Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Michael Benedikt Project

I’m in the accumulation phase of a most excellent project.  With the poet and editor, Laura Boss, I’m putting together a selected poems of Michael Benedikt.  Michael Benedikt was the author of five collections of poetry published between 1968 and 1980, as well as several important anthologies on prose poetry, Surrealism, and plays.  At the time of his death, in 2007, he also had quite a lot of unpublished work that Laura Boss saved from being tossed into a dumpster.  When I heard that, I knew this project had to happen. 

Here's a bit from his statement in connection with his apparance in The Young American Poets (1969), to give you a feel for where he was coming from:

"A condition in which all possibilities are open, offering the widest range of choice, including the choice of not choosing at all - not writing, I mean - strikes me as a very spiritual condition. I want poetry to be a way of both creating and experiencing.  I want my own poetry, increasingly, to contain a maximum of spiritual information."

I posted this on facebook last week, and now I’m posting it here.  My thought is the more I mention it publicly, the greater the chance of it getting done.  It’s going to be a lot of work.  All of the poetry of Benedikt’s is in hard copies only.  There’s going to be photocopying, cataloging, and putting it into electronic format.  There’s going to be reading and selecting (from among undated versions, possibly, as well).  And finally (or at some point in this process) the proposals to publishers. 

If anyone reading this has a favorite Michael Benedikt poem that they hope is included, and/or if anyone reading this knows of a publisher that might be interested, feel free to comment or to email me at jjgallaher at hotmail dot com. 

I’ve come across a lot of goodwill toward Benedikt already (as person, editor, and poet) as I’ve mentioned it to people, and I’m hoping that crowd-sourcing will make this a fun adventure.  Thanks already to Don Share for directing me toward Laura Boss, and to Nick Courtright for finding her email address.  And to many others for notes of encouragement.  Thank you all so far.  I’ll probably be asking many questions over the next few months. 

Here’s a poem from his first book, The Body, that I hope will make people who don’t know his work curious, and begin to help push to get this book completed:


Nothing is going to get elucidated any more around here, we rely
On the natural course of events to explain itself;
And the way we are leaning forward, shading our ears and cupping our eyes
And the blank looks on our faces
Tell us not what we need to know, but only
Who it is that is looking and listening

The bathroom mirror is revealed as the site of revelation
At 11:35 p.m., on the last Friday of October, 1967, its truth is told
The truth of the bathroom mirror with its toothbrushholder, its fingermarked waterglasses, the twisted toothpaste tube, the false eyelashes and the razor
Revelation revelation
Revelation of the thing we have always been closest to. 
Now, without our having to ask it to, it shows us all the depth of the things we have known and loved the best


At 8/25/2012 2:44 PM, Anonymous Henry Gould said...

histeia 66Remember hearing him read in Providence, at RI School of Design. Small room was packed, all of us sitting on floor while he was in small rickety chair. I was scrunched up right next to him. He was pretty intense, & funny, wry, as I recall.... I guess this was in 1971... Good like with this, JG

At 8/25/2012 2:47 PM, Anonymous Henry Gould said...

Good luck, that is

At 8/25/2012 4:12 PM, Blogger John B-R said...

Thank you for taking on this project.

At 8/26/2012 1:46 AM, Blogger vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

Good news, John and good luck with getting Benedikt's work out there; BTW, we (Madrona, that is)published a 2 1/2 page prose poem of his ("Clyde's Style") as the lead off poem for our inaugural issue, Summer 1971.(Was that 40 years ago??!) Don't know if this was ever included in his books but I could send you a copy, if you so wish.

At 8/26/2012 6:22 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I never knew (or met or corrosponded with) Michael Benedikt, so I'm quite interested in any stories or recollections people have on him or his work.

Vaz! I have three of his five books, and have ordered the other two (and Laura Boss will be sending me his papers sometime this fall), which would include the one that would probably have "Clyde's Style" in it, if he included it in one of his books.

If you have a scan of it, you can send it to me at jjgallaher at hotmail dot com, and I'd greatly appreciate it. Otherwise, you can send a copy to me at

John Gallaher
Department of English
Maryville MO 64468

Even if he included it in one of the books I don't have yet, there might have been revisions that would be good to see.


At 8/22/2013 6:16 PM, Anonymous Ina Chadwick said...

I am the subject (and possibly divine obsession) of The Badminton at Great Barrington. I had a house there as well as a fairly public, turmoil-filled relationship with Benedikt. I was single and not a student of his. He was married but never mentions this in his agony-ridden feelings of rejection by me in that book.

He was the wittiest, most spoiled and tormented artists I've ever met, and at times, loved. I am in possession of letters and can indeed attest to the constant rewrites of the poems in the Badminton book even as he appeared to be weakening physically. If you would like to contact me, feel free. My cel # is on my site. I am a producer and performer on stages in Fairfield County, CT.
I have many memoirs and essays online. One is all about Dr.Poem. Michael.

At 8/22/2013 7:20 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Ina,

Thank you for getting in contact. I didn't know Benedikt, but I can attest to -- from talking with Laura Boss and others -- that he had a lot of difficulties relating to people . . . the poems in his next, unpublished book, illustrate his state of mind well.

It seems that he got things together in some way after 1984 until his health began to get much worse sometime around 2000 or so. He had quite a bit of difficulty talking to or being with anyone by the end.

At 9/22/2013 7:58 PM, Blogger said...

He continued to phone me and phone me when his health began to deteriorate. i am working on a play about my relationships with alcoholic men. He was quite cruel and indeed an alcoholic. If you read my work online you will see that I barely escaped with my sanity. I did hear nice things from him re Laura Boss.
My play is a rewrite of a novel I wrote in 1979 which was bid on by Viking. It was about the grant's awards times when Michael was king of Guggenheims. He once said the most amazing thing...many times said... amazing things. "The world isn't very kind to geniuses, nor are they kind to the world." As a former journalist and member in good standing of the American Press Institute, this story that created The Badminton at Great Barrington shall exist with attribution from the other side. Luckily, after I read this I knew in legal terms that my depiction falls within the "Vortex of Fame." A First Amendment right to use public figures. I have a ton of material in letters. Michael had difficulties relating to people because he drank to excess. His sexuality was his scepter for young students. "The Virgin of Bennington" is a searingly painful account of one woman's induction into the Professor of Desir'e's World. Another friend, who now is withered from Alzheimer's brought him up on faculty charges at a university. Oy, my play is funny, thank god. There are many geniuses, but his life, wife, the wake of women are not pretty. I have a letter from Louis Simpson, now dead, advising me to protect myself I did. I got out.
Please read:

At 9/23/2013 8:37 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Thank you for sharing this link. The book of his selected poems is at the publisher, and should be coming out either the end of this year or early next. As I mentioned above, I never met him, or knew anything about his biography, before completing this editing project.


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