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When White Poets Pretend to Be Asian

In 1991, literary magazines around the United States began receiving mysterious packages containing the poems of Araki Yasusada, a deceased and entirely unknown Japanese poet with a spectacular backstory: he was a lonesome Hiroshima survivor whose absorbingly spare lines about the bombing and his small life in its wake seemed to riff on Roland Barthes, Kenneth Rexroth, Jack Spicer, and other figures of the Western avant-garde. The poems were often accompanied by diary fragments, scraps of paper with translations and exercises or a sketch of his face. Prominent journals published and praised Yasusada’s work, which was unusually experimental given his seeming isolation; there was a book in the works.