Mission Impossible: Elusive Literati

“let’s meet. let’s whisper. let’s plan out our fugitive poetics projects,” read a call to action in a surreptitious e-mail penned by a man called “whitman.” Someone with an aversion to uppercase letters and an affinity for anonymity was on the hunt for fellow vigilante artists to fill the campus with fleeting art installations.

But “whitman” would face competition from another group recruiting high-brow henchmen. Alpha Delta Phi, again at large in Cambridge after disappearing for nearly half a century, was also looking for new members. Their mysterious posters sprung up on campus, tempting worthy undergraduates with a “literary society” whose illustrious members included none other than Franklin Delano Roosevelt, graduate of the class of 1880, who is also a former Crimson president.

Just who are these bookish rascals? As FM’s resident “meddling kids,” we knew we had to protect the English concentrators and Signet hopefuls who would fall prey to the allure of such clandestine clubs—they wouldn’t be safe outside of 21 South Street. It was time for some serious sleuthing.

We planned our sneak attack. We envisioned ourselves as Fred and Velma (with better outfits, of course) infiltrating Whitman’s Fugitive Poetics and Alpha Delta Phi undercover.

We planned an elaborate ruse involving a cardigan and beret disguise to penetrate ADPhi, and we invented a fake e-mail address—isitsobadtobemisunderstood@gmail.com, registered to one “Ralph Emerson”—to track down “whitman.”

We were hot on their trails. Or so we thought…

Beyond the posters, there seemed to be no trace of ADPhi on campus. The contact information led only to a brief phone call with a man named “Mo,” an undergraduate in the Brandeis chapter. And members of Harvard’s other fraternities had no clues. In fact, the only suspicion of any ADPhi-related activity was miles away.

An e-mail to the expansion director of the national fraternity, presented as a brilliant imitation of an earnest inquiry, garnered a blistering reply. He must have pieced together our intentions after FM ran an unsigned article on the fraternity two weeks ago.

“Are you asking as an interested potential member or as a journalist?” he responded. “I have a hard time believing that your inquiry is sincere. If you wish to interview us on our efforts to return to Harvard, please have the decency to be up front about it.” Worst. Spy. Ever.

Fugitive Poetics wasn’t onto us, though. The first installation—Post-Its printed with poems—was ready to go live, and we were a part of it.

About 300 Post-Its were affixed to surprising locations around campus, just in time for Head of the Charles. The fugitive poets—an invite-only group of foodies, ninjas, computer programmers, and writers—photographed their makeshift art installations to document the project for fugitivepoetics.com, which goes live in about a week. Experiencing “vigilante art” first-hand, we began to enjoy working with Fugitive Poetics, despite the contrived mystery surrounding them.

One spy stung from rejection, and the other was ashamed by a newfound respect for the target. After wallowing in mutual failure, we realized we might have been asking the wrong questions all along. Examining ADPhi and Fugitive Poetics as two members of the same literary scene prevented us from seeing that the real answer lay in investigating their differences.

We started out trying to shed a little light—and poke a little fun—at these literary societies’ insistence on secrecy. But behind the obscurity, Fugitive Poetics was just trying to keep their group small and confidential in the interest of their art. ADPhi, on the other hand, was hiding only a national fraternity behind a wall that even a potential member couldn’t penetrate.

Or maybe we’re just really bad spies in need of a Scooby Snack.