Dear Professor Cohen:
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the Yasusada/Marjorie Perloff forum. Please include the following statement by the editors of the American Poetry Review (I am one of them) in my response, and regard my entire letter as my response, with no alteration. The statement appeared in our September/October 1996 issue:
To Our Readers:
We regret 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.
All the materials came to us from Kent Johnson of Highland Community College in Freeport, Illinois, an actual person who represented himself as the close friend of the ill and incapacitated chief “translator,” “Tosa Motokiyu,” Kent Johnson has admitted the above ruse and has claimed that the materials were written by an American poet whose name he refuses to reveal. Still other persons may be involved, as the hoax was carried out with the aid of a post office box in Sebastopol, California, an address in Tokyo, an address in London, and a disconnected phone number in Springfield, Illinois.
The American Poetry Review
These are still the facts of the case as I know them, with one addition, which is not merely a fact. During our friendship in the 1970s and 1980s, Marjorie several times spoke to me of a mixed-forms hyper text she was assembling in a persona other than her own, which she was reluctant to show me in the same sense in which she would not show me her own poems composed in her own persona. As she was a brilliant and distinguished critic then, and as we were kind of soul mates agreeing on many things except a few literarily peripheral questions like the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and as I knew the flavor of Marjorie’s personal and psychological life at the time, the prospect of seeing her poems was quite exciting to me, as another poet, and I have occasionally wondered about them during the past decade with no little feeling. Her long project, the hyper text in a persona other than her own, I had forgotten until recently.
I wonder if at this point in my brief response we could simply hold this last thought, in the manner in which we as literary “characters” are so used to suspending our disbelief in real life and in the fictions in which we appear.
OK. In Marjorie’s essay in Boston Review she claims that she would have recognized the fabrications and fabulations in the Yasusada materials, where dozens of editors, scholars, poets, and proofreaders from at least six journals did not (five of us here at APR alone). I puzzled over this. Then it hit me like a thunderbolt! There could be only one reason Marjorie was so familiar with the Yasusada materials. The mixed-forms hyper text in a persona other than her own! Especially since Kent Johnson has always struck me as simply an actor and a facilitator, not a brilliant literary mind.
Accordingly, I have written to Marjorie proposing she fashion a series of texts for the American Poetry Review in a similar spirit and form of the Yasusada materials, but with a new “author,” the content to be decided. I have discussed with Marjorie the Holocaust (the on-going event in the middle of our century in which about six million civilians were murdered by the German state, if you’ll recall) as possible subject matter because of the dramatic and philosophic opportunities of its setting in a Western society, and its higher body count and longer duration in comparison to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki events, but we more or less dismissed that possibility on two grounds–one that it had been done so much, and two that similes for it were difficult to construct. We also dismissed a L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry approach to Jonathan Swift’s solution to the overpopulation problem in which we would each alter the order of his sentences and then compare our two versions to his.
Whatever the subject matter turns out to be, may we count on Boston Review to follow up with a discussion of the Foucauldian aspects of the new project between APR and Marjorie? Or perhaps Boston Review is itself being approached at this very moment to print original Yasusada-like material in its pages by “another” “author.” In that case, I might mention to you, editor to editor so to speak, that it is finally bizarre to have numerous extensive phone conversations with Kent Johnson (or a character like him) about hospital visits to cancer patients who don’t exist, and this was for me and will be for you the tip of a black iceberg of lies transmitted in a moved voice.
March 22, 1997
March 11, 1997
For the Yasusada/Perloff/Foucault forum I have only this to say:
1. I did not use the phrase “criminal act” when I spoke to Emily Nussbaum for her article in Lingua Franca on the Yasusada situation. 2. I specified that nothing I said to her was for publication and that I would speak to her on the condition that she not reveal me as a source. 3. The attitude she has toward the case on my tape of the phone conversation is one of disgust, and as if the perpetrators were out of touch with reality, or habitual offenders in boring petty crimes not worth bothering with. Perhaps the phrase “criminal act” then could be regarded as just a little more text in a continuing saga with multiple authors, emanating as it did from Emily.
Just one more observation:
A wide acceptance of authorless texts could prove beneficial to professors if the texts led to studentless classrooms and editorless academic journals. Much of the drudgery associated with the position of professor would thereby be eliminated, freeing the individual to create more criticism and more authorless texts. As a side issue, the process might lead to peopleless wars, but that possibility seems more far-fetched at this point in history than authorless texts, studentless classrooms, and editorless academic journals.
I hope to see you in Buffalo or Missoula next winter.
Dear Professor Cohen,
About your letter of March 12, I have never had any comment on the Yasusada materials and never will, but I have been warned by someone using a Cambridge, Mass. postmark that others are impersonating me in letter(s?) to you. Get back to me on this, could you?
April 2, 1997