When a book of brazenly surrealistic poetry and prose was published in 1984, attributed to a mysterious figure named “Racter,” it was hard to know what to make of it. The Policeman’s Beard Is Half-Constructedwas a fever vision of weirdness. “I need electricity,” declared the poet in a signature moment. “I need it more than I need lamb or pork or lettuce or cucumber.?/?I need it for my dreams.” That same tone, at once charming and confounding, charged Racter’s aphorisms, limericks, fictional riffs, bits of dialogue, and odd attempts at nursery rhyme (“There once was a ghoulish sad snail”).
Reviews were mixed. Most conceded that nothing like The Policeman’s Beard Is Half-Constructed had ever been seen before. But Racter’s patter didn’t always impress. While the strange skips in logic gave off an idiosyncratic energy, the verse also made readers feel like they were eavesdropping on the rantings of a somniloquist. One critic called the 120-page collection “metaphysical poetry as interpreted by William Burroughs and William Blake, with a dyspeptic dash of Rod McKuen and Kahlil Gibran thrown in.” Another critic insisted that Racter’s inscrutable ingenuity revealed not a literary maverick but a “coffeehouse philosopher who knew a great deal once, but whose mind is somewhere else now.” With its bright-red cover, the volume attracted a cult following. Copies soon became scarce, which only added to Racter’s mystique.