“To live alone is to be immensely in charge of the silence”
Michael Benedikt (1935-2007) published five books of poetry between 1968 – 1980, as well as editing several anthologies, most notably, The Prose Poem: An International Anthology (1976) and The Poetry of Surrealism (1974). He also served as poetry editor of The Paris Review for several years at the end of the 70s through the beginning of the 80s, and his poems appeared in dozens of anthologies.
And then, somehow, he disappeared in the way all artists fear they might. He continued writing, and publishing a poem here and there, but no more books appeared, no new anthologies, and he never edited another journal. Over time his books all went out of print.
The reasons for his disappearance are complicated, and I’m going to be writing more next week about it. After he died, some of his extended family were preparing to throw his files into a dumpster when Laura Boss intervened. If not for that, all of his unpublished work (fully half the book) would be gone.
Because I was working from original drafts in boxes, I came across several versions of many poems, while some poems only existed in single copies, often with penciled notes along the margins, and some poems were only hinted at in notes. Because of this, I’ve had to make several decisions about what constituted “definitive” versions. More about that next week as well.
Now his work is back. Along with the poet and editor (and Michael Benedikt’s companion of twenty years) Laura Boss, I’m editing Time Is a Toy: The Selected Poems of Michael Benedikt (U of Akron Press, 2013). This collection spans Benedikt’s whole career, from his early collections through his unpublished later work.
Michael Benedikt’s poetry ranges through three (in my mind) distinct modes, often overlapping in time, but—if you blur your eyes a little—lightly chronological. The book is divided into these three sections:
Phase one, I’m calling “The Poetry of Surrealism” phase, that ran, generally, from the 60s through the early 70s. Poems from this section included here:
THE EUROPEAN SHOE
OLD SCHOOL TIES
Phase two, I’m calling “The Prose Poem” phase, that ran, again generally, from the late 60s through the late 70s. Poems from this section included here:
HOW A NAVY MAN GOES DOWN
THE JOURNEY ACROSS YOUR THIGH
CHRISTMAS ON EARTH & OTHER VACATIONS WITH PAY
IN THE HOSPITAL
CORNELIA & HER FRIENDS
Phase three, which I’m calling the essay phase, that ran from the early 80s through his death in 2007. Poems from this section included here:
TO PEGGY GABSON, ALREADY BACK IN HER NATIVE N.C. FROM ME, ALREADY BACK IN MY NATIVE N.Y.C. IN ANTICIPATION OF FURTHER MEETINGS IN BOSTON
OF AN ONLY CHILD’S WORLD
OF LIVING ALONE BUT NOT BROODING TOO MUCH ABOUT IT
I hope you enjoy these poems as much as I do.
THE EUROPEAN SHOE