Form of poetry invented in 1916 as a hoax, by American poets Witter Bynner, Arthur Davison Ficke and Marjorie Allen Seiffert. The main practitioners of the Spectric school, "Emanuel Morgan" and "Anne Knish", were the fictional creations of this group. "Their intent was to mock the pretensions of those who flocked to the avant-garde, but they immediately became so carried away in their enthusiasm for the invented school that, as Ficke put it, they risked 'perishing at the hands of the monster which we had created.' " (Culture Jammer's Encyclopedia) The term "Spectric" was derived from the ballet "Spectre de la Rose," which Bynner had attended in Chicago. The poems were based around the authors' subconscious thoughts. "Sometimes we would start with an idea," Bynner later wrote, "Sometimes with only a phrase, but the procedure was to let all reins go, to give the idea or the phrase complete head, to take whatever road or field or fence it chose." (Witter Bynner, "The Story of the School of Spectric Poetry")

Opus 15
Emanuel Morgan

DESPAIR comes when all comedy
  Is tame
And there is left no tragedy
  In any name,
When the round and wounded breathing
  Of love upon the breast
Is not so glad a sheathing
  As an old brown vest.

Asparagus is feathery and tall,
And the house lies rotting by the garden-wall

The Spectrists were wildly influential in certain circles of the day. Thomas Raymond, campaigning for mayor of Newark, New Jersey, avoided political issues completely, and limited his campaigning to readings of Spectra and Walter Pater. He won, and at his inaugural party he did a reading of "Anne Knish" poems. University of Wisconsin students, unaware that the Spectric school was a parody of other avant-garde schools of poetry, created a parody of Spectra called "Ultra-Violet poetry" and wrote silly verse under the names "Manual Organ" and "Nanne Pish" for the January 1917 edition of the Wisconsin Literary Magazine. While serving in France during World War I, Ficke was asked by a general what he thought of the Spectral poets. Ficke's reply, that he believed the poetry was some sort of hoax, earned him the congratulations of the general. Ficke asked "But how do you know, sir?" "I myself am Anne Knish!" responded the general. Ficke recalled the conversation as "one of the most deliriously happy hours I have ever spent." Even Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Edgar Lee Masters was taken by the school. He wrote a letter to "Emanuel Morgan," praising Spectra. "You have an idea in the sense that places do have an essence, everything has a noumena back of its appearance and it is this that poetry should discover... Spectrism if you must name it is at the core of things..." Ficke and Bynner threw dice to determine who got to keep the letter.

Opus 67
Anne Knish

I WOULD not in the early morning
Start my mind on its inevitable journey
Toward the East.
There are white domes somewhere
Under that blue enameled sky, white domes, white domes;
Therefore even the cream
Is safest yellow.
Cream is better than lemon
In tea at breakfast.
I think of tigers as eating lemons.
Thank God this tea comes from the green grocer,
Not from Ceylon.

Like all hoaxes, this one was eventually exposed, but both William Carlos Williams and Carl Sandburg would later state their admiration for the poems themselves, and the hoax as a whole.

Opus 46
Emanuel Morgan

I ONLY know that you are given me
  For my delight.
No other angle finishes my soul
  But you, you white.

I know that I am given you,
  Black whirl to white,
To lift the seven colors up...
  Focus of light!

Much of this information was gleaned from the Culture Jammer's Encyclopedia, which is compiled by Dave Gross and located at

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