Witter Bynner (as Emanuel Morgan) and Arthur Davison Ficke (as Anne Knish) published the anthology Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments in 1916. Although conceived of as a hoax, it constituted a quite striking body of poetry. Despite its parodic origins, Spectra included some of the most resonant poetic responses to World War I. Recent criticism of Spectrism understandably tends to emphasize the hoax aspects of this fascinating episode in modernist history, focusing for example on the performance of identity. Yet Bynner himself stated his genuine affirmation of the anthology’s work beyond the satiric circumstances of its creation, and the experience of this ostensibly mock-alternative avant-garde ended up having long-term effects on both his and Ficke’s careers. This essay argues that engaging with Spectra beyond its existence as a hoax allows us to explore its wider aesthetic and sociopolitical relevance to the period and sheds further light on contemporary perceptions of Imagism and Vorticism, particularly in the context of the poetry of the Great War.

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