Monday, November 05, 2007

The Good Kind of Literary Hoax

We're all used to the bad literary hoaxes -- rigged poetry contests, Harvard freshmen plagiarizing their first novels, memoirists selling fiction as self-help, or actresses appearing as invented personae. But all this scandal has given the literary hoax a bad name. What about the good literary hoaxes: the Ossians, the pseudo-Ciceros, the Futurist Manifestoes, the Borgesian pranks and gags that enrich us all?

Well, this one is a doozy. An argument's been mounted that the famous poem "A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island," by Frank O'Hara -- a.k.a. my favorite poet -- was actually written as an homage to O'Hara after his death by his good friend and fellow poet Kenneth Koch, then smuggled into O'Hara's literary papers with a forged date on a purloined typewriter.

On this reading, the poem-as-hoax is a beautiful gift -- first given to Koch by O'Hara in inspiration, then by Koch to O'Hara in authorial attribution. Or as the Sun says in the poem itself, "Go back to sleep now, Frank, and I may leave a tiny poem in that brain of yours as a farewell."

The article itself is a tidy bit of authorial gamesmanship. It's purportedly a "tape-essay" by three Japanese authors (one of whom is also allegedly a pseudonymous author who either faked his own death or was presumed dead), "edited" by Kent Johnson and Javier Alvarez.

So take the full story with a pound of salt. I don't have my copy of Joe LeSueur's book handy, so I can't verify that the story mentioned about the poem's origin appears there. But regardless, it's a beautiful idea, all the more so if it were true.

No comments: