To grasp the concept of the Midwest Writing Center's new Spectra poetry-reading series, we might start with the 1916 book of the same name. In its preface, Anne Knish explained that the "Spectric" school "speaks ... of that process of diffraction by which are disarticulated the several colored and other rays of which light is composed. It indicates our feeling that the theme of a poem is to be regarded as a prism, upon which the colorless white light of infinite existence falls and is broken up into glowing, beautiful, and intelligible hues."
Before you flee this article, understand that Spectra was a satiric hoax created by Arthur Davison Ficke (a Davenport native writing as Knish) and Witter Bynner (writing as Emanuel Morgan). The pair gleefully mocked the abstruse pretensions of modern free verse, but several prominent poets - including Edgar Lee Masters and William Carlos Williams - actually embraced the work, not recognizing its intent. Poetry magazine Editor Harriet Monroe accepted a handful of Spectric works before the hoax was revealed by Bynner.
Although the poems were mostly nonsense, they were compellingly playful. One opens: "Her soul was freckled / Like the bald head / Of a jaundiced Jewish banker." It concludes: "This demonstrates the futility of thinking." One of the most charming starts: "If I were only dafter / I might be making hymns / To the liquor of your laughter / And the lacquer of your limbs."
And they were occasionally incisive. In one about "my little house of glass," Knish wrote: "Sometimes I'm terribly tempted / To throw the stones myself."
To show how this relates to the new poetry-reading series (which begins September 15), allow me to note that one of the first two featured writers, Adam Fell, closes his poem "Summer Lovin Torture Party" with these oddly familiar lines: "I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh lord. / I've been waiting for this moment all my life."