As a poet, I’m used to seeing my work appear in some pretty eccentric or recondite publications. But none of them, I think, have been quite as unusual as the one in which the following poem appeared on October 3:
Utmost as a stand
Horned and hornless
Fine as a
Like a hungry bee
A child of epochs
An utmost play
To say an utmost hem
“Utmost as a stand” saw the light on page 2,039 of Issue 1, a 3,785-page anthology published online as a PDF file and containing poems signed by nearly that many contemporary poets (along with a few representatives of past generations and a surprising number of contributions by writers who have rarely, if ever, ventured into verse). Has there ever been such a massive gathering of poetry? I doubt it. Such a project could only have happened in the age of the Internet, when paper and bindings are no longer necessary for the creation of books, and when bookstores with shelves and staff have become inessential to their distribution.
But its bulk was not the only surprising thing about Issue 1. What first caught my eye was that I couldn’t recall ever having submitted my work to its editors. And when–thank goodness for that “find” function–I saw page 2,039, I knew why: “my” poem was one I’d never written. Neither had any of the other thousands of authors written theirs. The anthology’s “editors,” Stephen McLaughlin and Jim Carpenter, using a computer program of Carpenter’s devising, were responsible for its entire contents–and thereby for the most provocative hoax to hit the poetry world since the Araki Yasusada scandal in the early ’90s.
For those who let that one pass them by, Yasusada was, as Eliot Weinberger once put it, “both the greatest poet of Hiroshima and its most unreliable witness.” His wildly inventive and sometimes grotesque poems, reflecting his experiences as a survivor of Japan’s atomic holocaust, were published in esteemed venues like American Poetry Review, Grand Street and Conjunctions, until it became obvious that Yasusada had never existed. He is presumed to be the invention of Kent Johnson, an American poet and literature professor whose name is also included in Issue 1, under the following poem:
Birthing above a place
At an immaterial material
Seeming on a stream
The great difference between Yasusada and Issue 1, of course, is that Johnson, or whoever wrote the Yasusada poems, deceived quite a few people over a long period of time, whereas McLaughlin and Carpenter clearly meant to deceive no one. Their fiction was entirely transparent. That doesn’t mean they didn’t succeed in getting a lot of people hopping mad, at least for a few days. Ron Silliman, considered by some the dean of American avant-garde poets and a renowned blogger, muttered darkly of possible lawsuits. “Play with other people’s reps at your own risk,” he warned. Reading the poem Issue 1 attributed to Silliman, I can sort of see why he was unhappy: