The Silence of the Iambs

Forged Poem Becomes Hot Literary Property

Plimpton wouldn't take no for an answer. He retained libel lawyer James Goodale (of his father's firm, Debevoise & Plimpton) and personally "spent a lot of time with the lawyers, going over it line by line." As a literary man, he wasn't so much interested in the question of how much Sotheby's knew about the poem's provenance as he was in Hofmann, the forger. "What fascinated me," says Plimpton, "was the excitement of the library and then the realization that they'd been duped." He asked for a revise, and the edit was mostly a matter of "excision."

Plimpton knew the piece had been turned down by Harper's and The New Yorker, "mostly because of possible legal problems." But having finessed the situation, he's enjoying the irony that those other mags have "much deeper pockets than The Paris Review," which has lost money since its 1953 launch.

Now that agents Phillip Spitzer and Joel Gotler are working on a book and movie deal, Worrall is "very happy" with the piece. But looking back, he says it's been "a rather disquieting journey. In the old days, certainly in Britain, if the facts stood, then the philosophy was publish and be damned. But now, there's such anxiety about the possibility of a protracted lawsuit by a very powerful and wealthy company or individual, I think the fear of litigation has made substantial inroads into freedom of expression."

A Sotheby's spokesperson declined to comment on Worrall's Guardian and Paris Review stories, including Worrall's claim that Sotheby's returned the poem to Axelrod. But he vehemently disputed the author's conclusions. "When we sold the piece, we believed it was by Emily Dickinson," he said. "Any theory that Sotheby's would conspire to sell forgeries is ridiculous."

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