Northern Illinois University Press

Forging Fame

The Strange Career of Scharmel Iris

Craig Abbott

“The research is painstakingly thorough and utterly original. A valuable and distinctive piece of work.”—C. D. Blanton, University of California, Berkeley

“Once picked up, cannot easily be put down.”—The Midwest Book Review

“Jaw-dropping in places, Abbott’s [book] entertains beyond a constant escalation of Iris’s audacity and narcissism. There is also much wit.”—The Chronicle of Higher Education

If poets are “liars by profession,” Sharmel Iris was truly professional. Poet, plagiarist, imposter, and forger, Iris engaged in a lifelong campaign of self-promotion that linked him to a constellation of leading writers and public figures—among them T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Joyce Kilmer, Ezra Pound, Dame Edith Sitwell, Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, William Wrigley, and Woodrow Wilson. “Of poets writing today, there is no greater,”states a preface, signed by W.B. Yeats, to one of Iris’s volumes of poetry—although at the time of publication Yeats had been dead for several years.

As a child, Iris had emigrated from Italy with his mother, who arrived in Chicago in pursuit of the American dream. Driven by ambition and narcissism, he began publishing poetry in 1905, participated in the Chicago Renaissance, and continued publishing until two years before his death in 1967.

With energy and persistance, the minor Chicago poet insinuated himself among the great and famous and simulated a life of literary stardom. Iris’s self-projection as a neglected poetic genius often was designed to translate into monetary value, while confirming his role behind the scenes of 20th-century literary history.

Examining Iris’s grandiose fantasy, Abbott exposes his forgery, plagiarism, and imposture. Granting Iris the attention he haplessly courted all his life, Abbott discovers a forger of fame whose story provides a commentary, often parodic, on the place of poetry in his time.

(2007) 204 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-376-0
cloth $34.00

Craig Abbott, a professor emeritus of Northern Illinois University, is author of several studies on modern American poetry.

Table of Contents

1. Youth of Genius, 1889–1913
2. New Poet, 1913–1922
3. Apparitional Schemer, 1923–1939
4. Nonpublishing Poet, 1940–1949
5. Resurrected Genius, 1950–1953
6. International Poet in Residence, 1954–1959
7. Autobiographer, 1950s and 1960s
8. Local Celebrity, 1960–1967

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-376-0
cloth $34.00