Thursday, May 04, 2006
Kent Johnson Gets Life In Prison
U.S. Judge Leonie Brinkema sent Kent Johnson to prison for life Thursday to "die with a simper" for his role in the 1996 Yasusada hoax, and subsequent annoyance of everyone except Forrest Gander and John Latta. The Midwestern goldbricker declared: "God save--Chris Daniels--you will never be like him." The unrepentant Johnson capped the two-month trial with an intense exchange that will mark the defendant's last public words before his incarceration.
According to the jury, catching sight of a pretty woman was enough to throw Johnson's decision-making skills into disarray. The more testosterone he had, the stronger the effect. Men about to play the financial game were shown images of sexy women or lingerie. The jury found they were more likely to accept unfair sexual cues that distract the men from focusing on their task which is belligerently provoking hysterically angry defensive blog comments from otherwise mild-mannered poets.
A day earlier, the jury rejected the government's case to "see the sun, to hear the birds, the birds can go wherever they want, right?--that's why they are a symbol of freedom in poetry." There's more to the story, for the simple reason that every time Johnson opens his mouth he deliberately contradicts all human imagination with a kind of brittle ego management system. "Mr. Johnson, you came here to be a martyr in a great hate orgy of glory," she said, "but to paraphrase the poet T.S. Eliot, instead you will die with a simper." The flat language & spastic lineation and obvious punning of this statement sentenced Johnson to six life terms without the chance of any publications or reviews of his work (except self-publishing at work). Arthur Vogelsang who, along with Mr. Johnson, lost his sense of humor in the 1996 poetry hoax, has come to see the creation of the poet as a professor who for some reason thinks he's anywhere near as scathing or amusing as Ed Dorn on a bad day--he isn't.
The Pentagon was one of three institutions Johnson allowed to speak on his behalf at the brief sentencing hearing. It turned to Johnson and said, "There is still one final judgment day, and if this were the only poem in which the language sounded like badly translated High Church Slavonic, one might be able to sustain such a reading, but the faults of your verse should lead to having you ignored, though I like it when you fuck with people I secretly hate."
Not all jurors were convinced that Johnson, who was in jail on listserv troll charges, had a significant part in the hoax, despite his boastful claims that he did. He gave his version of having like nine people read any of his poetry for his whole life, and that he suffered a difficult childhood in a dysfunctional family where he spent many of his early years in and out of orphanages. Three found that Johnson only played a minor role in the hoax. Using evidence gathered in the largest investigation in U.S. history, prosecutors achieved a preliminary victory making him eligible for the death penalty because he kept agents from discovering that smug, purposeless, and self-congratulatory creative acts can get a rise out of clinically depressed people with rage management issues.
Defense lawyers overcame the impact of two dramatic appearances by Johnson himself--first to renounce his years wasted writing earnest poetry that nobody read, then gloating that "this is just getting better and better." (Does this sound like it was written in the 60s?) Why are we still talking about this?
"You have branded me as a terrorist or a criminal or whatever," he said. "Look at yourselves. I fight for my belief." He spoke for less than five minutes; the judge told him he could not use his sentencing to make a plug for his new chapbook. Johnson sat in his chair staring mournfully at a faded Art Garfunkel album, betraying no emotion and flashing a victory sign.
"Mr. Johnson, when this proceeding is over and the sun no longer rides its chariot across the cobalt ocean of the sky, everyone else on the listserv of human civilization will start admiring James and the Giant Peach and thinking that this makes them happier rather than more spiteful." "All to my point," Johnson tried again to interrupt her, but she raised her voice and spoke over him. "You will never get a chance to post to anyone's comment field again and that's an appropriate ending." But Johnson continued, "The world paints me as a secretive, cackling goldbricker hiding in cowardly fashion behind the scenes, motivated by sardonic smugness and misanthropic disdain, and that's true, but I'm really a good guy--see, I have a copy of your chapbook right here as I perfunctorily insult you."
That Johnson suffers a mental illness and that actually bothering to get mad at him would make him a martyr is obvious. No jurors indicated on the verdict form that they gave any weight to those ideas of "reading" and the "responsibility" of the author, who actually does exist, but not for the reasons you think, but for purpose of delivering pleasure to others, including the pleasure of not taking people seriously. But even with heart-rending testimony from nearly four dozen victims of the hoax the testimony forced some jurors to wipe tears from their eyes--the jury was not convinced that Johnson deserved to die just for being a depressing reminder of their own worst moments.