When “hoax poetry” becomes legit


I know of a few instances which I cannot detail here of contemporary poets who write or have written and published what might be considered “hoax” poetry. Sometimes they do it under their own names to prove a point about how easy it is to write certain types of experimental poems…but then end up, to their surprise, writing really good ones. Sometimes they also purposefully write bad poetry under pseudonyms  to criticize the poetry establishment’s predilection for poems written by minorities.  (See Hua Hsu’s essay “When White Poets Pretend to be Asian” in the New Yorker, for ex.) For perspective, here’s a good article in Atlas Obscura about the “Spectra” movement that was created to make fun of Modernist poetry:

Michael Waters – June 28, 2017 – The Hoax Poetry Movement That Accidentally Became Legitimate.

“According to Suzanne W. Churchill’s The Lying Game: Others and the Great Spectra Hoax of 1917, the two men rented a hotel room and ‘from ten quarts of excellent Scotch in ten days extracted the whole of the Spectric philosophy.’ They even devised pseudonyms for themselves. Bynner was to write as Emanuel Morgan and Ficke as Anne Knish.”

The New Republic, not knowing that he was one of the authors, actually asked Bynner to review their book Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments!

 The book was a hit. “One journalist said it was ‘as close to being a best seller as poetry ever reaches.’”

And (heh) when the truth came out many poets, including William Carlos Williams, were super confused, partly because the hoax poems were so much better than the work the poets were publishing under their own names….

It’s a funny, fascinating article. Read it here. 

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