Wonderful short story by J. Robert Lennon
story, town, uncanny
Thursday, April 14, 2005 22:52 GMT
[One of the wonderful "short short stories" by J. Robert Lennon from his collection, 100 Pieces For The Left Hand which has just come out with Granta.]
A local poet of considerable national fame completed a new collection of poems that had, due to a painful and scandalous series of personal problems, been delayed in editing and publication for some years. When the revisions were finally finished, the poet typed up a clean copy of the manuscript and got into his car to bring it to the copy shop for reproduction.
On the way, however, the poet was pulled over for running a red light and was subsequently found to be drunk. Due to a new and unforgiving drunk-driving law in our state, his car was taken from his possession and his licence revoked.
Upon regaining sobriety, the poet realized that his poetry manuscript was still in the car and asked the police to return it to him. The police, however, maintained that the contents of the car no longer belonged to him, and refused. Their refusal resulted in a protracted legal battle, during which our beloved poet died, leaving uncertain the fate of the manuscript.
But the poet's publisher, eager to issue a posthumous volume, struck a bargain with the police department: if someone at the station would read the finished poems over the phone, an editor could transcribe them and issue them in book form without the manuscript changing hands. After all, the publisher argued, even if the manuscript legally belonged to the city, its contents did not, as they were devised outside the poet's car. The police agreed to this scheme, the phone recitation took place, and the book was issued to great acclaim, assuring the poet a place in the literary canon that he had not enjoyed in life.
Eventually, however, the poet's estate won its legal battle against the city, and the original manuscript was recovered. All were shocked to learn that it bore little resemblance to the published book.
It was not long before a city policeman confessed to having improvised much of the manuscript during its telephone transcription. His only explanation was that he saw room for improvement and could not resist making a few changes here and there. Almost immediately, the policeman was asked to leave the force, and the acclaimed book was completely discredited. The true manuscript was published in its entirety, to tepid reviews.
The policeman has continued to write poetry. Most agree that it is excellent, but few will publish the work of someone known to be so dishonest.