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
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
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
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