In 1916, American poets Witter Bynner and Arthur Davison Ficke had it up to wherever with Imagism, Vorticism, and several other minor isms that they thought had infected the literary world. They set out to concoct an ism to end all isms, and devised "Spectrism," a new school for experimental poetry. To that end, they published "Spectra: New Poems," with an unintelligible preface purporting to explain the name of the new ism. Each of the Spectric poems was pretentiously titled with an opus number, like a piece of classical music. Witter Bynner wrote as "Emmanuel Morgan." Morgan's persona was full of bacchanalian, bardic blatherskite, a rhyming Whitman. Here is the opening of his "Opus 6:" If I were only dafter I might be making hymns To the liquor of your laughter And the lacquer of your limbs. Arthur Davison Ficke wrote as "Anne Knish." The name was meant to be vaguely exotic and Eastern European; apparently not many Americans had heard of knishes in 1916. Knish is the archetypal poetess, sensual and enigmatic, vaguely scandalous. She writes free verse. Here is Opus 118: If bathing were a virtue, not a lust I would be dirtiest. To some, housecleaning is a holy rite. For myself, houses would be empty But for the golden motes dancing in sunbeams. Tax-assessors frequently overlook valuables. Today they noted my jade. But my memory of you escaped them. By now, the basic flaw of the hoax should be obvious. Having endured much worse in the way of poetic experiment between now and 1916, the Spectric poems aren't that bad. In fact, they are rather consistently entertaining, and contain some pretty good lines. They rank among the more memorable work by Bynner and Ficke, and both writers acknowledged as much after the hoax had been exposed.
This book was a revelation
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 21 years ago
I first read this book when it came out in 1961. Its great value lies not so much in documenting the amusing history of the hoax, but in reprinting Spectra in its entirety as a lengthy appendix. Yes, the "hoax" poems are parodies, but they're careful ones, and contain some of Ficke's and Bynner's very best work! "Asparagus grows feathery and tall; The hose lies rotting by the garden wall."What a couplet! Buy it! Read it! Give it to your teenager as an introduction to modern poetry. Before long he'll be reading Pound.
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