- Zen, haiku, anything seen as exotic- & gets it all wrong, adding Western humor and irony." Solt points to a line, ‘obediently bowing the white flowers.’ ‘Bowing is not seen as subservient in Japan, it's a form of greeting.’ Solt’s reaction is the, ‘Of course, I was never taken in for a second.’ routine- even though his protesteth too much reveals otherwise. Brad Morrow, imperceptive editor of Conjunctions, which published poems in 1994, says he was intrigued by the hoax, but finally found the whole affair ‘coy, self-satisfied, glib.’ He regards Hiroshima as ‘almost too grim’. ‘If it was written by a Hiroshima survivor, as a literary response to that experience, then it's an amazing historical document and certainly a remarkable technical achievement. If it's just someone being emphatic in another culture fifty years later, it's legitimate but not as interesting.’- the question, of course, is how these respective dildos arrive at these subjective-to-the-max ethics & then twist them into artistic dicta! Perhaps BM’s intials have something to do with what resides in his cranium!
But not all the gulled editors & critics were vindictive. Deborah Treisman, who published AY in Grand Street, laughed when she found out the bio was bogus, although she feels the deception was ‘irresponsible’. Only 2 noted critics of the whole affair showed any common sense- even though both parties’ poetic judgment was similarly lacking.
1st was ubiquitous poetic/critical Internet diva Marjorie Perloff: ‘There isn't any sacred subject you can't make a hoax about! Why would this be more O.K. if it were about the victim of a car accident?’ A fair, & pointed query. But to MP the relevant issue is editorial hypocrisy: ‘If they thought it was such good writing, they should still think it was good writing.’ BINGO! What was revealed was the fraudulent idea that the provenance of art is as or more important than the content- or, as we’ve said before, the belief that Intent is more important than content!
MP even devoted an essay to the hoax, In Search Of The Authentic Other: The Poetry Of Araki Yasusada. There she rips noted L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E doggerelist/(fraud?) Ron Silliman’s unvarnished stupidity: ‘In response to the Conjunctions portfolio, the poet Ron Silliman told his friends and fellow poets on the Buffalo Poetics List that the journal had introduced "a poet whose work simply takes my breath away." Citing the short "Telescope with Urn," which begins with the line "The image of the galaxies spreads out like a cloud of sperm," Silliman remarks, "There's an elevation of tone in these poems that reminds me more of Michael Palmer than Spicer, perhaps because the translators are all Hiroshima poets (one of whom seems to spend half of each year in Sebastapol [CA], although I don't know if he's known to [David] Bromige or to Cydney Chadwick). These works kept me up last night and probably will again for another night or three. I recommend them highly."’ MP relates: ‘there are few contemporary poets more widely read, engaged, and intellectually lively than the poet-editor-critic Ron Silliman, who declared that Yasusada's memorable phrases kept him awake at night.’ So, why was he so stupid?
MP hits the nail head on with a concise & pointed barb at Silliman & his ilk: ‘The Yasusada case, I shall argue here, can be understood as a reaction formation experienced by a literary community that no longer trusts the individual talent to rise above mass culture and hence must find a poetry worthy of its attention in increasingly remote and improbable locations. "Excellence," now largely dismissed as an essentialist concept, is subordinated to issues of agency and positionality, the master text here no doubt still being Michel Foucault's famous 1969 essay, "What Is an Author?"
Foucault's central position, which has come to be de rigueur in the academy, is that it is the culture that constructs or writes the author, not vice-versa: "the essential basis of . . . writing is not the exalted emotions related to the act of composition or the insertion of a subject into language. Rather, it is primarily concerned with creating an opening where the writing subject endlessly disappears." Disappears because, far from being "free" to write whatever he or she wishes, the writing subject can only work within the limits of the dominant discourse and hence is no more than a function of the discourse within which it circulates. No longer then do we ask "What has [the author] revealed of his most profound self in his language"? The question is rather, "Where does [this discourse] come from; how is it circulated; who controls it? What placements are determined for possible subjects?" (MF 138). Who, in other words, is empowered to speak and from what position? And, once these questions become central, emphasis falls on those who have, thus far, not been empowered to speak-- in earlier centuries, women and lower-class writers; in our own moment, the victims of oppression of whatever stamp: Colonialist, racist, sexist, homophobic, and so on.’
She then posits & details a double whammy of American ‘witness’ poetry & the fact of a supposed Hiroshima survivor breaking a taboo & speaking of it: ‘But although the testimonials of the hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) continue to play a central role in Japanese culture, and although there has been a definite market for Hiroshima-witness poems, especially in the West, the fact is--and this will shed light on Yasusada's position--that contemporary Japanese poets have been reluctant to write about Hiroshima or, for that matter, about the culture of nuclear weapons. No doubt, memories of a war that the then wholly nationalist, autocratic, and bellicose Imperial Japanese government had initiated are too painful; for those born after 1945, moreover, these memories no longer seem directly relevant. "It is difficult," the young poet-scholar Nagahata Akitoshi remarked in a letter to me (January 15, 1997), "for us to talk about Hiroshima / Nagasaki, because to do so would always make us question our subjectivity. We are sons and daughters of the people who were bombed, but at the same time of the oppressors. We could blame our fate on the politicians at the time (i.e., militarists) or on the war in the abstract. But I think this is an evasion."’ Yet given the mileage Japan has politically gained over the last few decades with its Hiroshima monuments, Remembrance day, etc., this position is not as credible as MP thinks it is. I would give far greater weight to the American aspect of the equation. NEVER underestimate the gullibility of a guilty white ‘liberal’- especially 1 who’s an American intellectual! MP also blasts APR’s lack of publishing vibrant young Japanese poets in favor of the PC fave, AY. That seems a bit much as it is the American Poetry Review.
Nonetheless, MP then dissects a # of facts regarding the AY hoax:
1) She states the name Araki
Yasusada means, in Japanese usage, that Araki is the family name,
Yasusada the first name. Yet the ‘translators’ regularly refer to
the poet as Yasusada, which would be equivalent to referring to Roland
Barthes as Roland. [incidentally, MP is wrong, as I have had a #
of Japanese friends over the years & the personal/family name order
varies by individual- some preferring the ancient/Oriental f/p way &
others the modern/Occidental p/f. Later she relates a tale about
celebrated postwar poet Tanikawa Shuntaro- oblivious to the fact that in
America he is known & published as Shuntaro Tanikawa.]
2) She cannot accept that AY never tried to publish any of his postwar poems & that they were unknown in his Japan, where he seems to have had correspondence with poets.
3) She says AY supposedly ‘attended Hiroshima University sporadically between 1925 and 1928, with the intent of receiving a degree in Western Literature.’ Yet Hiroshima University was not founded until 1949.
4) The influence of Jack Spicer in the mid-60s seems implausible, to MP, because Spicer was an unknown at the time, & is still largely unknown.
5) Roland Barthes is listed as a 2nd major influence. But The Empire of Signs, which AY ‘pored over’ in 1967, wasn't published in French until 1970. MP says there no way AY could have read Barthes' book.
6) Paul Celan did not start publishing until 1952. So the notion that he was closely studied in the Japan of the 30s MP claims is absurd.
7) & finally MP resorts to her Harold Bloomian roots with this: ‘Finally, there is a wonderful clinamen in the November 7 1967 letter to the poet's collaborator, Fusei. "Besides Spicer," writes Yasusada, "there are interesting new books here waiting for you by poets named Gary Snyder, Bob Kaufman, Kenneth Rexroth, Howard McCord, Robert Creeley, Helen Adams [sic], and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Kuribayashi tells me that they were strongly recommended to him by McCord, the owner of City Lights Bookstore, a popular bookseller in San Francisco." (APR 26). Now we can, with a stretch of the imagination, accept the fact that the sixty-year old Hiroshima survivor, whose poetic habits would most probably have been formed much earlier, would interest himself in the newest Beat poets from the U.S. But the give-away in the list is Howard McCord, not a Bay Area poet at all but a poet-professor from Bowling Green University who was Kent Johnson's college mentor. Hence the sly footnote provided by Yasusada's translators: "Yasusada is confused here, as the real owner of the City Lights Bookstore is Lawrence Ferlinghetti" (APR 26).’ MP reasons that KJ wanted to be ‘found out’, because of these Freudian- or deliberate- slips. She also cites the mention of ‘scubadivers’ & ‘crematorium’ in a 1925 poem, 2 decades before their invention.
But MP saves her wickedest scalding for Languagist poetaster Ron Silliman: ‘How Japanese, then, is Yasusada's lyric? And how does that lyric relate to our own late twentieth-century paradigms? Let me begin with the poem that so impressed Ron Silliman, "Telscope with Urn" from Conjunctions:
The image of the galaxies spreads out like a cloud of sperm.
Expanding said the observatory guide, and at such and such velocity.
It is like the idea of the flowers, opening within the idea of the flowers.
I like to think of that, said the monk, arranging them with his papery fingers.
Tiny were you, and squatted over a sky-colored bowl to make water.
What a big girl! cried we, tossing you in the general direction of the
Intently, then, in the dream, I folded up the great telescope on Mount
In the form of this crane, it is small enough for the urn. (CON 69)
Compared to the Japanese
poems I cited a moment ago, "Telescope with Urn" is elliptical
and fragmentary. Each line, set off from the next by double spacing, is
a separate sentence, and the sentences, while straightforward
syntactically, tend not to connect. Reference, moreover, is often
unclear as in "I like to think of that, said the monk, arranging
them with his papery fingers," where we know neither what
"that" is nor what "them" the monk is arranging. The
poem's ellipsis is coupled with syntactic inversion, as in "Tiny
were you" and "What a big girl! cried we," with the
Zen-like repetition of such phrases as "It is like the idea of the
flowers, opening within the idea of the flowers," and with the
circomlocution of "squatted over a sky-colored bowl to make
The effect of such devices is that the poem has a reassuringly "archaic," "oriental" feel; its reticence, dignity, and elusiveness, its references to Mount Horai, flowers, and stars, bring to mind the ritual and stylization of Noh and Bunraku. At the same time, the "Japanese" nature imagery is eroticized in a distinctly modern way, and the "scientific" reference to the "velocity" of the expansion of the galaxies reminds us that this is an up-to-date lyric. And not just any up-to-date lyric but one about Hiroshima: "Telescope with Urn" refers to the death of the poet's young daughter in the nuclear raid. The urn with the crane on it is hers, and the poem contrasts the enormity of the macrocosm (the galaxies) with the terrifying microcosm of the life reduced to ashes inside the small urn.’ But MP reads far too much into the Yasusada doggerel. The piece is almost totally without any music- aural or imagistic. & 1 of a # of obvious misreads is that the crane refers to a marking on the urn, when it obviously is a metaphor for the telescope being folded into the death-representing urn. Also, pointless digressions into Silliman’s New Sentence dicta- speciously comparing it to renga- take away from the power of MP’s otherwise strong & focused arguments. But, MP is always very hit & miss with her points!
Here’s a good 1 as to why Silliman & Languagists orgasmed: ‘Johnson uses one other form of layering that deserves mention. In all the Yasusada portfolios published to date, the poems are embedded in a larger archive, that consists of letters, English assignments (see APR 25), commentaries, and elaborate footnotes. The model would be the palimpsestic notebooks of George Oppen, where drafts of poems are surrounded by extracts from Heidegger and other philosophers, by letters, autobiographical notes, source material, and so on. Clearly, contemporary readers have a predilection for this sort of documentary material.’
Now, here’s a bad 1- she still thinks the poems are brilliant, so is troubled not by there true ‘doggerelness’ but by their skewings with historicity. She ends with: ‘First, most academics today (and most poets and editors, after all, now hold academic posts) pay lip service to the Foucaultian notion of cultural construction, of discourse networks that discipline the individual talent. Hence the search for novel and interesting cultural positioning, as in the case of Araki Yasusada, that rare Hiroshima survivor to have turned up so conveniently so late in the day, with such a fascinating cache of never-before-published poems and documents. Never mind Araki Yasusada the individual: it is his identitarian self that matters, his occupation of the position of avant-gardist who is also victim, disseminator of Jack Spicer, Roland Barthes, and the Language poets, who is also a traditional renga and haiku poet, purveyor of dissonant chords and gaps in grammar who also has something centrally important to say about atomic warfare, and quintessential neglected genius who is also a communitarian, believing that there is no such thing as "ownership" of one's writings....’ That MP is so hit & miss bears out that she really shares the same basic non-standards for poetry as the rest of the folks she criticizes- this is that ‘chance’ time she differs- & saves most of her ass for it!
Then there is this point, which leaves the question ‘How can art be good if it makes no demands of its audience?’ hanging: ‘Accessibility, in this case, has much to do with the paradox that even as Yasusada's poetry satisfies an American reader's demand, his work makes no demand on us. We can empathize with the "tragedy" in which Yasusada was caught up in the prime of his life (he was thirty-eight at the time of the nuclear attack), without having to think through the ethical issues involved in any serious way. The Yasusada archive puts forward no choice we would have to make, triggers no moral or psychological debate we might engage in....’
From that cliff, MP then delves into political possibilities for the AY hoax phenomenon: ‘How did we get ourselves into this bind? Partly, no doubt, because our current skepticism, indeed cynicism, as to the power and efficacy of government (that is, our government) is generally coupled with an uncritical--or at least unquestioning-- attitude toward the governments of other nations. The Cold War, as it is currently represented in the literary and visual arts, is almost invariably our Cold War, the bombing of Hiroshima, our infamy. The complexities and contradictions of geopolitics thus take a back seat to moral outrage on the one hand, fictional construction on the other.’ Not a bad point, but she really scores a bull’s-eye with: ‘The work (AY’s) thus responds to the Romantic tenet that the poet (and by extension the poet's audience) is committed to feeling rather than knowing, to perception and intuition rather than philosophy and history. Indeed, the common prejudice that poets, as well as their readers, are exempt from the pursuit of complex ideas, dies hard: witness the division, still standard in American universities, between the departments of "English Literature" and "Creative Writing," the names implying that scholarship and critical theory are not "creative," even as "creative writing" does not need to be informed by theory or scholarship.’
Yet, she ends her otherwise decent piece of criticism by again ignoring the question of the horrid poetry itself: ‘Like Pound's Homage to Sextus Propertius, the Yasusada notebooks force us to go back to the "originals," so as to see what they really were and how they have been transformed. One can argue, of course, that Pound did write Propertius in his own name; he did not, as Johnson does, pose as someone else. But the fact is that Pound was already famous when he wrote his Latin "translation" and so he could afford to be Ezra Pound, whereas the unknown Kent Johnson, writing in what is an increasingly glutted and cut-throat poetry market, had no such alternative. Johnson took, in other words, the Ossian route rather than the route of Pound or of the Goethe of the West-Oestlicher Divan. But just as McPherson's Ossian brought on a valuable reconsideration of the medieval, so "Yasusada" may prompt us to familiarize outselves with the actual Hiroshima memoirs of the fifties and sixties, as well as with Japanese postwar poetry in its specific articulations. What we need are not more "authentic" and "sensitive" witnesses to what we take to be exotic cultural and ethnic practices, but a willingness, on the part of poet as well as reader, to look searchingly and critically at what is always already there.’
While MP’s attack was notable in that there was some barbery in it, in a rare display of venom poetry critic Eliot Weinberger showed an admirable & welcome brutality. In the Voice Literary Supplement, EW in his attacks on the fools & frauds the hoax exposed said: ‘the hoax was a broadside at such unethical cronyism & unfairness, & buried the idea of ‘poetry where you had to have been there.’ Continuing in a later essay Three Footnotes- EW blisters many: ‘....the Russian critic Mikhail Epstein has brilliantly demonstrated that Yasusada could be the work of either of two well-known Russian writers, Andrei Bitov and Dmitry Prigov (or possibly a collaboration). Both have previously invented authors--one of them Chinese, another Polish-Italian-Japanese--and both have long-announced, mysteriously unpublished "Japanese" projects. Moreover, in true conspiratologist fashion, Epstein locates both writers at a conference in St. Petersburg with the American purveyor of the Yasusada manuscripts, Kent Johnson, who is also the editor of an anthology of the new Russian poetry.’
Unafraid to go out on a limb with naming suspects, & moronic editors, he then takes aim at the critics of the hoax itself: ‘Marjorie Perloff makes a mistake, I think, in having "Kent Johnson" stand for the author. He/she/they should be known as the Yasusada Author, much as we refer to a Renaissance painter as the Master of the X Altar.
The point is that those who dismiss the Yasusada poems as a cruel imperialist joke are assuming the author is a white American male, which in turn is based on the assumption that anyone who is not a white Euro-male wants to speak only in an "authentic" voice.’
He goes on to attack the very foundations of contemporary poetry’s woes: ‘Yasusada occurs at a moment when the Eng. Dept. has split into two contradictory "post-modernisms": multiculturalism and deconstruction (and its spin-offs). One side wants to hear the stories that haven't been told, and the other doubts that stories can be told. (One side, at least, still wants to read literature.) While the creation of Yasusada may pertain to the latter, his reception clearly belongs to the former.
Although this author did not exist, as such, I don't see the connection to the "death of the author," a theory that neither readers nor writers can tolerate. Pseudonymous authorship, even when fractured into heteronyms (Pessoa), still assigns production to single named sources. True invisibility--the "text itself"--could easily be achieved by publishing every book and magazine contribution under a different name. Writers, as far as one knows, have never practiced it: if one were that egoless, one wouldn't be a writer.’ [added emphasis mine!]
Despite this, however, EW makes the same error as all the earlier critics of hoaxes- that of thinking the poems good. That he does so leaves 1 thinking, either he’s as big a boob as MP or AY’s ‘artistic’ defenders, or he’s merely positioning himself if there should be a professional backlash against his words: ‘the American cult of celebrity becomes grotesque with the new category of "witness poetry," a set of biographical criteria that favors verifiable experience over imagination. (It was in the context of an article in the Village Voice on Carolyn Forché's anthology, Against Forgetting, that I made the first public revelation of Yasusada's pseudonymity--which begat Lingua Franca, which begat Arakimania.) Yasusada simply blows the circuits of witness poetry. As I said in the Voice, he is both the greatest poet of Hiroshima and its most unreliable witness.’
But EW ends with this memorable slam: ‘I agree with Perloff that the prominence given Yasusada in American magazines is both the product of an ignorance of modern Japanese poetry--part of a general disregard for contemporary world poetry--and a fascination with his biography more than his work. (The charge of criminality from the American Poetry Review proves that they publish poets and their photos, not poems.) Personally, I found the work far more interesting, and full of brilliant details, after I learned that Yasusada was an invention. That is, I prefer "Araki Yasusada" to Araki Yasusada as I prefer Paterson to Paterson.’
The fact that so many critics (even those who are harshly ‘critical’) refrain from denouncing the poems themselves (especially in the Yasusada hoax) points to the lack of guts innate in contemporary APC- & the reason (perhaps need) for such hoaxing to continue.
The APR/Yasusada Poems
Let us now turn to some
of the poems that the American Poetry Review published, dissect
them, & sum up with why the exposure of the fraud of artistic merit needs
constant exposure of its sins.
[from an untitled ‘poem’- 3/30/25]
Silliman & the Languagist horde were ejaculating over this is
obvious. Forget the prior (perhaps correct) assertions of dishistoricity,
this is typical Abstract poetry where 1 throws words around & hopes
the reader will make connections where none exist. We get words that do
not cohere with each other, but with enough of them larded with
Orientalisms (iris, moon, persimmon, cranes), Modernisms (scubadivers,
crematorium) & words evoking Modernist/Contemporary ennui &
nihilism (dried, dawn, bones, sky, space), spaced apart & with each
line a separate stanza, that a doggerelist subscribed to an –ism that
perpetuates this writing fraud would not be ‘true’ to his ideals if
he did not ejaculate over such writing- especially coming decades before
his own –ism’s thrust. Throw in the line fossils
celebrating investors & we get a critique of capitalism to
boot! Not to mention- a tip off even more obvious then the dishistoric
word choices noted by others. But recalling that the Languagists get all
creamy over political poetry, that this crap gave them the heeby-jeebies
is no surprise. In retrospect AY was a ‘good Japanese’- not a
militarist, yet critical of Western Imperialism.
That the poem itself is void of any real meaning, that its images are clichéd & put together in trite sequence- even in this ‘radical’ form- slips by not only Silliman & AY’s initial defenders, but even folk like Perloff & Weinberger.
Echo and Visitors
the wrestler’s head,
oil-glazed, hair pulled back,
to the intricate knot.
He crouches, shameless,
in the ring and is still,
drawing the breath, I think,
of the pleasure-seekers,
flesh forgotten, he coils
to absorb the fullness
(And you, Nomura,
in your morning kimono,
the name of our daughter
half-called as she strolls
the thistle-lined path…)
The force of the meeting astounds the visitors.
supposedly explains some of the images & word choices in the poem.
These footnotes & marginalia are always present in hoaxes to explain
why the ‘bad’ writing ‘succeeds’. But approached as a poem this
poem really is bad. The 1st 2 stanzas are O.K., but nothing
to rave about, as they are little more than rote description. Stanza 3
is poorly broken, melodramatic, & almost bathetic with its reference
to both the nation & sumo wrestler’s blubber as the Pure Land
(note the draw-attention-to-itself Capitalizations!). The parenthetical
asides adds nothing but a more Modernist/Confessionalist aspect to the
poem that is supposed to show how ‘ahead’ of the times AY was. The
last line would be much better coming after stanza 2- although 1 can
think of better metaphors & phrases. But coming after stanzas 3
& 4 it is laughably bathetic & melodramatic. 1 can almost
envision an old Universal Pictures film ending with some Oriental
native banging a hammer into a gong for emphasis. Perhaps the only good
choice made in this poem is to have the ellipsis end stanza 4 & not
But what would any Japanese poet be without a haiku? Here’s an undated haiku, along with its explanation. That any work of art is accompanied by footnotes should be a red flag. That the footnotes dwarf the work, well:
Talking about the weather
a stick runs through our mouths
the blossoms are fragrant
*[The poem is written on the back of a fire-singed
photograph of Yasusada and the great itinerant haiku poet, Taneda
Santoka. They are in profile, speaking. A flowering branch traverses the
picture, and gives, indeed, the appearance of mutually penetrating the
open mouths of the figures. Given the date of Santoka’s death from the
effects of alcoholism, the photograph is from 1940 or earlier. This is
(or was) one of the very few remaining images, anywhere, of Santoka. The
photograph was contained in a notebook that was tragically lost in
transit from Japan.]
the ‘explanation’, this haiku is not a classical haiku & fails
as even a 3 line piece of free verse. Line 1- cliché. Line 2- possibly
interesting but line 3 is another cliché. As for the ‘explanation’- this is so obvious a
scream for attention as to the hoax’s reality as to be almost
ludicrous. APR’s editors accept as ‘real’ this bad haiku because
it not only is a ‘lost’ AY holograph- or so they were told, but
because it references another ‘supposed’ Japanese poetic icon
[I’ve no idea if the name is real or fictitious.], also conveniently
elusive- & the photo of these 2 elusive geniuses is now
‘tragically’ lost. &, to top off this almost surreal (in
the truest sense) hoax- the dead TS was a boozer who died! This brings
us to another bane of the arts- originality over quality- i.e.- a bad
artwork, if it’s got enough antiquity, or linkage with history, trumps
a good piece of newer, less historical art. This reminds 1 of the
Arthurian Questing Beast, although in this case the QB is called the ürtext,
or original manuscript. Supposed authenticity also trumps quality.
Aside from further fragments from AY’s notebooks, there was this untitled & (yet again) undated poetic trifle:
the monk’s behind-
of the golden leaf.
comment I have is that this is so obviously a play off the Western
putdown of a monkey’s ass that only some Postmodernist
dregs could NOT see that this whole section was a put on.
This is bad poetry that captivated poets & editors who are fools for
it simply because of its supposed provenance. But, that even detractors
have defended the poems ‘quality’ suggests an even deeper problem-
that is the double fraud of 1) literary magazines having
& abiding by ‘critical literary standards’ & 2) that
these magazines- & their broods- have the ability to even discern
Manifestly, this is not the case. &, as we have seen, this is something that goes far beyond AY. Yet, AY’s poetry is easily the worst (looked at with an unbiased critical eye) of all the hoax poems we’ve seen. An interesting query might be to study the fact that hoax poetry is generally about equal in worth to the overall quality of the general poetry at the time. AY’s doggerel, therefore, does not show contemporary poetry in a flattering light; just as it shows the criticism of such in an even worse one. This, then, is the true outcome of all of these hoaxes- the exposure of the absolute fraud of Academic Meritocracy. Who you know trumps what you do. What you claim of yourself trumps what you accomplish. But editors refuse to (at least publicly) admit that an ‘oppressed’ person can be just as bad (poetically) & unaware (politically) as anyone else.
Thus we get all these hoaxes based upon the desire of Academics to damn their own & long to learn from The Other: noble but savage poet/warriors, forgotten & hermitic monks, -Ismic Pioneers, tragically cut-down geniuses, mysterious poets of mystery, or witnesses of ‘ultimate evil’, among many other archetypes.
The way to avoid this is rather simple- do not publish people simply because of ‘name’ appeal, or position ‘status’. In other words- do not publish because of the poet, but because of the poem! In the Vers Magnifique section of Cosmoetica I follow this principle. I’ve gotten 100s of poem submissions- some from ‘name’ poets, & alot from the dregs of the professorate. I’ve only posted 2 poems. Neither is close to being a great poem. But both are solid efforts with enough memorability & technical positives to solidly outweigh their obvious negatives. I can defend each poem’s posting on qualitative grounds- regardless of their authorship. Were either revealed to me as having a different provenance it would not matter 1 whit. THAT, fundamentally, is the difference between Cosmoetica & the rest of the turgid, dull, & plain bad poetry magazines & websites out there. But how did I achieve this- aside from excellence of critical acumen? Well, 1 of the great negatives in doing a magazine is the ‘need’ to fill an issue- thereby lowering the critical bar 1 uses. Bulk therefore supplants quality. That online mags have chosen this route is odd- although, I guess it is perfectly in line with the generally noncreative nature of editorship. Unlike the physical world of paper magazines, the cyberworld is almost resourceless, & just waiting to be filled up. As there is no hurry to do so, nor any need for a deadline, or making ‘issues’ of your online space- why conform to a different medium’s requisites? Instead, I chose to let Cosmoetica’s poems & essays accrete by quality. Why impose a false & unnecessary stricture, which merely lowers the critical bar? Most folk skimming the web will be coming across your site for a 1st & last time, generally, so why not maximize the quality by accreting over time, rather than rushing secondary, tertiary, & quaternary works into the public void? Then, visitors may be tempted to make a 2nd transit of your site. But, too many mags (online & paper) & websites have lowered the critical bar to such a degree that even the quality of poetry hoaxes has sunk to never before traversed depths.
So, 1 is left to wonder if there will ever be a time when artistic hoaxes will become superfluous? I doubt it. Bankrupt poobahs abound, & their # 2s are never far behind. I think (or hope?), sometimes, that the American Poetry Review is, itself, a hoax- just a few bored poetasters who decided to spoof the manifest ills of contemporary poetry. (After all, their tabloidy/photographic approach would suggest it might achieve more success if it really decided to go that way.) Then, again, who’s foolish enough to believe something silly as that could happen?
Addendum: Kent Johnson Speaks
In a humorous endnote to this essay’s posting, as well the year 2001 for Cosmoetica (its 1st!) let me relate what happened after I emailed about regarding this latest S&D essay. On 12/29/01 I received an email from the Araki Yasusada hoaxer himself, Kent Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org . Unfortunately, it was a typically Academic snide & derisive email. Apparently KJ has bought into his metafictive realm & was actually shone on to such a degree by the praise heaped on the AY doggerel that he actually believed it was good poetry- & himself a good poet. He was hurt by my attacking the AY poems as doggerel, although he weakly hid his resentment in the email. Here is KJ’s email with my reply interspersed:
DAN: The protesteth too much quote springs to mind 1st. Sorry, but the AY poems are doggerel- despite your protests, your critics, or even those of a Perloff or Weinberger. Given they were 1 of 6 hoaxes presented a detailed deconstruction was not in order- see my article on Forchè, Rich, Hall & Stafford- or Bly- for more detailed analysis. I think you should follow both the Solway path & just come forward- stop the meta-hoax nonsense. But, what I've read online & what you say here says to me that you actually think the AY poems good. That's something to re-examine. Also the Spectrist/Malley route of just moving on.
1) Dear Dan,
> Thanks for sending me the link to your essay. A book you might
> want to check out is _Faking Literature_, by K.K. Ruthven,
> probably the most comprehensive study done to date on the
> amazingly rich and many-sided history of literary "forgery."
> I found some of your observations interesting, even if the delivery is
> somewhat sophomoric in its efforts to affect an acerbic pose, and
> even if you are somewhat beating a by-now cliched argument about
> PC postmodernism. But (and I hope you'll take my comments as
> honest, candid reactions and not as "sour-grapes") I think your
> observations on Yasusada are narrow and rather weak in the
> analytical sense. For one, you spend way too much time, as in a
> bad research paper, over-excitedly quoting others, and when you
> finally get to "demonstrating" why the Yasusada poems are
> "doggerel," you don't offer very much beyond simpletonian,
> dismissive assertion, accompanied, all too often, by adolescent-
> like tropes re: male orgasm.
DAN: Plain spokenness is not sophomoric. Were more critics to use such less people would be turned off by Academia- an institution that thinks hitting on PC-Postmodernism is stale, even as its grip spreads. Yes, in the confines of Academia these are old arguments- but not outside. & the point of the APR piece was less AY then the back & forth over the doggerel. & it is doggerel. 3 & 4 line poems, strings of words, simply DO NOT require lengthy hermeneusis. The fact that stuff like the AY poems, or Bly's Morning Poems, or crap like Lucille Clifton's or James Tate's poems ignites pages of criticism, rather than the terse, to-the-point denuding IS a valid point. If you want sophomoric dismissal turn to a guy like Randall Jarrell- the father of current poor criticism!
2) I don't presume to deny you your poetical
estimations, we all must
> make them (nor your sexual fetishes-- we all must have them!),
> obviously, and Poetry would not exist without the micro-ideologies
> of textual misprision, that's for sure. Nevertheless, your evaluative
> judgments and rhetorical proclivities aside, I think you commit a
> generalized axiological fallacy by attempting to measure
> Yasusada's literary value via an accounting of isolated poems (as if
> Doubled Flowering were merely a collection of verses in the first
> place, and not a multi-generic and procedural fiction), and such
> "frame-bound" perspective --it's a perspective you share,
> interestingly enough, with the academic critics and poets you wish
> to ridicule-- does not allow you to recognize and regard the work in
> the more multivalent conceptual-poetic light it proffers.
DAN: Kent, I've seen about 25-30 of the AY poems over the years, Puh-leeze. They are doggerel. Re-read your preceding paragraph & tell me whom you think shares more in common with academic critics? Harold Bloom is smiling on you. But I'll make it easy & underline the commonalities. You see, 1 need not inhabit a thesaurus to convey ideas....
3) Of course, I know that all that is just so much
> someone of your tastes and commitments, and that's fine, but
> poetry is a big and capacious thing, and it's good to remember --
> not just for you, I mean, but for both of us-- that we are all still
> writing its nature into being. (In regards to this matter of
> Yasusada's generic difference, you may want to take a look at a
> recent interview I've done ["Hoaxes and Heteronymity"], which will
> also be appearing in the journal Poetics Today at
> Also, just fyi, another effort which takes a look at individual poems
> with very different conclusions from yours is Forrest Gander's
> essay-review from The Nation, which you can find reprinted in issue
> # 4 of Jacket Magazine at http://www.jacket.zip.com.au
DAN: I'll look over your recommendations, but frankly, I'd not hesitate to tell Whitman or Shakespeare how to improve some of their poems, so no amount of apologiae (see, I can go the Grecian route!) will convince me bad is good. BTW- compare AY's 'poem's to some of the folk I have in the Hall Of Shame or to some of mine or the other folk I have on my site & tell me- qualitatively- which group is nearer AY.
4) In any case, for my part, a sense of gratitude
overcomes the minor
> annoyances of your essay: After all, if Yasusada didn't attract his
> share of Armory Show critics, I should think it would be a bad sign!
> :~ )
> I'm wondering, by the way, if you are aware of the full collection,
> published by Roof Books-- Doubled Flowering: From the Notebooks
> of Araki Yasusada. You don't mention the book anywhere in your
> piece, and your textual examples seem to be from APR and stray
> poems quoted in other essays, so I wonder if maybe you haven't
> seen the complete work, which is 120 or so pages in length. The
> book is being translated in Brazil, Russia, and Japan, and a
> second collection will be appearing in the future, this a gathering of
> Yasusada's idiosyncratic letters to an American pen-pal. So the
> work has not quite exhausted its possibilities, regardless of the
> "mainstream" attempt, which you correctly identify, to silence it.
DAN: I looked at about 50 online pieces on AY- incl. a handful of your interviews, plus 150 or so others on the other hoaxes. Truthfully, it was almost all rehash of rehash, etc. Again, the poems of any of the hoaxes were not the focus, APR's & other mags lack of critical skills & their elevating of cronyism & the like were. My advice, is drop AY- the only reason for continuing it is a de facto self-admission that your own poesizing is rank & the only way to grab a piece of poetic history is through this. Non-lit hoaxes are likewise littered with such folk- few ever gain the attention of a PT Barnum or George Adamski (see UFOs)- most just become marginalia that is cleaned up in reprinting.
5) Thanks again for sending me your thoughts. Your
essay joins a
> lengthy and still-lengthening bibliography, and though I don't find a
> lot in it to agree with, and though I feel some of its rhetorical quirks
> are unfortunate, I am appreciative of the effort you put into thinking
> about Motokiyu's work. We need a greater number of eager and
> polemical voices like yours in the poetry world.
> Kent Johnson
Re: underlined: ever the smiler! DAN
apply some of the stuff we’ve learned from previous essays to find out
KJ’s true feelings re: HIS AY poems. For it’s
not a rarity that hoaxers buy into their hoaxes & meld into frauds,
Paragraph 1: He claims my analysis weak, but go back & reread the poems- compare them to the selected quotations from Perloff. These weak little poems got all the attention they deserved, & KJ knows it. This is Parry #1 which pissed him. This is revealed by his dismissing the criticism because I call the knee-jerk cronyism that lets such pap abound what it is- a sexual favor of the mind. Nor does KJ elaborate on what is simpletonian about the criticisms- because, as an Academic, he ‘expects’ fawning, overblown analysis for anything- no matter how wan- accompanied by an impressive curriculum vitae.
Paragraph 2: Here comes the attempt to ‘rise above it all’. I am now a fetishist, merely because I write in a style that allows non-professorial types to truly understand a work, & not just flex my vocabulary- speaking of which, we then get the 4 phrases I underlined. Note how Academics are almost congenitally condescending & long to hide their ignorance behind thesauri. Let’s take them 1 by 1: 1) micro-ideologies of textual misprision : translation- Poetry thrives by people reading only what they want to read into a poem. Well, KJ, no- bad criticism & bad poetry do, but not good poetry. 0 for 1. 2) generalized axiological fallacy : translation- Because I don’t share the same valuesas KJ/AY/whomever he is today, I am a bigot & cannot know what the AY poems reveal. The fact that great art is measured by how much it transcends its provenance seems to be a point over KJ’s head. De facto- he’s admitting you can only enjoy the poems if you play the game by his rules- or anyone else’s poems by playing by their rules. I’ve denuded this fallacy so often I’m not even gonna bother & let KJ swing on that 1! 3) "frame-bound" perspective : translation: Ditto #3- only this time I’m a bigot who’s just as bad as the Academics who turned on KJ after praising him. I smell resentment, don’t you? 4) multivalent conceptual-poetic light : This is ‘proffered’ by AY/KJ in the poems, meaning, again, this is beyond you, you &%#!)&%~ Philistine!
Paragraph 3: Here comes the ad & the self-patting on the back- the 2nd URL, however, seems to be lapsed- I’ve tried getting to it several times. After the snideness designed to go ‘over my head’ KJ now returns with ‘humility’.
Paragraph 4: Snideness alert: Armory Show critics were famed for their nor ‘getting’ Duchamp & his Modernity. Here, KJ is declaring, ‘I’m way beyond you.’ Then another plug & a backhanded compliment- of sorts- where he basically thanks me for mentioning attempts to ‘silence it’.
Paragraph 5: He ends with the tongue sticking out, but an ‘adult’ courtesy.
My initial reply basically struck KJ quick. Easily fending off his arguments was enogh to provoke a next day email taunt from him titled "It's the Museum, Stupid". Here's our conversation- mine the final reply to his email, so far unanswered:
>Dan, 'ol chap,
>I've seen about 25-30 of the AY poems over the years,
>How can I take you seriously when you tell me something like
>this? No wonder you're reading the "footnotes" as "explanations"
>of the "poems"! Really, my good fellow, you are a grumpy
>museum-goer at the Salon, but a lot has happened in the world
>since Robert Smithson's plane crashed...
>All power to you, and best of luck with destroying the
>doggerilists like the "beatnik"(!) Jack Spicer, but I'm afraid we're
>working in different areas altogether. And while I appreciate
>your bad-boy spirit, it's clear that Motokiyu's train has chugged
>off beyond your semantic and formal horizon. That's not a put-
>down, it's a kindly admonition.*
>best of luck in the new year,
>*[Because the world is round, like a ball, so keep your eyes
DAN: So I take it you 'seriously' think the AY poems are good? At least the Spectrist & Malley duos knew when to quit. Regardless, its the essence, not the provenance that counts, & snide asides can't make up for lack of skill- read any of the poems on Cosmoetica if you want to see good poetry. But, I guess the Yasusada Express don't debark in dem dere stations. See you after the Minnesota Iceman & Hitler Diaries shows. DAN
he’s hostile. Anytime an American calls another person ‘chap’ they
are being mondo-snippy! Apparently KJ believes that my having researched
the piece thoroughly enough is cause for fighting words (?) Perhaps he
does not realize the amount of stuff you can glean from an Internet
search? But now the gloves come off & all the condescension barely
veiled disappears: I’m just an art-lover, not a true artist like him.
We get a throwaway reference, the almost obligatory admission that
someone cannot defend themselves: ‘I'm afraid we're working in
different areas altogether’- i.e.- a Jew/woman could not
understand a Moslem’s/man’s world, the condescension of relegating
thoughtful & trenchant dissent into mere bad-boyness, & again- a
now formalized declaration that AY’s poems are beyond me. But all in
good spirit, now. & we end with another silly quote. My retort went
Hoaxes are, indeed a good thing. But the danger is that even a hoaxer can sell themselves too much. This is what has happened with KJ. For example, I correctly pointed out his ‘footnotes’ were a de facto ‘explanation’ for the poems. This is a truism at least since T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, & probably before. They serve as old-fashioned Arguments in a new title. Does KJ even bother to attempt an explanation for the poems? NO. It can’t be because they are so long. But he does not even attempt to do so for the 3 or 4 liners. Why? Because he cannot. All he can do is play the shell game out. When you correctly guess which shell the pea is under he cries that he won’t lift up the shell- not because the pea is there, but rather because the astute observer ‘observed too well’ & did not let him slip the pea off the table’s edge.
KJ- you’re busted. Give up the ghost. Return to writing poems under your own name. Unless, of course, as I’ve observed- you know you have not got it in you. You did a good thing in busting APR’s ass, & the other magalogs’, but enough is enough. Then, again, you’ve conned some publisher in to publishing more doggerel, so you’re finally gonna be a ‘made’ poet! & that’s what this really was all about- getting published, not exposing the frauds of Academia- because you are one- whether you know it or not! I guess Postmodernism has its rewards, after all. Viva Ern Malley!
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