Wild weather: my almost defunct 1999 Mother's Day ivy sailed off the verandah rail, and the white plastic chair upended and skittered halfway to the yard.
Bleary after last night's insomnia, I spent the morning being led deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of the Web, along some strands of an old fascination, the Araki Yasusada Hoax, led there by Joseph Duemer's link to hgpoetics which references an excellent Kent Johnson interview.
I have tracked down the genesis of my own "fictitious poets" obsession and my own personal "fictitious poet," Tadeusz, to December 1995, and my piece "THREE UNKNOWN POETS." This is clearly before I became aware of the Yasusada Hoax with American Poetry Review's deliciously peevish retraction in the Fall 1996 issue.
In the prior issue they'd showcased this avant garde and occidentophile Hiroshima survivor's poems and notebooks in a prestigious "Special Supplement." Upon learning that Yasusada himself was a fictional construction, the editors basically went ballistic, denounced the "art" they'd previously deemed worthy of a Special Supplement, and, later, one of them called the submission "criminal." A whole fascinating dialogue has ensued about the nature of authorship, about what determines the prevalent tastes and prejudices of the prestigious mainstream poetry journals. APR, with all those photos of tweedy poits and large-tressed poitesses, had sometimes seemed even to me, an amateur, a dilletante, to be slightly silly and pretentious. Viz. my poem, "Ark," a satire of its lumbering quarterly arrival.
What I can't recall is whether I discovered Ern Malley and the Spectrists, and Pessoa's heteronyms before or after the Yasusada affair. Could have been either way. I finished the long Tadeusz/Hester story in 1998, and my delight and energy in writing it was certainly fueled by the Yasusada controversy.
The piece I'll append below appeared in Salem State's Lit Mag, and a couple of the Tadeusz pieces appeared in the Exquisite Corpse before it went completely on line.
THREE UNKNOWN POETS
Tadeusz Czhgymcscz and The Blue Udder
Tadeusz Czhgymcscz (1903-1933) was the founding father and, so far as it can be determined, only member of the short-lived Eastern European avant-garde literary movement Der Blau Euter, or “The Blue Udder.” His most famous and widely anthologized poem, “Galompki” is said to epitomize the spirit of the movement, which, in the words of the critic Fraufenster, “...combined the eye of God and a stuffed cabbage in a disgusting, inedible smorgasbord of meaningless sound.”
Czhgymcscz died of scrofula in a small, private sanitarium outside of Kansas City, where he had lived in exile since 1932, after an unfortunate and highly publicized incident involving the Russian ambassador’s youngest daughter.
I will take the liberty here to append my own translation of “Golompki” with explanatory footnotes. My deepest appreciation goes my dear friend and mentor, Professor Emeritus Szynt Szyntcscz for his invaluable guidance.
I hear the playing of the basset hounds
I hear the baying of the basset horns (1)
On my plate the blargh (2) coagulates
(untranslatable) and deviant
striations of (untranslatable) (3)
But certainly the Archbishop (4)
can be extracted from the pickle jar (5)
without a vszyscs. (6)
(1) Ah, the thankless task of the translator! In the original, these lines involve an obscure pun on the words “fluegelhorn” and “guinea pig”, which, in Czhgymcscz’ native tongue, share a common root. In the spirit of Czhgymcscz’ aesthetic I have chosen to render the pun rather than the meaning.
(2) A drink made of fermented alfalfa extract and goat’s brains indigenous to Czhgymcscz’ native village, often, according to biographers, served by Czhgymcscz’ mother on the occasion of his birthday. It is said to confer virility unto firstborn sons.
(3) This is the famous passage that caused the personal and aesthetic rift between Rilke and Czhgymcscz.
(4) Czhgymcscz is rumored to be the illigitimate son of the Archbishop of Brzscsz. Historical proof of this contention has eluded all three of his major biographers. In Czhgymcscz symbolology, however, the Archbishop invariably represents either the shadowy nether regions of the psyche, or the fine brown scum left on the bottom of the cow barn after the ritual November cleaning.
(5) In Czhgymcscz’ dialect, the words for pickle jar and drainpipe are identical -- another example of Czhgymcscz’ richly ironic wordplay.
(6) No english equivalent. A local eating utensil shaped like an octopus, thought to originate in the maritime provinces of Czhgymcscz’ native land.
Miss HH: Transcendentalist Cipher
But certainly even more unknown that the obscure but vaguely notorious Tadeusz Czhgymcscz is the American Transcendentalist Poetess Harriet Harriet, or, as she is affectionately known in scholarly circles, Miss HH.
She is thought to have traveled in the fringes of the group that included Emerson, the Alcotts and Thoreau, although the only reference to her in any of the extant primary sources is in a (probably forged) letter from Thoreau to the Tireless Loon Baking Co. in which, after bitterly complaining about the texture of the crust of a blueberry pie he had purchased, he makes an incomprehensible reference to “a double order of harriets” . In all fairness, the handwriting reflects the intensity of his wrath, and the phrase has also been deciphered as “a double order of cherry pies” by reputable, if intellectually plodding, scholars.
In any case, a slim volume of her work remains, self-published, entitled “Corn Chords,” which is, of course, both a pun on the name of the famous New England town from which she came, and a reference to her peculiar and ultimately fatal obsession with mastering the Cornhorn, a now extinct woodwind instrument related to the oboe and fashioned, as the name implies, out of corn cobs.
Although her somewhat anti-social persona has led some scholars to compare her to Emily Dickinson, the most cursory of glances at her oeuvre will unmask the folly of that comparison. I offer by way of example one of her lesser poems, “Chowder”
Those blighted men are always eating chowder --
chowder chowder chowder chowder chowder !
I do not think they could eat it any louder
if instead of clams and fish it contained gunpowder!
So gentlemen I offer you my scorn.
And I will play my scorn upon my horn !
As I place my bleeding lips upon the corn
I wish to Brahma that I was never born !
This is typical of her poems, in that it consists of two quatrains with an aaaa and bbbb rhyme scheme, a relatively chaotic meter, and predictably indiscriminate use of exclamation points. Note the reference to “Brahma” that places her, in spirit if not in actuality, at the heart of the Transcendentalist movement.
Some scholars argue that this poem with its vehement chowder imagery suggests that she was an employee of the “Tireless Loon Baking Co.” which also was known to serve lunch. Others claim that it is a reference to her father’s passion for this seafood dish and his well-known execrable table manners (viz. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous Pastiche “On Mr. H’s Manners and the Overbowl.” )
Django Bass: Can’t Be Beat
No discussion of poetical unknowns would be complete without mention of our own favorite son of obscurity, Django Bass ! (1938-) He is often erroneously included in discussions of the “beat” poets because of the widespread critical misprision (see Bloom,1964) that his most famous poem “Care Wax” is an homage to Jack Kerouac, when in fact the most cursory of biographic researches quickly reveals this to be the name of the car wash at which he worked from 1958-1961. In fact, the same cursory research quickly reveals this to be Bass’ one and only poem, a slender oeuvre indeed, one for which the word-weary critic soon is quite grateful!
“Put that car up on the jack, Care Wax
the undercarriage,” he Howled.
“Then put a shine
on the road-
“We’ll drive it
from Chicago to Gary !”
(snider and snider he grew).
“Through ALL the boroughs!”
“Of Course -- oh !”
The runaway car --
should he shoot her ?
Nah, rope ‘er.
In a rare interview given in his Portland Maine dry cleaning establishment in 1972, Bass reiterated his insistence that “Care Wax” was uninfluenced by the beat movement.
“Beets ? Never liked ‘em much. Stains are a bitch to get out, too. ‘Specially from polyester. Need a whole jug of carbon tet to get them suckers out! ”
Bass was voted “The poet least likely to suffer from the anxiety of influence” by the MLA in 1983.