Thursday, September 20, 2012

Michael Benedikt Update: Three Unpublished Manuscripts

I’m very pleased to say that I’m now in possession of three unpublished manuscripts of Michael Benedikt’s poetry.  Family Bessings / Family Curses, TRANSITIONS, and OF:.  They’re incomplete, and with many variants, but they’re here. If anyone has any poems of his published in literary journals since 1980, please email me (jjgallaher AT hotmail DOT com).  There are poems still missing. But this is a great start, yes?    

 These may well be the only folders of these poems in existence.

 I'm a little amazed at my good fortune.

It seems fitting that since his papers were saved from a dumpster, I should put them in a little suitcase my neighbor had out at the curb. You should have seen me running home with it. I was very pleased with myself.

The project continues.  I’ve gone through all his published work, putting together a wish list of selected poems.  And now, part two.  His work can be divided into three phases.  The first phase, for which he was best known, was his Surrealist phase, which was then followed by his prose-poetry phase, which was still heavily influenced by Surrealism, but more prosaic, and his final phase, which he worked in for the last 30 years of his life, could be called his pedagogical phase, for want of a better term.  The poems in this phase are highly conversational and explanatory of things as he saw them.  It makes a fine arc.  I’m pleased that these unpublished manuscripts will be part of his story. 



At 9/20/2012 10:43 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Bravo. A great and generous project, John.

At 9/20/2012 10:48 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I’m beside myself with glee. You should have seen my walking into the office today, swinging this suitcase around.

At 9/20/2012 11:39 AM, Blogger G.C. said...

John, you have made scans of everything for archival purposes, yes? As in, right now, if not yesterday? Just in case you get hit by a tornado, or something?

I'm very serious.

At 9/20/2012 11:45 AM, Blogger vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

The Madrona tree/three agree/s.

At 9/20/2012 11:56 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>Just in case you get hit by a tornado, or something?

I don't think a tornado is going to open THAT suitcase...

But yes, this is true, copy that stuff now.

At 9/20/2012 12:11 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I agree. When I posted this on facebook last night Ron Silliman said a vfersion of the same thing, basically "where are you going to store this," as he just had a flood in his house.

So I got the suitcase and brought it all to my office. Scanning is going to take some time, as I don't have access, but I am going to start photocopying it right away. (Which is tomorrow afternoon.)

The thought of how close this stuff was to the trash once has filled me with anxiety.

At 9/20/2012 12:11 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Though now that I look again, I see it's not made of steel, as I first thought.

At 9/20/2012 12:15 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Well my idea wast that since the files were once in the trash and this suitcase was once in the trash, then Monty Hall might give me a car.

At 9/21/2012 5:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a really cool deal, John. Maybe I missed the backstory, but how did the folders get from the dumpster (how did they get to the dumpster in the first place) to you, if you don't mind telling, or will that information be revealed in your Forward?

Again, sorry if I have missed something I should be aware of. I do that occasionally. For instance, I always thought Monty Hall's problem was his hair, which seemed to me more like a helmet.

Take care,


At 9/22/2012 6:07 AM, Blogger Caleb Washburn said...

In regards to not having a scanner, if you have a smart phone (or know somebody who does), there is a free app called Camscanner that uses the camera on the phone to take surprisingly high quality scans. It might be worth giving a shot until you have access to a better scanner.

At 9/22/2012 6:23 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

Who the fuck is Monty Hall?

Wait--did he write "My Sony, My Executioner"?

At 9/23/2012 7:02 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

But seriously, it's like you found Hemingway's lost suitcase. I can imagine how you felt. Years ago, right after reading Dylan Thomas in America, I found a copy of Auden's Age of Anxiety in a 2nd-hand bookstore in Ann Arbor. The flyleaf had been autographed by Patrick Boland, a Detroit poet who figures prominently in Brinnin's book. I was elated! I told one my professors, Russell Fraser, about my find. He smiled at me like "you're so young" and said the book probably wouldn't prove valuable unless Patrick Boland's stock went way up. Fraser was a New Critic, but I gathered that he didn't admire Thomas. Well, I didn't care that my discovery hadn't impressed him; I was excited. And your discovery is much bigger, much more important.

At 9/23/2012 7:09 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I’m now frustrated by how much ISN’T here. Benedikt apparently had a lot of stuff on computer disks that Laura Boss is now attempting to locate. Even if located, will they be able to be read? If not, all I have is drafts and titles of missing poems. “Of Orson Welles”, a “Poem chronicling the events surrounding Welles' 1938 dramatic radio production of ‘War of the Worlds’.” For instance.


At 9/23/2012 7:11 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Caleb, yeah. Good idea. I was thinking of just taking pictures of each page. That would be better. I'll check into it.

At 9/23/2012 8:00 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

John, had meant to bring the Diggory New York School of Poets Encyclopedia up here with me, but here's what I remember seeing this morning, in case this info might provide any additional leads to work. I can give you more specific info later, if you want. Two things: the entry in the Diggory on Nomad Magazine talks about Benedikt's poetry being included in a big special issue in the late 60s (might have been the mag's last issue?), which was an attempt to do something updated and as sweeping, according to the editor of it, as the Allen. Benedikt is one of the poets therein, maybe a poem otherwise lost?

And interesting this tidbit: The Paris Review, a big double issue on "New York Poets," in 1967 (issue 41, if I recall?), edited by Tom Clark (Benedikt followed him as editor), includes most all the most prominent names of living NY poets at the time, something like a dozen, or more, and the entry lists them all. Every one of them, *except for Benedikt* has a separate author entry in the Diggory book. Clark does too, mainly for his role as editor of the Paris Review, but for some reason MB doesn't make it in there. Anyway, maybe something from his selection there you don't yet have?

At 9/23/2012 8:10 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I have an interview with him done by Naomi Shihab (later Nye, I’m guessing) around 1977, in which he speaks of a complete book manuscript of poems from the 60s/early 70s in the style of his first two books, titled, I believe, Universe. He says a lot of the poems appeared in journals. I bet something in there is uncollected in book form.

If you have time to post titles, I’ll check against what I have. Also, though, Benedikt was an obsessive reviser. Variant versions would be most welcome.

In the 1980s in an interview that still online, he mentions that he’s continued to write prose poems since the publication of his two prose-poem books in the mid-70s. I would LOVE to get hold of those as well. But they, like Universe, no longer exist (but Laura Boss might yet find some of them!).

He also recorded a video for the Library of Congress in 1986. I would love to see that. I might have to get on a plane at some point. Money money money.

Here’s Benedikt on money:

Funny money. It giggles as it goes. Whenever we're about to spend some, just as we reach into our pockets, it goes “Ho Ho!”

Inklings may come to us that it's attempting to soothe us at the expense of the truth, for after all, even to money that giggles there is an end

But we go along with its masquerade, since we want to do what makes it happiest.

Yes!—we want bills of both large and small denominations to flutter with laughter in our hands;

We want dimples on the faces of all currencies, coins to be smiling as they are shipped into slots;

Every vending machine to be regarded as a cornucopia of jokes and mirth, mankind receiving a smile with every gumball, candy bar, soft drink, pocket comb, foot vibration, cigarette. etc.

We want merriment residing in change-purses and pockets,

Piggy banks squealing to be broken.

When we walk into a bank we want to hear tittering from the tellers’ cages

Muffled chuckles from safe deposit vaults

High hilarity from all the halls

And the whole littered with packets of newly minted bills and rolls of pennies and silver, all throwing themselves around on the floor, guffawing . . .

At 9/25/2012 9:17 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

The copy of Aime Cesaire's collected poems I bought had a political flyer from when he was running for re-election in the 90s.

I was pretty excited about that.

At 9/25/2012 10:21 AM, Blogger David Grove said...


Today at the library I scooped up a discarded copy of The Essential Rousseau. A passage titled "Democracy" was marked with a ticket to a Camper Van Beethoven concert in 1989. Remember those guys? "Take the skinheads bowling, take them bowling..." I started thinking about democracy and individual liberty and wrote a blog post about it. Whirl is king, eh?

At 9/25/2012 10:27 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I've followed David Lowery for years, though I never saw CVB. I have seen him with Cracker, though. "What the world need now is another folk singer like I need a hole in my head . . ." Good times.


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